Thursday, 08 June 2017 13:00

Controversial Lesson Plan Dominates Discussion

By Jason Birkelbach | Education
Controversial Lesson Plan Dominates Discussion

Dozens of Saratoga County residents spoke out at Ballston Spa’s Board of Education meeting Wednesday against a controversial online lesson plan that has been linked to the Ballston Spa school district.

The lesson plan, titled “Dying to be a Martyr,” allegedly takes what opponents feel is a sympathetic view towards radical suicide bombers.

“These biased global history lessons are not educational. Our local schools, public schools, are intentionally indoctrinating our youth,” said Renee Murtens of Ballston Spa. “Being sympathetic to any terrorist group, any religion...does not constitute education, nor does it belong in our high schools.”

Word of the plan reached Saratoga County when an article on conservative news site theBlaze.com revealed a Ballston Spa history teacher to be its author. However, school officials say the plan has never been taught.

“It’s about fourteen years old,” Ballston Spa Superintendent Joe Dragone said. “It has never been taught. And we stand by that.”

The plan was created over ten years ago for PBS’s LearningMedia program, which provides over 100,000 free educational resources for teachers and students, and it is still available on the website. It had been relatively unknown until it was dredged up in April.

The lesson plan uses multimedia pieces to “examine the roots of the conflict in the Middle East,” including interviews with individuals linked to suicide bombings.

Many of the meeting’s speakers commented on the apparent lack balance in the history curriculum. Kate Thimineur of Ballston Spa first grew concerned when she flipped through her daughter’s ninth-grade history textbook two years ago.

“I looked into her history book and I noticed that there were 15 pages on Islam and five pages on Christianity and Judaism,” she said. “I asked if that was going to be corrected within the classroom. Long story short, it wasn’t.”

Thimineur requested to observe a class’s lesson on the creation of the state of Israel, but she said she was referred to a different class.

“As I understand it, Mrs. Thimineur has been in the classroom a number of times,” Board of Education President Kevin Schaefer said. “We try not to let parents into the classroom this late in the year when the kids are prepping for regents and end of the year finals.”

Thimineur has expressed her concerns to the board multiple times, she said. The board responded in a letter, writing that though she could discuss other issues, further public comment on the topic would be limited to avoid “rehashing the same issue.”

Other speakers shifted focus to Christianity. Schenectady resident Earl Wallace is a pastor at Liberty Christian Fellowship Church and a former teacher at Saratoga Springs high school. Though the lesson is not taught, Wallace suggested a solution for the speakers’ complaints.

“I teach a course called the Biblical Basis of the Bill of Rights,” Wallace said. “I have programs designed to teach children that which we have suppressed in our society. Our society has become more brutal, more hateful.”

The board plans to respond formally to the torrent of comments. Though they often respond only to specific questions, the board feels reciprocal action is appropriate to resolve some of the confusion around this particular issue.

“The reality is it’s never been taught,” Dragone said. “There’s nothing of that nature going on.”

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