greedy pigs

This image from Virginia and Randall van Oosten shows an assignment given to their grandchild disparaging European settlers.

published on October 15, 2018 - 2:22 PM
Written by Donald A. Promnitz

Course material from an educational company has come under review by Clovis Unified School District after a derogatory statement about European settlers was found in a 5th grade social studies assignment.

Last Monday, Virginia van Oosten’s granddaughter asked her for help on an assignment about the settlement of Europeans to the Americas. At first, nothing seemed out of the ordinary, until she came across a sentence that read: “European settlers were greedy pigs.”

“The question was: ‘Is this a simile, or a metaphor?’ So her first concern was to whether calling European settlers ‘greedy pigs’ was a simile or a metaphor,” van Oosten said. “And she was focused on getting the correct answer and learning the material and completing the lesson so she could go play tennis.”

The statement further troubled van Oosten, as she descends from a pilgrim family.

“They were pilgrims. They suffered religious persecution in the Old World, they came to the New World sacrificing so much,” van Oosten said. “They did not journey with greed in mind.”

The worksheet was produced by Studies Weekly, Inc., a Utah-based company responsible for the creation of supplemental curriculum for elementary schools. These assignments come in the form of illustrated newsletters to educate students on various time periods.

van Oosten then showed the homework to her husband Randall, who photographed the worksheet and sent it to Eimear O’Farrell, the superintendent of Clovis Unified. They also emailed their granddaughter’s teacher, and Cheryl Floth, the principal of the school, Mickey Cox Elementary. The next day, she received a call from Floth explaining that the assignment contradicted the community’s values, and that the assignment had been pulled from the class.

Melody Anderson, chief marketing officer for Studies Weekly, said that the worksheet had been written up under previous leadership. In the last several months, the company transitioned to a new CEO, chief product officer and product development team. Anderson added that the company reached out to van Oosten and has since changed the online content for the assignment. However, California state law does not permit them to change the hard copy content for a set number of years, she said.

“We’ve been doing a lot of changes to previous content that didn’t have the right tone and the right attention to content that we would like for our students,” Anderson said. “So that has been changed with the online content.”

According to Kelly Avants, chief communication officer for Clovis Unified, the school and the district are now looking into other curricular resources from Studies Weekly to see if they meet the standards of the district.

“We couldn’t be happier with the way the school responded,” van Oosten said.

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