During a deep dive into efforts to improve learning in Blount County Schools, one school board member brought up what she called “the elephant in the room,” the Wit and Wisdom curriculum.
BCS has been using the English language arts curriculum since at least 2018, but parents have raised concerns about some of the materials during recent school board meetings.
“Do you two have any concerns about the age appropriateness of the textual content in grades K through three,” board member Vandy Kemp asked the district’s elementary instructional coaches during a Blount County Board of Education retreat at the Central Office on Sept. 30.
“In my opinion I think the texts are appropriate,” Paula King said, adding that teachers can circumvent potential concerns in the way the material is delivered.
Referring to a first grade text on seahorses, which mentions the young coming out of the male’s pouch, she said, “It’s a scientific fact.”
“Are your teachers giving you any feedback that the children, the students are in any way disturbed or upset by content?” Kemp asked, specifically referring to a text that describes what Ruby Bridges faced as a 6-year-old in 1960 integrating a school in Louisiana.
The coaches said they have been in classrooms while Wit and Wisdom is used without any issues.
Elaine Hurst said her sons not only have been in schools using Wit and Wisdom but she read the books with them at home. “From a mother’s perspective it did not alarm me or make me feel uncomfortable,” she said.
“I am still very proud that we use these real texts with our students instead of a basal with text and passages that don’t have a lot meaning,” Hurst said. “Building knowledge for these students and giving them perspective of the world to me is something I am very proud of.”
BCS policy allows parents to request that their child not be required to read a certain book, use certain materials or participate in an activity.
The district already has created alternative texts and activities to respond to family requests.
“If we needed to put in place a different book for a specific child we have those plans, especially for the texts that have been brought up as a concern here at the board meetings,” said Hurst.
One of the reasons BCS chose Wit and Wisdom was to address the need for intense informational texts that provide background knowledge as well as vocabulary and other components of language comprehension, according to Amanda Vance, supervisor of elementary instruction.