For Freshmen. By Freshmen.
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Jun 24 2017
by Melissa Cordell

This High School's AP Government Reading List Was Blatantly Biased And People Are Outraged

By Melissa Cordell - Jun 24 2017

Spanish Fort High School's AP Government teacher, Gene Ponder, released an anti-liberal reading list for his students on the school's site. 

Rachel Gonzalez, a rising freshman at Missouri Western State University, noticed the list on her friend's, Julia Coccaro, Facebook, and posted it to Twitter. 

"It didn't take long after my tweet for it to be removed from the school's website and it's been seen over 100,000 times," Gonzalez said.

Baldwin County's Superintendent, Eddie Tyler said this about the matter in a Facebook post:

"Mr. Ponder’s reading list that’s going around on social media has not been endorsed by the school or the school system. The list has been removed by the teacher. Baldwin County Public Schools has a process to vet and approve reading lists so that a variety of sources are used. I expect all employees to follow our processes, procedures and policies."

Coccaro, a rising senior at Spanish Fort who is enrolled in Ponder's AP Government class, was "outraged, but not entirely shocked" when she saw the reading list. 

"This is not the first incident in a series of related situations I've dealt with at Spanish Fort High School," she said. "I understand that I live in Alabama, so I expected a slight right-wing slant, but not to this extent. Especially since the titles imply the opposition of facts, such as 'Climate of Corruption: Politics & Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax."

Coccaro founded and presidented a chapter of High School Democrats of America at Spanish Fort during her sophomore year in October 2015 and is Vice Chair of Alabama High School Democrats. Since then, she has received death threats from peers. 

"Alabama High School Democrats, as a state, hosts or co-hosts an issue advocacy day every year," she said. "That year, our day was centered around lobbying the Alabama State House for accurate, inclusive sex education, and to eliminate the offensive language from the law, such as 'homosexuality is a criminal offense.'” 

According to Coccaro, the school wasn't entirely supportive of their lobbying.

"Before every meeting for our club, I sent out a mass email to the members with a summary of what we would be discussing in the upcoming meeting," Coccaro continued. "In one email, I mentioned that we would discuss logistics regarding the Youth Advocacy Day and what exactly we are lobbying to change. The morning of the day of our monthly meeting, I was told by one of our vice principals that we are no longer allowed to discuss LGBTQ+ related matters in the club because it sparks controversy."

This was just the start of contention that academic year. 

Later that year, Brendt Bedsole, the school's health teacher, told the class "being transgender was a mental disorder." 

The school's driver education teacher, Matt Blake, spent full class periods of an hour and 22 minutes going on political tangents. One, Coccaro said, involved having each student writing who they were voting for followed by the teacher discussing why he supported Marco Rubio. Coccaro said the teacher has also spent class time sharing his opposition to gun control, support of capital punishment, and opposition of the pro-choice movement.

"Some time later — I’m not sure when, maybe a month or two, he spent another full class period preaching his Christian beliefs after a former student from a different school passed away," Coccaro added.

Coccaro said because she is known at Spanish Fort for being a "flaming liberal Atheist," Blake was "looking pointedly at me and addressing some of his thoughts to me. When he was talking about politics and religion, I was the only student in the class who continued to do my schoolwork while the others shut their laptop lids and listened to him attentively."

She described the event as "strikingly similar to a sermon."

Events carried into her junior year when she was on the yearbook staff and was assigned to a page called "Self Expression."

"One of the girls we interviewed had a quote that read, 'After coming out of the closet, I am more comfortable with myself...' and she went on to talk about her hair, facial piercings, and overall style," Coccaro said. "Our yearbook advisor did not want the phrase 'coming out of the closet' in the book."

Coccaro went to the administration with the student being quoted as well as Coccaro's friend Luke Reosti, who is the South Regional Director of Alabama High School Democrats and Vice President of Spanish Fort High School Democrats.

"We were shut down repeatedly," Coccaro said. "They made it clear that they did not want to bring negative attention to the school and cause conflict. They also did not want the school to be liable if she [was] bullied."

Julia Coccaro and Luke Reosti, courtesy of Coccaro

Luke Reosti has also experienced discrimination because of his political party. He is also enrolled in the AP Government class. 

"We have had minor issues with HSDA [High School Democrats of America] and our sponsors being given a hard time, enough to not sponsor it the following year, but nothing that compared to this," Reosti said. "Apparently the teacher has been teaching his whole class skewed. If you look at the resources page and old power points, they are also very problematic."

Reosti found the reading list "completely inappropriate, not only based on the fact that it is completely one sided, but the fact that it is openly hostile towards a whole political ideology."

"It would be different if it was political theory book, but books written by Anne Coulter and Mike Savage that openly insult liberal people in the title? Hateful language in these books are completely unproductive and divisive, which is not something we need in the current political climate," he continued. "I have been told personally by the principal of Spanish Fort High School that the school is not platform for political agendas, so when I received the list I was not only frustrated but confused as to why he managed to get away with this. I want an education based on facts and history, not the personal biases of a teacher."

Though he has struggled a lot politically with Spanish Fort, he expressed his "school tried its best to be as non-partisan as it can be, and it occasionally has some bumps in the road, I don't want this to taint the whole reputation of Spanish Fort. We have a lot of amazing teachers that love the kids and what they do, these actions don't speak for the community."

"But that being said, there needs to be action taken to make the education more non or bi-partisan, and not let this kind of behavior slide," Reosti concluded. 

"Youth activism can make an incredible impact," Coccaro said. "Yes, voting is definitely important, but it’s unbelievable how much can be done on the student level alone. I can guarantee that things like this happen at high schools all across the South — the incidents are simply commonplace, so they aren’t publicized."

Lead Image Credit: Rachel Gonzalez via Twitter

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Melissa Cordell - University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Melissa Cordell is a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in Political Science and Peace, War & Defense, with a Women's Studies minor. She loves working on campaigns, activism and writing. Follow her on Instagram @meldelissacor and Twitter @MM_Cordell!

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