What would Winston Smith think?

Edina persecutes a member of its own board of directors for disagreeing with extremist curriculum.

Catrin Thorman, one of American Experiment’s new rock-star policy fellows, stood alongside 150 parents and community members outside a closed-door meeting in which members of the Edina School Board took five hours to deliberate the disciplinary fate of Sarah Patzloff, a five-year board member and its current vice chair. Catrin related her experience:

The community was there to support Patzloff, whose offense, it seems, had been to share a PDF document on a Facebook page for Edina parents. The document was written by radical English teacher Jackie Roehl and outlines the Pre-AP English 10 curriculum that caused a local and national outcry when exposed by American Experiment’s Katherine Kersten in the Fall 2017 edition of Thinking Minnesota.

“Read the attached PDF,” Patzloff said. “It is Jackie Roehl’s manifesto for the 10th grade LA class. It is frightening.”

This single action prompted a five-hour disciplinary hearing.

Let’s be clear: Patzloff was not leaking private information. The PDF document is actually a chapter Ms. Roehl wrote for a book published in 2013 by Glenn E. Singleton called More Courageous Conversations About Race. Singleton is president and CEO of Pacific Educational Group (PEG), a “racial equity” consulting group based in California that has trained Minnesota teachers and staff on “addressing race.”

Most Thinking Minnesota readers will likely agree with Patzloff. Roehl’s essay admits that her Pre-AP English 10 class is a year-long indoctrination into racial identity politics and “critical race theory.” According to Kersten, “The course teaches an extremist view of race that emphatically rejects the American ideal of color-blindness put forward by Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Roehl’s document also described her eye-rolling annoyance with “questioning parents” who pushed back against the new focus of the course.

Catrin reports that several board members eventually emerged during the meeting and asked Patzloff’s supporters to leave. Certain board members, they said, were “intimidated” by the supporters’ ongoing presence. Someone later threatened to call the police. The evening reached a comical low point when a janitor, brandishing a vacuum cleaner, accosted the group in an attempt to lock down the hallway.

More than 50 of Patzloff’s original supporters held out all the way to the end.

Around 12:15 a.m., when it appeared the meeting was coming to an end, supporters stood outside the door with their banners and “We are Sarah” t-shirts and began singing “God Bless America.”

This really happened. The Edina School Board met for over 5 hours, in private, to determine how it should respond to Patzloff’s purported misconduct. For several chunks of time within the inquest, Patzloff was isolated in a room behind two locked doors and a security guard. All this because she audaciously suggested that there might be more than one way to look at curriculum.

This incident is troubling—and weird—for a variety of reasons (some of which we’ll likely explore in an upcoming issue of Thinking Minnesota). But for now, I’d like to ask an obvious question: Why an English class?

I’ve always considered English to be the most essential component of an effective K-12 liberal arts education. Exposure to great literature teaches students the art of critical reading and independent thinking. English teachers help students hone their abilities to express logical arguments with consistent style and sound grammar. These are lifetime skills. A high school English classroom is a place where teachers should nurture curiosity and encourage original points of view. The Big Brotherish orientation of Roehl’s political indoctrination would prefer to turn her students into extremist robots. Frightening? Yes!

Speaking of Big Brother, I wonder how Ms. Roehl might teach George Orwell’s masterpiece, 1984, especially in the context of the political witch hunt launched against Sarah Patzloff.

Most of us first met Winston Smith, the literary protagonist of 1984, in a high school English classroom. Smith quietly battled a totalitarian regime that had outlawed independent thinking and free speech in order to maintain fanatical control over its citizens.

The deadliest enemy of Big Brother’s machine was free thought. Thought police used high technology and firm control to ensure that none of its citizens spoke up in ways that didn’t conform to the government’s worldview. They practiced “hate week” in order to direct the hostility of the masses against independent thinkers.

Orwell intended 1984 to be a prophetic warning, not a how-to guide. Observing many teachers and administrators in the Edina schools, one wonders: in the world of 1984, whose side would they be on?