Wit and Wisdom: Get the Full Story



  • This blog will be the first of our Wit and Wisdom Wednesday posts. This one will take a deep dive into the W&W curriculum that everyone is talking about. How the district came to choose it and some of the Pro and Con points shared, primarily in the form of direct quotes from the board and Dr. Chance.
  • This meeting was supposed to see a vote to approve the purchase for grades 3-5, as it was approved for grades K-2 last year. Dr. MacNeal moved to postpone the vote to the May 11th meeting, Director Bertone seconded, and there was a unanimous vote to pass the motion. 
  • Curriculum experts and many parents have spoken out in favor of texts used in the program, most of which are over a decade old and have already been taught in schools.
  • Moms for Liberty (M4L) have been circulating propaganda attacking these same books, saying that the content is inappropriate to be taught in schools and pushes certain “ideologies” that conflict with some “deeply held beliefs”.
  • There was some extremely rude and disrespectful behavior from the group opposing the curriculum.
  • Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing specific book reviews as well as comments from the public in favor and opposed to it. Please note that these are direct quotes and have not been taken out of context. Some of them are quite lengthy but we’d like to share them in their entirety so that our readers can get the full picture of peoples’ sentiments.

Wit and Wisdom

Why are we looking to purchase this program?

According to Dr. Chance: “You might look at reviews of W&W and it will say things like it doesn’t have a phonological awareness component or word study component to it. But that’s by design. W&W is really designed to provide background knowledge, which is a significant component aligned with the science of reading, and actually W&W dovetails nicely with what we’re already implementing when it comes to word study. And in fact, it’s recommended that we do so. We are utilizing Fundations, which is a Wilson program, in K-2 and then in grades 3-5 we’re using Words their Way as a direct instruction, phonological awareness program. W&W fits nicely with that.” 

From the Wit and Wisdom Website

According to their website, “Wit & Wisdom is built on books that have been esteemed and cherished for years. They accurately describe events in American history and explore the great American experience. We thoughtfully chose these books as well as how and when to introduce them, so that students are challenged appropriately by age and grade level, in terms of their reading skills as well as their emotional and intellectual readiness for certain topics.”

Concerns from Dr. MacNeal

“From my count, we have twelve parents asking us to consider not adopting Wit and Wisdom and six asking us to approve. I think I heard from those parents that their objections seem to be if this content is appropriate for this grade level.”

“I took a cursory look at grade one, a couple of texts. And while I might disagree with people who saw an issue with, for example, Brave Irene, I don’t dismiss that they have an issue with it. The same with, I forget the title, that the seahorse and is that information I’m assuming factually accurate. Do seahorses actually do those things? I don’t know. Sometimes we see something in print and we actually believe that it’s true. Well, I don’t know because I don’t know anything about seahorses.” (it is). 

“Can we get different perspectives from not only educators but also parents who are here on the different texts? I know that there is a document where another district kind of evaluated the texts. So I think it would be helpful…The transparency piece, there is a lack of trust in our district among our people and I don’t want people to be distrustful of this district because I love it.”

Dr. Chance explains the curriculum review and decision making process

“Back in the middle to end of 19-20 to the start of 20-21, we formed a committee of folks to look at a variety of resources, following a complete rewrite of our ELA curriculum. We began with nine different potential resources, relying somewhat on Ed reports…and reviews, and narrowed it down to three different resources. We spent the entirety of 20-21-Yes, during the pandemic-investigating these resources on a variety of levels, having monthly meetings as a committee representative of teachers, literacy specialists, administrators, etc. We actually did virtual visits with three different school districts, two of which utilized W&W and another that used a different resource called Schoolwide. And it was really towards the end of 20-21 that our committee made the decision to move in the direction of W&W as a result of all of that work.” 

“We do stand behind to a pretty significant degree the content and the topics and we understand that parents have different perspectives.” [This brought loud Boos from the crowd toward Dr. Chance]

“The plan all along was to [first later this year, for K-2] put those books in the hands of our teachers so they could read them all to understand what it would look like to teach each of the modules with the suggested texts and make any necessary alterations [before implementation next year]. If we move forward with the purchase of grades 3-5 the plan will be similar. We’ll be taking all of next year to do much of that work and implementation will be the following year.” 

“So you mentioned the seahorse book actually, that unit is about animals and different natures of animals. That book itself speaks to the lifecycle and actually being able to describe the lifecycle of animals at a kindergarten level.”

“We heard loud and clear last week that we might want to allow a public review of the texts. I think maybe what might be most prudent, given what you just mentioned with respect to transparency, is perhaps tabling the motion until May and providing the board with information around Lexile levels and alignment of the books to grade levels, etc. Make sure we get those books on public display and then have a vote in May. I wouldn’t suggest putting it much later than May. The dollars that we’ve allocated are for this school year in 21-22 capital funds. If we fail to make the purchase prior to June, then we won’t have those funds available to do that next school year.”

Is there CRT in Wit and Wisdom?

Both Dr. MacNeal and Director Miller brought up the accusations regarding CRT in the committee of the whole meeting, and Dr. Chance responded with the following points:

“Earlier this fall we became aware of the national attention that W&W was starting to get, and we were transparent about this [with the board]. We did some investigation of our own, and our ELA supervisor and ELA curriculum leader have been meeting almost bi-weekly with great minds on the K-2 side of things to make sure that the all of those materials align with the PA standards.” 

[You can find online, in other states like] “Tennessee and Virginia, there was some consternation at board meetings. Folks were claiming that, to use your phrase, that districts were adopting this resource for teaching critical race theory. It’s not true.” 

“The genesis of that argument really was directed from what you’ll find with W&W is that there’s a great deal of nonfiction texts being used to teach cross curricular material. For example, one of the great four units. The overarching question is “What does it mean to have a great heart?” Some of the resources associated with that are nonfiction related to the circulatory system. Some are nonfiction related to biographies of people like Helen Keller and again, so you can see the dual meaning of what it means to have a great heart.” 

“The two units primarily that drew attention regarding accusations of CRT were around teaching civil rights heroes. For example, in one of our modules in second grade, students will read a biography about Ruby Bridges, a first grade girl who suffered discrimination as she was going to school in the segregated south. There are also nonfiction texts associated with Martin Luther King and his “I Have a Dream” speech, so kids really have an opportunity to dig deeper into that and learn to read utilizing those nonfiction texts.” 

“The texts are nonfiction. In nature, they’re not teaching any particular ideology. When you mention the civil rights movement, these are the books that also teach history. There are also units around healthy eating, the solar system, the American West. The idea is that you’re taking a cross curricular approach and building that background. Now it’s so that when students read, they’re able to comprehend the material in a way that maybe they wouldn’t be if we used some older methodologies for teaching reading comprehension.”

“We did look a little bit more closely and of course, assuredly we’ll have our ELA curriculum leaders make sure we’re reading every text prior to putting it in kids’ hands.” 

One last clarification

President Wisdom asked if “since we do have [this program for] K-2, is it beneficial to continue with the same program for 3-5?” 

Dr. Chance said “at the outset, when we met as a K-5 group, we began with the notion that potentially we wouldn’t go in that direction…But what we found throughout the process was that particularly because our buildings are K-5 and there’s sometimes movement of teachers between grade levels and just for the sake of our students and teachers that the common nomenclature and vocabulary and language used around the curriculum would be most beneficial for students to stay in…while there wasn’t unanimity, even across grades 3-5, the fact that it would align with what we were doing K-2 was a component that led to our decision making.”

How can parents be involved in future curriculum decisions?

Dr. MacNeal asked, although “I know when I was in charge of curriculum, I did not, but I’m asking you in light of the way things are today, have we considered including parents on a curriculum review?”

Dr. Chance responded that “the word curriculum can mean different things for different people.” We can involve parents in two ways:

  1. Curriculum documents. During curriculum review process parents can participate from a career perspective in our research phase of our curriculum [documents, starting shortly with social studies], getting members of our community who might work in a particular field and could inform us to make sure our curriculum prepares our students for life beyond school. [Then the curriculum documents] will be presented to the Board at a public meeting and parents have the opportunity to review those documents between Committee of the Whole and school board meetings”
  2. Curriculum resources and the textbooks (Such as W&W): One of the goals that has been to embed a public review process prior to approval of curriculum [resources]. That’s not something that exists currently; the goal was to by the end of next year to make sure it becomes a component of our processes, [as resources associated with social studies start to be approved].”

Dr. Macneal responded, “You mentioned narrowing the choice of resources down to three. That would have been an excellent time to have some parents come in and take a look at the three choices and see what the pros and cons are from the experts, the professionals, the educators for each, because you hear that people don’t get the difference between a text and a curriculum….So I think this is a new world we’re living in. It’s not the world when I was in your seat. That’s not the world I lived in. But it’s a different world. And I think we owe it to our public to hear and not just listen actively, not just dismiss people that disagree with our line of thinking, because we have to represent all of the families and the children of all of those families in our district. Give the parents an opportunity, and if you don’t want to review it’s fine.”

The Moms for Liberty take on Wit and Wisdom

Many of the speakers opposed were from the local chapter of Moms for Liberty (M4L). M4L is a national conservative group started by a few moms in Florida that has been closely tied with the Republican party and is training local chapters on how to get involved with school boards. Looking online, we discovered an hour and a half long video from the Tennessee chapter aimed at discrediting W&W and a spreadsheet created by them reviewing 111 of the books that are included. According to their notes, 31 of the books were “not appropriate”, in their opinion. Their complaints range from books being “too sad” to mentioning cannibalism, suicidal ideation, and wearing leggings made of skin. The image below shows a snip from their spreadsheet.

Downingtown Parents in favor of Wit and Wisdom

We need to point out, again, that while parents do have the freedom to restrict their own child’s access to books, they do not have the right to restrict what other people’s children have access to. If parents don’t want their children exposed to these award winning texts, they don’t need to create theater at a board meeting and deprive other people’s children of these educationally rich resources. They can simply ask their child’s teacher for alternative assignments, which has always been their right.

Parents and groups such as Moms for Liberty are not curriculum specialists. The DASD teachers and administrators who sit on the curriculum committee and the professionals at Great Minds who developed W&W are fully qualified and trained to do what they do. W&W texts showcase diverse viewpoints and genres, including essays, speeches, articles, interviews, memoirs, and poetry and this is part of why it was chosen.

Also of concern: the comments and behavior of these parents demonstrate extreme biases and outright bullying against certain groups being represented fairly in our schools. These are not the parents that we want inserting their opinions on what our children get to learn about.

  • They laughed at one parent defending a Ruby Bridges book. 
  • Someone held up a phone with the words “OK, GROOMER” in large letters when one parent was defending LGBTQ+ children.
  • President Wisdom actually had to stop at one point to ask for respect for our admin and board. 
  • Loud Boos were directed at Dr. Chance. 

The ripple effect of fear and negative words

We will highlight just one speaker here today. She said that since the attacks on our library books have been mostly LGBTQ oriented, it indicates that there is a deep transphobia and homophobia in our district (This was when she was called a Groomer). 

“Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity.”

James Baldwin

We talk about mental health all the time, but people show very little compassion for the kids who are struggling with their gender identity and sexual orientation. Sadly, the words being used in our meetings and on social media are very likely to be impacting them in a very negative way. We need to keep these kids in mind and remember that they are listening when we are speaking.

From the Trevor project:

LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers (Johns et al., 2019; Johns et al., 2020).

The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth (13-24) seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S. — and at least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds.

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.

Leave a Reply