Burlington, News

Some question board’s role in reviewing instructional material for bias

By Jennifer Eisenbart


Depending on the point of view, a selection of DVDs donated to Burlington High School by a retiring teacher could be a simple farewell gift – or a sign of dangerous political leanings.

Sharon Kelley, a social studies teacher who retired from BHS at the end of the school year, decided to leave behind a collection of DVDs – films that included Academy Award Best Picture winners “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Gandhi,” as well as Best Picture nominee “Good Night, and Good Luck.”

The Burlington Area School District School Board voted to accept the donation Monday night at the monthly board meeting, but not before Board Member Phil Ketterhagen blasted the donations as not necessarily being proper for use in the social studies classroom.

“There’s only three I’d consider accurate enough to be used in the classroom,” said Ketterhagen, who then outlined considerable objections against some of the films.

He also suggested an amendment that the films be accepted but reviewed by the School Board Curriculum Committee before any classroom use. That amendment was voted down 4-3, with Ketterhagen, Koldeway and Jim Bousman voting in favor of it.

The DVDs, along with the book “First Person Plural” by Cameron West, were accepted for entry into the school library only by a 6-1 vote.

The lone nay vote came from Roger Koldeway, who said after the meeting that “what we put in the library should be reviewed by content, at least by the administration, as they would any other curriculum they use.”


Curriculum review

Ketterhagen wanted the DVDs to be reviewed by the Curriculum Committee before being used in the classroom.

“We have an obligation to know what is going on,” he said.

While he had a number of issues with various films – calling “Slumdog Millionaire” a Hollywood dramatization, and using the term “drama” to describe the film “Osama,” which depicts life for women in Afghanistan in the early 2000s – Ketterhagen’s biggest objection came with “Good Night, and Good Luck.”

The 2005 film portrays the conflict between Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy and veteran radio/TV journalist Edward R. Murrow during the height of the anti-Communist sentiments McCarthy fueled in the 1950s.

At the meeting, Ketterhagen said the film “does not portray the opposite side at all,” and could influence “the young mind” the wrong way about America.

In an email Tuesday, Ketterhagen said that he saw “no rebuttal to the ideology in the films and there was no opposing films in the list to state a different opinion.”

He said “Good Night, and Good Luck” vilified McCarthy, and didn’t address the historical context of the senator’s behavior.

“Correct info should come from the Venona Papers which were released in 1994 from the Russian archives which shows McCarthy was totally correct in his findings,” said Ketterhagen about a U.S. counter-intelligence program that was conducted from 1943-1980. “Other slants in movie style can create an impression on the student which may or may not be complete or correct.”

“As a Curriculum Committee member, I felt the need to have them critiqued since they were donated for the express purpose of teaching activities.”

Ketterhagen also said at the meeting that he had reviewed teaching materials in the past, and had found a disproportionate amount of communist or socialist authors.

“I found the teaching staff did not know the author’s affiliation and probably took the text as true historically and culturally for the time period under discussion,” he said later in an email.


The donation

Kelley, when contacted on Tuesday, explained where the films had come from. The former teacher said she bought them at “rock bottom” prices from a company that was going out of business, and in many cases, did not even use them in teaching.

“They were just movies that I found that were relevant to curriculum,” said Kelley, who added that course curriculums continue to evolve and the films may not even have a place in the classroom right now.

Kelley added that the idea was to put the films into the school, rather than just donate them to someplace like Love Inc., so perhaps they could be of use in teaching.

“It’s a donation,” she explained. “I would think they would be happy people are donating.”


BHS media use

According to BASD Assistant Superintendent and Curriculum Director Connie Zinnen, full films are rarely shown now in the classroom setting. In fact, the district discourages the practice.

Instead, she said, teachers often use clips or excerpts to spur classroom discussion, and “to perhaps emphasize the bias that may exist in the representation leading to thoughtful debate on an issue.”

In order to use the films in the classroom, teachers have to fill out a “Media Request Form,” to use something not owned by the district. Media that has been purchased by the department or the library doesn’t need to have the form, “because the assumption made is that those materials have been previewed and vetted by those working most closely with the curriculum for those courses.”

The form asks teachers to state the intended use and how it relates to the subject matter, and then give it to the building principal for review.

Zinnen added Tuesday that Kelley had filled out the proper forms, and in some cases, used material that had a bias to spur classroom discussion on that particular topic.

However, in further discussion on the topic Monday night, there was even concern about whether the films belonged in the BHS library. Koldeway and Ketterhagen both questioned who would make the decision about who approved what went into the library.

Ketterhagen also pointed out that, under the current system, there is no way for the board to know who is using what, that teachers and building administrators essentially have “carte blanche” in building curriculums.

“I’m not going to allow the teaching of a philosophy, or a ‘left’ thing,” Ketterhagen said. He also held up a number of films he personally brought to the meeting, saying that most of the board would consider them too biased toward the “right” for use in the district.

When asked, Ketterhagen declined to give the names of the films.

Board member Rosanne Hahn asked if, by considering review of these materials, the board would then be looking into all multi-media use in the district.

Ketterhagen told her, “Don’t change the subject.” When Hahn said she wasn’t, Ketterhagen responded with, “Yes, you are.”


Outside view

Former BASD School Board President David Thompson weighed in on the issue Tuesday night when contacted by the Standard Press.

“That’s the beauty of the U.S. Constitution, which protects free speech,” Thompson said. “The Constitutional allows different people with different viewpoints to express themselves and to be studied as well.

“This means that Mr. Ketterhagen has the right to raise objections,” Thompson added. “But it also means that our students have the opportunity to hear various other perspectives on history.”

Thompson said he also trusted that students would be inspired enough by those discussions to do further research and form their own opinions.

As for the review of materials, Thompson said that the board’s job was to set policy. In this case, that would mean asking for a review of the material – but allowing staff and administration to conduct the review.


The vote

After debating back and forth on the subject, the vote was called on Ketterhagen’s proposed amendment. New board member Todd Terry said simply he would vote against it.

“I think it’s micromanaging at its finest,” Terry said.

Bousman suggested that a review might not be a bad thing, and voted in favor of the amendment to the motion, though the amendment did fail.

Board member Larry Anderson then made the motion to accept the DVDs – and the book – into the library, which passed 5-2.

After that amendment passed, Koldeway specifically asked if the school librarian should look over the materials and consider their appropriateness.

He moved that the district decline the donation all together, but that motion died due to lack of a second.


  1. Review all materials

    Attention all BASD teachers. For the purpose of CYA, please submit for review one copy of all instructional materials used in your classroom. One copy of all texts, curriculum guides, review packets, lecture notes, worksheets, workbooks, handouts, PowerPoints, Prezis, Flipcharts, podcasts, videos, audio recordings, tests, quizzes, or any other additional material that you present to students should be sent to the district office for review. Items that are shared with students through Google Drive should be shared to Mr. Ketterhagen as we’ll. Bulletin boards and posters should be photographed and emailed for review. For the safety and security of the children of BASD all this material should be reviewed before school resumes in fall. Materials that have not been reviewed by Mr. Ketterhagen should not be used in class. Make sure you are influencing the young minds only the way that Mr Ketterhagen feels is “right”. If any of your materials are not approved, Mr. Ketterhagen will come to your classroom and turn your American flag upside down as a symbol of distress. If a flag is not available, he will hit you upside the head with his 2×4.

    • In my heart of hearts, I cannot stand what the likes of Ketterhagen and Koldeway (herein referred to K & K) are doing to this school district, and to this town. They and their ilk are like a cancer, and frankly, they are an embarrassment. I’m so worried for our children’s future; the one saving grace is that there are plenty of good teachers and support staff who do not subscribe to K & K’s “right” way of thinking. Thank goodness for those “left” with the ability to critically think for themselves. By the way, the K & K antics are known around the state, which is both mortifying and frightening. I wish the press would give as much attention to the truly forward thinking members of the school board, those who are moving our district in the right direction.

      • Simple as Freedom

        Wouldn’t it be simple if parents and children had the choice where to spend their education dollars. Get 1/2 money upfront get another 1/2 when the child passes a test at the end of the year. Then Lori, Review, Phil, and Anyone Else wouldn’t have to worry about telling other parents how to raise their own kids.

        • Simply put, that would mean the “freedom” destroy our public schools that are at the core of our communities, which would then rot from the inside out without a sense of common experience or of common cause among what was once the citizenry.

          • So in other words you have no reply except freedom to raise your own kids is secondary to the “the community” “the citizenry” and “common cause”.

            Simply put, you statists are as old as dirt and scary as hell.

          • No Joe, I could go on at length bringing to bear arguments from angles as to why privatizing our schools is a very very bad idea for our society generally and our kids specifically, if I thought you’d give them serious and objective consideration. However, my perception is that you would label me with vague and irrelevant terms in a one sentence mischaracterization of both me and my statements. So I’ll take a pass on the further opportunity to engage you in discourse. Have a nice day.

          • No only could you go on at length but you do constantly to the same simple result – you love the state over the individual – and you want to use the state to implement your views upon others. It’s the oldest, saddest, and most common story in human history which makes you so boring; and your antithesis,freedom, so exciting.

          • You see? I rest my case.

          • At least you finally admit it.

  2. Phil has apparently fallen victim to recent attempts by some right-wing extremists to turn history upside-down by rehabilitating the reputation of Senator Joseph McCarthy -R, WI.

    As quoted in the article, Ketterhagen not only echos McCarthy with his vague accusations regarding communist/socialist authors and what philosophies he is “going to allow”, he also cited the Venona Papers, the very documents used by rightwing revisionists to attempt to justify McCarthy’s behavior. Well, below is an article from the Wall Street Journal that demonstrates just how wrong the sort of upside-down thinking that Mr. Ketterhagen is swallowing is, but how dangerous it is with regard to our potential to repeat the tragic mistakes of our past. After all, there certainly has been no shortage in the past few years of people of Mr. Ketterhagen’s ilk making false and hate-filled accusations at our President of being a communist or a socialist.
    WSJ Article: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB120882522444233275

    Excerpt: Excerpts: “The problem was that McCarthy lied about his information and figures,” Lamphere said. “He made charges against people that weren’t true. McCarthyism harmed the counterintelligence effort against the Soviet threat because of the revulsion it caused.”

    Also, on page 4 of last week’s Standard Press was an article bemoaning the fact that BASD has lost 22 teachers in the last couple months, a continuation of a trend that has been occurring since 2011. I can only conclude that the threatening and embarrassing actions of Mr. Ketterhagen and those with whom he shares his “values” are no small part of this problem.

  3. Someone should donate copies of Dinesh D’Souza’s two great drama’s, “America” and “2016: Obama’s America.”

    Both are great films!