UAF student says political views affected grades

Karen Siegfried said she came from a different socioeconomic background than her peers and never felt any connection with the teachers she came across in school; she felt that they couldn’t understand her, and because of that, she decided to become a teacher herself.

“I thought I could help other kids who were like me,” Siegfried said.

In fall 2004, she was majoring in education at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and had earned a grade point average of 3.75 in her classes with one exception. But when she was issued a failing grade in a practicum course she took as part of her School of Education curriculum, she found herself frustrated with the program.

She says her conservative views on subjects ranging from politics to religion to race were contrary to those of the faculty. She says that when she expressed them, the education department decided she wouldn’t be suitable as a teacher.

“At the end of the first semester in the teaching program, I was informed that (the faculty) evaluation had deemed my personality inappropriate for the teaching profession,” Siegfried wrote in an online complaint against UAF to the Students for Academic Freedom Web site.

“My grade was influenced by bias against my social background and politics rather than academic reasons, and because no clear grading scale was offered, nor was any concrete reason for the final grade (given),” Siegfried said.

Siegfried appealed her grade in the spring of 2005, claiming that her failing mark came as the result of her personal beliefs as opposed to her ability. Her appeal was denied in UAF’s grade appeals process, which led her to leave the program.

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“I mean, I’m willing to accept that I have personality problems, that maybe I was a crappy teacher,” Siegfried said. “But if the school had valid reasons, I don’t understand why they couldn’t tell me what they were. They wouldn’t tell me what I did, give me an example of what I did, or tell me what they wanted me to do to improve.”

Eric C. Madsen, dean of the College of Education at UAF, denies that Siegfried’s views were the cause of her negative evaluation.

“Her ability to translate content knowledge into effective instruction, her not submitting lesson plans as requested as well as not seeing any value in doing so, and the fact that she completed less than half of the required hours in her assigned classroom during her practicum were the reasons why UAF faculty agreed with Siegfried that she should exit the program,” Madsen said.

UAF says that education students are graded on professional characteristics and not on political leanings. Students are expected to possess two things when they are successfully licensed: the knowledge required to instruct the subject they are teaching, and the ability to teach effectively to students from all backgrounds.

“The School of Education believes that these professional characteristics identify behaviors that most parents would want their children’s teacher to practice,” Madsen said.

According to the UAF School of Education Web site, grading is just one part of the UAF College of Education’s conceptual framework. Most of UAF’s faculty falls under the mantle of social constructivism _” an approach that takes the social, cultural, and historical contexts in account and drives the process of growth and learning. This philosophy promotes the idea that educators should examine the status and power associated with being Caucasian when teaching minority and indigenous students.

Siegfried questioned that type of dogma, and pointed out that economic as well as religious factors are part of a student’s background worth considering. She said the faculty censored her for being outspoken.

“How can someone teach students to think about politics and civics if the teachers consider all opposing viewpoints as being dangerous extremes?” Siegfried asked.

Now a student at the University of Alaska Anchorage campus studying for a degree in aviation technology, Siegfried is not jaded by her experience.

“I’m from a different culture than them, but it is one they don’t see,” Siegfried said. “The political part (of the appeal) has been publicized, but it may have been a cultural misunderstanding for all I know.”