Meredith C. Carroll: It’s hard to be Joyce Rankin

Meredith C. Carroll
Muck Off

You can’t turn on the news these days without hearing about the singular problem sweeping the nation, the one threatening America’s youth at an alarming pace: optional, anonymous student surveys on equity.

Just kidding; it’s only a problem in Aspen. Kidding again, although it is an issue weighing heavily on Carbondale resident and recently re-elected Colorado State Board of Education member Joyce Rankin. Last month she penned an opinion column, “Sex, Religion and Your High School,” about a “serious problem” with an Aspen High School survey on equity that she said concerned parents brought to her attention.

“It is clear that the principal and teachers at this school broke the law,” Rankin, who said during a phone interview on Tuesday that she did not actually read all the questions in the survey but then cited the statute that was allegedly violated (“22-1-123”), wrote in the column. “Even if a survey is anonymous, parents must be notified and give permission before it is assigned to the students … What’s next? … Could this happen again?”

(As of press time, AHS principal Sarah Strassburger was not listed among the inmates in the Pitkin County Jail; this is a developing story that will be updated. Still kidding.)

As it turns out, Rankin’s fear — in addition to a possible school survey conspiracy — is that the information provided by the 295 out of 550 AHS students who opted to share their perspective on discrimination based on disability, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, politics, social class, and height or weight will “lead to instruction.”

“It could be added to the curriculum,” she said.

In fact, Rankin may be onto something. For instance, it stands to reason that 17-year old Kayla Tehrani might like to see some of her responses to the equity survey become actual teachable moments. The AHS junior responded to Rankin’s column in a letter to the editor to The Aspen Times describing how she’s been subjected to racism and xenophobia at school. Tehrani explained how her experience as a person from a Muslim country is relevant in the conversation about equal access to education (see also: the mission statement of the Colorado State Board of Education).

“As a person of color, as someone who is a minority, I find surveys like this helpful in making the place that I am required to be — five days a week — a place that people would like to be, and somewhere students feel safe and comfortable going to,” Tehrani wrote last week. “Some individuals are scared of the words ‘equity’ and ‘equality,’ and that is what is making the community a more exclusive place. … Please stop attacking the school for trying to do something good.”

To be fair, the fear of clandestine equity surveys isn’t limited to Aspen. FOFNTC (Friends of Fox News and/or Tucker Carlson) also calls it indoctrination.

“It might be a good idea for Loveland parents to investigate whether teachers are, by any means, requiring or intimidating their kids to answer intrusive, personal, and none-of-their-business questions like those discussed in Rankin’s column,” one Loveland resident wrote in a letter to the editor to the Loveland Reporter-Herald.

It all rings familiar in the culture war du jour hyperbole. A May 3 New York Times guest opinion essay, “Do You Live in a Political Bubble?”, described “Americans’ animosity toward the opposing political party (a)s higher than it has been in decades,” all while “Republicans and Democrats are increasingly alienated from each other, rhetorically and geographically.”

It’s got to be special kind of burn for the concerned parents who alerted Rankin to the survey knowing their kids are in a school district that celebrates and prioritizes all children and even employs quotes emphasizing “that other people, with their differences, can also be right,” as a way of responding to the fake news survey brouhaha.

If it’s cringeworthy to imagine being, say, the one voter in 10 in Gillette, Wyoming, who identifies as a Democrat, then you know it’s got to be tough being anti-equity in Pitkin “We Basically Bleed Blue” County, where only two in 10 voters are Republican. But it must be especially hard for Rankin, who has spent decades working as an educator, to have one of the school systems that she represents tackle the complicated topic of fairness in the classroom when her only contribution to the fight is against it.

More at and on Twitter @MCCarroll.