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Public Education Has Gone 'Woke'

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Public Education Has Gone 'Woke'

Newsweek June 24, 2020
EducationPre K-12
RaceOther

School will be a very different place next year. Classes will be less full. Desks will be rigorously sterilized. And if the education establishment has its way, teachers will be aggressively "woke."

The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) recently announced: "AASA's work on equity must go further and become actively anti-racist. ...Leading a system-wide effort requires that we ensure that cultural responsiveness permeates all levels of the district."

For many parents, this might sound like an unobjectionable appeal to moral progress in the wake of a tragic injustice. But they could be surprised when they realize what "antiracist," culturally responsive classrooms will look like. Antiracism sounds simple: treat everyone the same, like a version of the Golden Rule. But the Chicago Public Schools district headlined its recently released "toolkit to help foster productive conversations about race and civil disobedience" with an epigraph by Angela Davis, the former Communist and criminal fugitive who supplied the guns used in the Marin Courthouse massacre in 1970. "In a racist society, it is not enough to not be non-racist," said Davis. "We must be anti-racist." The toolkit provides links to materials written by the Southern Poverty Law Center and directs teachers toward Ibram X. Kendi's How to Be an Anti-Racist.

Education Week's "Classroom Q&A" blog tells teachers that "As Dr. Ibram X. Kendi would say, there is no 'not racist.' There is only racist and anti-racist. Your silence favors the status quo and the violently oppressive harm it does to Black and brown folk everywhere." Antiracism does not mean equal treatment and respect. It is an all-encompassing ideology that demands constant questioning of one's own actions and motives and the actions and motives of others, with total vigilance about one's own purportedly implicit racial biases.

Such vigilance, according to "Classroom Q&A," is literally a matter of life and death: "If you as a teacher have not committed to doing the work of understanding your internal racism, implicit bias and prejudice, you are complicit in the deaths of Black people, and people of color broadly, across the nation. If you are not committed to the work of being actively anti-racist, you are complicit in validating the physical and spiritual murders of Black men, women and children daily."

English teachers, horrified at the idea that their words or actions might unintentionally validate murder, may feel compelled look for guidance to an "antiracist" expert like Lorena German, who chairs the Committee on Anti-Racism for the National Council on the Teaching of English (NCTE). At the height of the recent urban unrest, while police cars and buildings were set ablaze by anarchists and looters, German tweeted: "Educators: what are you burning? Your White-centered curriculum? The Amy Cooper next door? Your anti-Black behavior policies? The school's racist policies? Your racist a** principal? The funding for the police in schools [versus] counselors? WHAT ARE YOU BURNING???!!?!?!?!?"

German's call to commit arson may have been metaphorical. But antiracist schools will teach very different material from the schools of yesteryear. "Transforming Our Public Schools: A Guide to Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Education," created by the NYC Culturally Responsive Education Working Group, explains to teachers that "the whole Western canon is rife with horrible stories and atrocities of who we are as people of color."

For their part, the National Committee on Social Studies' Early Childhood/Elementary Community has promised to overhaul content, explaining that "to stop the systemic, and we are talking about system-wide policies and practices, the systemic pattern of dehumanization...we need to start early. WE, as educators, and family members, need to flood our children with counter messages. ...Messages that show #BlackLivesMatter and that it is essential to elevate that message until there is no racial inequality in economic opportunity, no racial inequality in education, no racial inequality in incarceration rates and no brutality from police and others."

This open-ended propaganda campaign would come not only through new books, but also through guided discussion of news cycle controversies. New York state's "Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Education" framework encourages teachers to "incorporate current events, even if they are controversial, into instruction" and to "utilize tools...that encourage students to engage with difficult topics (power, privilege, access, inequity) constructively." How might "culturally responsive" teachers address recent events "constructively?" Comments by New York University professor David Kirkland, the architect of New York's framework and author of "Culturally Responsive Education: A Primer for Policy and Practice," provide some clues. Kirkland expressed outrage that the media was using "the racist construction of criminality" to "comment upon who gets to fight for their freedom and who does not." Referring to law enforcement, he declared: "What does it mean when your job is to enforce the law when the law is explicitly racist? It means enforcing racism."

As cultural and political polarization reaches more and more areas of American life, one might hope that schools would remain a relatively apolitical oasis where children can learn to read, write and develop skills of socialization.

But the woke education establishment would deem that desire a reactionary defense of white supremacism. The NCTE insists that "there is no apolitical classroom." And our schools today are, according to renowned education professor Bettina Love, "spaces of Whiteness, White rage, and White Supremacy, all of which function to terrorize students of color."

Such rhetoric, and the "critical race theory" behind it, have become staples of American graduate schools. Unless parents are vigilant, it may soon become standard in American elementary schools.

This piece originally appeared at Newsweek

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Max Eden is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. This piece was adapted from City Journal. Follow him on Twitter here.

Photo by skynesher/iStock

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