Live from Music Row, Wednesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – guest host Cunningham welcomed Robin Steenman of Moms for Liberty-Williamson County to the newsmaker line to outline the indoctrinating curriculum of Wit and Wisdom and its efforts to push back against the school board and superintendent.
Cunningham: Robin Steenman is with Moms for Liberty in Williamson County. Robin, good morning.
Steenman: Good morning, Ben.
Cunningham: Thank you so much for taking the time to join us this morning. We just wanted to get an update on what’s going on. The last I heard, you guys were attending school board meetings.
Your thrust has been to highlight and expose Critical Race Theory in schools and other issues that are going on. Give us an update on what is going on right now with you guys.
Steenman: Sure thing, Ben. As you know, we started our journey taking on Critical Race Theory in Williamson County. And it really started with the hiring of the diversity equity inclusion consultancy in which – that we anticipate they’ll identify systemic racism in the county.
And then we’re off to the races with CRT-type policy. In that journey, we became aware of students ashamed of their skin color and students feeling like a victim because of their skin color.
So we really turned to look at where CRT already existed in the system. And, of course, our first suspicion was the curriculum. So we’ve done a deep dive into the Wit and Wisdom curriculum, and there are pockets of CRT.
But the problem with Wit and Wisdom is it’s really social-emotional learning from K through fifth grade. It’s extremely dark, extremely graphic. Emotions run high, but they’re all negative emotions and just a lot of age-inappropriate material.
And that’s where our battle is right now is Wit and Wisdom. And as the school year starts, literally next week, parents’ emotions are running high. For some parents, there are some stress levels out there.
Cunningham: And it just sounds so Orwellian. All of these terms just sound really, really strange and Orwellian as if we all need to be forced into equity and inclusion. And as if there’s some great moral rule out there that we’re not attuned to that – parents must be educated about the great moral issues of the day.
This is just ridiculous. Parents should be in charge of what goes on in schools and schools should prioritize teaching reading, and writing, and arithmetic first before they get into the social-emotional and all these other issues. How did we drift so far away from the basics of education?
Steenman: I wish I knew that. (Chuckles) I’m new on the scene. I think it’s a slide and we’ve been going down a slope for a while and parents have been busy, and we’ve been living our lives.
And we’ve put a lot of faith and a lot of trust in the school district and in those that run the school district and assume that they’re on the same page with us and at least the same side with us. And then COVID happens, and parents get to sit in on what their kids are being taught and low and behold what’s going on.
Cunningham: It’s been a huge revelation, I think, to parents and grandparents and everybody. And thankfully, I don’t know, it may be a mixed blessing of COVID that we are getting some insights into exactly what is going on and beginning to hold them accountable. What do you see for Moms for Liberty as your role over the school year that is about to start?
Steenman: We’ve put in well over 1,200 hours by now of research into Wit and Wisdom by over 20 parents to really get to the bottom of it because each module, each lesson also has a teacher’s manual and that teacher’s manual must be looked at thoroughly.
And I’ll give you an example real quick because we just found something new. There’s a book in the kindergarten grade, module one, and it’s called Bojangles. And I bought the book and read it, and I have no problems with it. I would let my daughter read it.
She’s about to go into first grade. But it talks about Bojangles and how he danced and how that was a positive thing in the world. And there’s this one page where he’s dancing past open and closed doors. And two of the doors are closed.
And then a couple of the doors are open and the people are waving. But there’s this one door that’s closed. It looks like a man is turned the other way. It was kind of an angry expression. And what is his skin color? Well, it’s white.
I mean, is that historically accurate? I’m sure. But I have no problem with that for a child. My child would see that and would probably focus on the waving happy people and would focus on the pictures of Bojangles dancing.
But then you look at the teacher’s manual and it’s striking because it says, okay, kids, let’s focus on the angry white man. Look at his expression.
Cunningham: You are kidding me? Does it literally say that?
Steenman: Well, it doesn’t say the white man, but it’s the angry man. It wants them to focus on that. And, of course, the skin color is very evident. But then it goes on to say that Bojangles, that these doors were closed to him because of his skin color.
And it says it multiple times. I mean, a child would have never picked up on that in just the reading of the book. But the teacher’s manual will not allow them an innocent reading of the book. It will not permit their children’s innocence.
It has to force a kindergartener, a five or six-year-old, to look at this story through a racial lens, to say, oh, Bojangles is racially oppressed. And this man behind the door and the angered expression has something to do with that.
And then further, it goes into the Harlem Renaissance for kindergarteners. I would submit that the kindergartener has no idea what the regular old Renaissance is. So it’s just not age-appropriate. The book itself is fine.
But the teacher’s manual is where it just goes off the rails. And the teacher’s manual even puts a note in there for the teachers like this word is too advanced. The word is closed for module one and the kindergarteners because of the blended sounds. But due to the narrative of the story, because that’s more important, then we’re going to use it anyway.
So put it up on the word wall, but the students don’t need to read it. Those are just out-of-whack priorities. This is English language arts. You’re teaching a child to read and write for the first time and you’re choosing words that are too advanced because they hit the narrative that’s being presented.
So once you read that teacher’s note, it’s really all you need to know about the priorities of this particular lesson. The teacher’s manuals are really crucial. There are many examples of a book that may be okay or maybe not that bad.
And then you match it up with the teacher’s manual and it’s incredibly stilted in ideology, especially in the third grade. We’re digging up more stuff about Story Messenger, which is a book about Galileo, which normally would be a great thing.
But the teacher’s manual, instead of focusing on his scientific advancements, this new way of thinking, and how he changed the world, it absolutely focuses on how he was persecuted by the Church. The Church and its traditions are bad.
Cunningham: It’s indoctrinating kids into a particular worldview. I don’t think there’s any question about that.
Steenman: No, there’s not. So what we’ve done is we’ve raised our objections with our school board and with our superintendent. We submitted letters requesting a forum back in June that we could present our findings, but our superintendent would really have nothing to do with that.
We had a forum anyway, and three school board members and a handful of our local elected officials attended. But instead, now we’re wrapped up in this 4.403 process, which is a board policy title request for reconsideration of instructional materials.
Which really was geared for a parent filing a complaint about a single book, whereas we’re following it complaining about the whole curriculum. But now we’re in a 4.403 process. It’s a pretty loose timeline.
They’re not giving us a lot of specifics. There are five members on the committee that we don’t necessarily agree with. We weren’t given a seat at the table even though we’re a legitimate parent organization.
And the policy allows for the parent organization to be at the table. So school starts imminently and parents are getting nervous. Some have pulled out altogether. And then for those that are keeping their child in because not every parent can withdraw their child …
Cunningham: We are coming up on a break. Can you stay over the break for us? I apologize for interrupting you there. I’d love to ask you some more questions.
Steenman: I sure can.
Listen to the second hour here:
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