by Virginia Allen
It’s no secret that the far left has infiltrated higher education with its radical ideas. But now, woke ideology has come for K-12 classrooms across the country.
“As parents, we send our kids to school to learn to think critically, to figure out how to solve problems, and to respectfully discuss and resolve differences of opinion,” Ashley Jacobs, executive director of Parents Unite, said Friday during the new organization’s first conference.
“But,” Jacobs said, “our educational systems are not enabling these skills, and in some cases, [they are] stifling them.”
About 100 educators, parents, students, and thought leaders gathered earlier this month in Boston for Parents Unite’s “Diversity of Thought in K-12 Education” conference. Speakers addressed the rise of critical race theory and “diversity, equity, and inclusion” ideology within public and private schools, and what parents can do to combat what the group sees as radical indoctrination of the next generation.
Established in May, Parents Unite describes itself as a bipartisan organization founded in response to the one-sided woke agenda being promoted in private or independent schools as well as in public schools. A small group of mothers, including Jacobs, formed the nonprofit when it realized that many independent schools no longer were teaching children how to think, but what to think.
The left is making a “huge push” for what it calls diversity, equity, and inclusion, “and it’s been going on for years,” Jacobs, 52, said. But, she added, parents aren’t seeing true diversity of opinion within classrooms:
You want to be inclusive, and you want to explore all these different kinds of people and cultures. But the implicit assumption is that that makes for more interesting classrooms, because people share the things that make them different in a way that’s meaningful. But that’s not what we’re seeing. So, then [diversity] becomes window dressing …
More than 20 speakers addressed the “window dressing” taking place within classrooms across America during the two-day conference.
Critical race theory, which teaches that race drives every issue in society and that whites intrinsically are privileged and use this privilege to oppress people of color, was at the center of discussion throughout the event.
The New York Times’ 1619 Project promotes some of the tenets of critical race theory by claiming that America was racist at its founding. During the 2019-2020 school year, the Washington-based Pulitzer Center reported that more than 3,500 classrooms used material from the widely criticized 1619 Project.
Educators’ embrace of critical race theory has led to “suffocating empathy,” Ian Rowe, who led a network of charter schools in New York City for 10 years, said Friday.
Schools are lowering standards for students of color because of an assumption that they are oppressed, and so will not perform as well as white classmates, Rowe said.
Rowe pointed to the San Diego Unified School District as an example of this misguided empathy.
In 2020, San Diego schools implemented a new grading policy under which teachers no longer consider behavior, work submitted late, or attendance when determining grades. The school district made the change in an effort to address what it called racial inequality.
Policies motivated by critical race theory, such as the new grading system in San Diego, “hurt kids” because they communicate a victim narrative instead of challenging young people to work hard and overcome obstacles, Rowe said.
Think private schools are doing a better job teaching students how to use logic and reason and resist woke groupthink? Andrew Gutmann, also known as the “Brearley dad,” likely would answer no.
During the conference, Gutmann told the story of how he gained national attention in April after pulling his middle school daughter out of The Brearley School in Manhattan and writing a letter to fellow Brearley parents explaining his actions.
“If the [Brearley] administration was genuinely serious about ‘diversity,’ it would not insist on the indoctrination of its students, and their families, to a single mindset, most reminiscent of the Chinese Cultural Revolution,” Gutmann wrote in the letter, published by writer and commentator Bari Weiss.
Brearley, an all-girls school with annual tuition of $54,000, not only instituted elements of critical race theory in the classroom but required parents to attend anti-racism training.
In his letter, Gutmann described this training as “so sophomoric and simplistic, so unsophisticated and inane, that I would be embarrassed if they were taught to Brearley kindergarteners.”
Although many other education leaders, teachers, parents, and even some students voiced concerns at the conference over the injection of critical race theory into K-12 education, nearly every speaker had recommendations on how to restore civil discourse and diversity of thought to schools.
What follows are seven takeaways from the Parents Unite conference on strategies to promote true diversity of thought and push back against indoctrination of students.
1. Present Alternatives
It is not enough to criticize the teaching of radical curriculum such as the 1619 Project; parents must “present a powerful and empowering alternative,” Rowe said.
Rowe himself contributes to 1776 Unites, a project created in response to the 1619 Project that highlights inspiring true stories from American history.
The free high school curriculum from 1776 Unites has been downloaded more than 20,000 times, and the group plans to release a K-8 curriculum soon.
Rowe says he chose to contribute to 1776 Unites in part because he didn’t want merely to criticize the teaching of critical race theory, but to provide teachers and parents with a more accurate way to teach American history.
2. Get Involved
Consider getting involved with your local school board, Rowe urged parents. Those who can’t make the time should consider how they could support someone who does have the time and resources, he said.
Parents also may consider starting their own school or supporting someone who is doing so, if they don’t see a strong education option in their area, Rowe said.
Other families may want to consider homeschooling. With modern technology, homeschool co-ops, and free resources such as 1776 Unites, homeschooling is easier than ever, parents said during a panel discussion.
3. Demand Transparency
Parents should be their children’s greatest advocate, and have a right to know what schools are teaching, several speakers stressed.
Parents should feel free to ask questions about a child’s curriculum. For example, are kids being taught material from the 1619 Project or listening to talks in class by Ibram Kendi, author of the book “How to Be an Antiracist”?
If the school district won’t provide such information, parents should consider filing requests for public records.
4. Help Draft a ‘Chicago Statement’
A document called a “Chicago Statement” is a brief declaration of a school’s commitment to free speech and how it plans to protect that speech.
The practice of schools adopting such statements began in 2014 at the University of Chicago, which tasked a committee with “articulating the university’s overarching commitment to free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation among all members of the university’s community.”
A “Chicago Statement” can serve as a litmus test and an accountability tool when a school begins suppressing diversity of thought or viewpoints under the guise of “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Beth Feeley, a senior adviser at the Woodson Center, said.
5. Connect to Resources
Speakers recommended the work of reputable groups that do research on education and combating the woke agenda in schools. Among them:
Critical Race Training in Education tracks training programs in critical race theory at colleges and elite private K-12 schools across America.
Educational Liberty Alliance promotes freedom of thought in education as a network of parents and teachers.
Foundation for Economic Education provides students with resources and free online courses that teach economic principles and encourage an entrepreneurial spirit.
No Left Turn in Education works to promote strong education based on fact, logic, and reasoning as a network of parents, teachers, and other local residents.
Parents Unite encourages true diversity of thought in K-12 education.
Parents Defending Education fights indoctrination in classrooms through litigation, investigative reporting, coalition building, and engagement on policies that affect education.
School House connects families in a specific area who seek to form a “pod” or micro-school and provides available teacher recommendations.
Seeking Educational Excellence aims to end the social justice agenda in schools.
1776 Unites provides a curriculum designed to empower students by teaching true, inspiring stories from American history.
6. Spend Time With Your Kids
A panel of students made up of Daniel Idfresne, Emmett Gardner, and Dylan LaBella encouraged parents to be active participants in their children’s lives.
American culture has become accustomed to delegating, but parents should not delegate the raising of their children to teachers, argued Idfresne, a senior at Brooklyn Technical High School in New York City.
“Fine” is a child’s common answer when a parent asks how his day went, but it is important to ask specific questions and understand what the child is being taught in school, Idfresne urged.
7. Have Courage
Before Gutmann wrote his letter to fellow parents at The Brearley School explaining why he was withdrawing his daughter, he said, he spoke with other parents.
When he asked parents whether they were going to express their feelings to the school administration about the teaching of critical race theory, Gutmann heard some say, “I should.” But, he said, none did.
Change requires action, the “Brearley dad” said.
Making changes in K-12 education will require courage, Gutmann said, and “until we find more courage, we are not winning this fight.”
– – –
Virginia Allen is a news producer for The Daily Signal. She is the co-host of The Daily Signal Podcast and Problematic Women. Send an email to Virginia.