The NEA's Radical Agenda for Public Education
Turning classrooms into indoctrination centers for social activism.
One positive aspect of the vigorous current debate over critical race theory (CRT) being taught in public schools is that parents and other interested parties have a new awareness of what is being taught in their children’s classrooms. The criticism has also resulted in educators closing ranks against a questioning of their perceived role in promoting a leftist, radical ideology that many think has no place in public school systems.
In a July 6th speech at an American Federation of Teachers (AFT) meeting, Randi Weingarten, the organization’s left-leaning president, defended the teaching about race and pushed back against critics who questioned the educational and moral validity of CRT being part of a school curriculum.
"Let's be clear,” Weingarten proclaimed, mendaciously, however, “critical race theory is not taught in elementary schools or high schools.” And answering back defiantly to anyone who questioned how the current teaching about race may be divisive rather than educational, she further claimed that ". . . culture warriors are labeling any discussion of race, racism or discrimination as CRT to try to make it toxic. They are bullying teachers and trying to stop us from teaching students accurate history."
Weingarten and other educators, including local boards across the country, have been walking back their previous vigorous defense of CRT, claiming instead, as she did, that teaching about race and white supremacy is merely “accurate history,” and not part of a campaign to indoctrinate students with an ideological mishmash of racial justice, activism, white police brutality, social and economic disparities between whites and so-called “people of color,’ and a culture of white supremacy in which the privilege of the majority disadvantages and oppresses black victims.
But Weingarten’s protestation aside, the National Education Association (NEA) -- with some 1,680,000 members -- and other educators groups are not only actively engaged in promoting CRT but are creating learning environments in which students are bombarded with an increasingly radical set of lesson plans, some taught in conjunction with Black Lives Matter at School Week and some part of regular instruction, that teach children a one-sided view of race, law enforcement, class, family structure, crime, and economics—topics that have not heretofore been a central, or even appropriate, part of K-12 education.
What began as a well-intentioned attempt to teach tolerance and anti-racism in schools—a perfectly acceptable and reasonable component of a child’s education—has widened into an ideological campaign that permeates school curricula and exposes children to a set of radical, leftist ideas about race and society that are certainly not mainstream, even if they should be taught in public schools in the first place.
Some components of that ideological campaign were revealed at the NEA meeting, in fact, in one matter adopted by members, New Business Item 39. Contrary to Weingarten’s minimizing CRT’s presence, the resolution committed the NEA members to “Share and publicize, through existing channels, information already available on critical race theory . . . [and] have a team of staffers for members who want to learn more and fight back against anti-CRT rhetoric; and share information with other NEA members as well as their community members.”
And lest there be any doubt about how committed the NEA members are to leftist ideology, the contorted language of this business item affirms the promotion of “an already-created, in-depth, study that critiques empire, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy [sic], capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society, and that we oppose attempts to ban critical race theory and/or The 1619 Project.”
Not only is the NEA actively engaged in promoting CRT, but, contrary to Weingarten’s public denials, it plans to fund an effort to attack and discredit any critics of CRT in the schools, including the controversial and discredited 1619 Project that attempts “to place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.”
The NEA’s obsession with race, social justice, and victimization permeates the organization’s ideology and its notion of what should be taught, and propagandized, in public schools. In an NEA resource guide, “Racial Justice in Education,” for example, the organization lays out for teachers a group of what they term “Guiding Principles on Racial & Social Justice in Education.” The NEA’s “vision for public education,” the guide proclaims, “advances inclusion, equity, and racial and social justice in our schools and society.”
Whether it is the primary, or even secondary, role of public education to promote social justice in society is a discussion that may be worthwhile to have before educators commit to it fully and design teaching programs to advance this leftist agenda and indoctrinate children with its tenets.
The bias in the NEA’s vision is revealed in some of the subsequent language of the guide, particularly such bafflegab as the proclamation that teachers’ “work must dismantle white supremacy, and ensure that bigotry or discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, disability or national origin are not part of our classrooms, educational curricula, school policies and discipline practices,” and, in a nod to the factually incorrect notion that white law enforcement brutalizes minorities, that “schools must be safe for all students, and free from state-sanctioned, racialized, and gender-based violence.”
Teachers are encouraged to engage as social activists—and to pass on that engagement to their students—by other teaching resources, as well. On an NEA-sponsored website, edjustice.com, for example, one of the recommended books is Teaching for Black Lives, a Rethinking Schools publication. The book’s introduction challenges teachers to enlist in a campaign for racial equity, and, in fact, to transform classrooms into centers of resistance, with students, presumably, complicit activists.
“The ferocity of racism in the United States against black minds and black bodies demands that teachers fight back,” the book’s introduction read, and the editors “see this collection as playing an important role in highlighting the ways educators can and should make their classrooms and schools sites of resistance to white supremacy and anti-Blackness . . . .”
Even though one would expect that teaching basic skills of language, history, mathematics, science, and other disciplines is the primary role of educators, according to the editors of this book, teachers “must organize against anti-blackness amongst our colleagues and in our communities; we must march against police brutality in the streets; and we must teach for Black lives in our classrooms.”
Black Lives Matter, of course, had seeped into school instruction prior to George Floyd’s death, at which point its visibility and adoption accelerated at a dizzying rate. But educators had already begun to adopt some of the movement’s principles and ideology, and particularly those aspects which called on supporters to become activists in the cause of racial justice.
Support for BLM is fine for adult citizens who wish to promote racial equity in American society. Whether it is appropriate for children to have to absorb its worldview—much of it animated with hatred for the police, a vision of a fundamentally and irredeemably racist society, Marxist and anti-Semitic elements, and other less than savory aspects of the movement—is another question, but the NEA and many teachers apparently feel it is their duty to indoctrinate students with this particular view of racism and American society.
Teaching for Black Lives’ introduction admits that one of its sections, “Making Black Lives Matter in Our Schools,” has as its purpose to show “how police violence and the movement for Black lives can explicitly be brought to schools and classrooms by educators through organizing mass action and through curriculum” and how “it is also important for students and teachers to understand their roles in organizing in support of Black life and Black communities, and against anti-Black racism” through “the hope and beauty of student activism and collective action.”
If the prevailing ideology in classrooms, based on these curricular materials, is one that divides children by race, black and white, oppressed and oppressor, victimizer and victim, privileged and unprivileged, then one has to question what exactly the purpose of this teaching is. Who does it benefit? Public schools are not civil rights organizations where activists committed to a particular cause work to address that problem in the wider world and attain racial harmony, peace, economic equity, or some other social good. These are public school classrooms, places where now a white student, regardless of whether he or she has any actual bias in them, will be considered privileged, oppressive, and part of the hateful, bigoted white majority.
Given how the left and Democrats spent the last four years labeling Trump supporters and conservatives as white supremacists, it is obvious now that where once a white supremacist, as it was widely understood, would be wearing a sheet or have a swastika tattooed on his arm, now, in the post-Trump era, a white child encountering this instruction whose parents wear a MAGA hat or vote Republican may think of himself as an irredeemably racist, immoral, and part of the white culture that oppresses and denigrates people of color and who supports the left’s fantasies about empire, colonialism, patriarchy, white supremacy, and police and state violence.
And not content to merely enlist educators in the campaign to obsess on the racist defects of the United States—and to promote that view to impressionable students—teachers additionally try to prepare students for social activism, even recruiting elementary school-aged children to become foot soldiers in the cause of social justice.
A 2019 Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action “Lesson and Activity Plan Links for Elementary School,” for example, designed for use by grades 3-5 but which “may include lessons appropriate for K-2 as well,” is a lesson plan for teaching “Activism, Organizing and Resistance.” In one of the lesson plan’s modules, students are taught “Art and Activism” purportedly as a way of learning about tolerance. While parading as an art activity, the activity “capitalizes on children's natural relationship to art by prompting them to examine the ways art relates to community leadership and activism,” with individual lessons on “Art and Community Activism. Who Are the Activists in My Community?” “Art and LGBT Rights: Study of Symbols” and “Art and Social Justice: What is a Portrait?”
In another module, “Resistance Stories (#teachresistance),” students are directed to read stories about activists “in order to consider ideas around economic justice and protest as a means to achieve change.” Once they have read the stories and discussed them in class, they “will then consider ways that they can take a stand about a social issue within their own school or community that concerns them” and “. . . then explore issues in their own communities and engage in a form of activism to address that issue.” And, as an indication that the teachers are anything if not up to date in their use of tactics to disseminate their ideology, the lesson plan also “introduces children to different ways young people have used the internet to work toward positive social change.” An additional, somewhat self-serving part of the lesson plan is the section called “Exploring Teacher Strikes,” during which, through role-playing, “Children explore the reasons why teachers have gone on strikes by engaging in role-playing,” helpful support in the event that teachers want to strike on behalf of BLM, Covid safety, or some other cause that would necessitate them leaving the classroom to extract higher salaries from taxpayers in their districts.
This, of course, is not teaching; it is political indoctrination. This type of lesson plan and curricula, together with such instructional resources as Teaching for Black Lives and Black Lives Matter at School Week, are one-sided, left-leaning, well-intentioned but divisive tools that have questionable educational value in the first place, and are clearly being shoved down the throats of public school children who find themselves being categorized in groups based on whether they are black or white—the very definition of racism—in a purported effort to combat intolerance in American society.
But by forcing children to assume their roles as either victimizer or victim in what is described as an irredeemably racist society, the NEA and educators are doing a great disservice to public school students who should be judged, as Dr. King put it, not on the color of their skin, but on the content of their character.
Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.