For years, conservatives have been sounding the alarm about anti-American indoctrination in public schools. They’ve pointed out the dangers of mainstreaming of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. They’ve exposed the racialism of the 1619 Project. Unfortunately, however, the situation in public schools is far worse than the mere presence of propaganda.
Theoretically, parents can resist the dominant paradigm by explaining that it’s just the teacher’s opinion, and providing a counter-narrative at home. But once teachers demand performative activism from their students and tell them how to feel and what to do, an entirely different level of child manipulation and scholastic depravity is reached.
I recently tuned into a Zoom workshop taught by Oakland-based educational consultants Soul Shoppe. The class, attended by more than 300 families, was advertised through our school districts as a way for elementary school kids to “share what’s in your emotional balloon.” According to the promotional email distributed by Soul Shoppe, “we all have feelings about the racism, protests, and violence that are occurring in our world at the moment.”
Soul Shoppe reasoned it’s particularly important to talk to kids about racism because “Young children are hard-wired in their brains to notice difference and to categorize it…So it is vital during early childhood to put some context around making sense of differences.” What I saw on Zoom, however, was the hardening of preexisting prejudices.
With the school year over, this class was held on a volunteer basis, and participants were likely — as I like to call them — the “children of the woke.” Yet because the nonprofit does a variety of anti-bullying presentations in schools around East Bay, we can expect this workshop replicated in brick and mortar classrooms come fall.
During the workshop, the predominantly white, elementary school-age kids were asked how they feel about racism. Several responded with “sadness, fear, and anger.” An adult employee of Soul Shoppe agreed that racism makes her feel “afraid, sad, and angry, and lonely.” The workshop leader agreed, stating, “Right now so many of us feel sad, angry, and left out…because of the color of our skin,” later adding, “Right now people like me and Mr. A [a co-host] are getting hurt because of the color of our skin.”
Just what he meant by “getting hurt” was never specified. One of the middle age co-hosts, Mr. Arek, did mention getting mistakenly stopped by police when they were looking for someone else, and being denied service at a café. He also mentioned a black boy who cried after being told that he couldn’t be an astronaut because of the color of his skin.
The big unmentionable in that Zoom meeting was George Floyd. I don’t think it’s appropriate to show children the video of his death, but I don’t think that the general details are too awful to mention and don’t need to be masked with euphemisms like “getting hurt.” I sensed the presumption that the underage participants share the prevailing narrative spread in the aftermath of his death, namely, that black Americans are routinely hunted down by Caucasian cops.
After the brief discussion of how one ought to feel about the unmentionable event, the children were instructed to grab somebody near them to say, “That’s a lot of feelings!” During the hour, the minors were also instructed to chant “I want to be an ally” — the word Arek defined, incorrectly, as “an upstander” — and “We have to protest! We have to fight for what’s right!”
Because at no point were the youngsters asked to pledge anything else, the logical conclusion is that the entire point of the exercise was not so much to talk about feelings but to have the K-5 students commit to a certain type of political activity.
It’s About Cultivating Anger
Children were asked if they know how to protest, and one boy volunteered a ditty he’s been practicing: “No justice, no peace / No racist police.” Unsurprisingly, the workshop leaders didn’t object to this characterization of law enforcement, though Arek did suggest taking a deep breath before a march to avoid getting carried away with anger.
But as much as feelings were allowed in the meeting, cultivating anger loomed large. Growing up Jewish in the Soviet Union, I have been on the receiving end of multiple racist incidents. While I had many feelings about that, I don’t think anger was one of them, at least not at the time. Soul Shoppe, on the other hand, affirmed something the kids already learned from parents and the media: Anger is the natural reaction to racism.
It’s probably better to feel angry than to internalize it, but convincing an average seven-year-old that anger is a good emotion is likely to be damaging in the long run. If the goal is to explain away violence, rioting, and sadomasochist rituals taking place at the Floyd marches, and to possibly get the kids to participate in this type of activism in the future, then teaching them that racially charged anger is righteous — even if it results in destruction and death — seems like a logical choice. At the very least, anger can help to boost turnout at the marches.
That said, I didn’t get an angry vibe from the participants who, as expected from that age group, were eager to please parents and teachers. Yet there was a clear consensus that they ought to be angry and “prove it” by turning out for street-level political action.
The children of woke on that Zoom meeting seemed to be deliberately misled about key information about the experiences of black Americans with police. Floyd’s death is an extreme outlier incident, and there was never any doubt that the cop who is alleged to have murdered him will be brought to justice. The vast majority of interactions between blacks and police are amicable. Moreover, it’s far from clear that the white cop who allegedly killed Floyd was animated by racism. If adults want children to get angry on their behalf, the least they can do is be honest.
This is not the first time I had to deal with calls to protest and performative activism in American public schools. The most egregious case was last school year when my seventh grader’s English teacher informed class that raised fist, the Black Panther salute, means “solidarity,” and that the students in her classroom would be raising their fists in place of the “quiet coyote” sign. Requiring that sort of display of political activism is exactly like something one would have witnessed in the Soviet Union, so I pulled her out of that class.
It’s one thing to saturate a child in lies about the country, and another to require him to act on the brainwashing, practice protesting, and feign feelings. In effect, my child’s teacher was rehearsing protests, so if her students ever find themselves at a real one, they will know what to do.
Why should parents be concerned with schools churning out social justice mobs? Although a few might later become the “tenured radicals,” most youthful protesters don’t do well in life. At a protest, a young person surrenders his individuality to the crowd. He is engulfed by the ecstasy of belonging to the mob, and many find the feeling simply too thrilling to return to normal life.
There are teenagers in this country who had the last three months of school waived, and after being cooped up and deprived of social interaction, are now roaming the streets, at best clenching their fists and chanting something about “racist cops,” and at worst looting and destroying art. After imagining themselves as revolutionaries, are they going to go back to algebra in August?
Despite our past sins — slavery being the worst one — we have a rich tradition of anti-racism in America. If that’s what we want to teach, teachers can read Mark Twain with students, and help them understand difficult passages. If, however, the goal is to produce cogs for the political mob machine, we can continue telling children to be angry while depriving them of education, factual information about current events, and demanding action.