Understanding the proposed St. Paul teachers’ union contract
The Saint Paul Federation of Educators and the Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) district are currently negotiating a new contract. The union is asking for a $7,500 pay increase for…
Controversy over critical race theory (CRT) in America’s public schools has been a flashpoint in our nation’s culture wars since at least 2020. In Virginia, parents’ outcry against it determined the 2022 governor’s race, and red states such as Florida and Texas are doing their best to restrict it. In this charged climate, blue states are stealthily adopting a dangerous new disguise for CRT — “ethnic studies” — which incorporates all that worries Americans about CRT’s ideology, and plenty more, in a deceptively appealing package.
To see what’s coming, look at Minnesota, where this spring lawmakers enacted what are likely the most radical education measures in the nation. This is ethnic studies in its “liberated” form, which not only teaches race-based identities and “white privilege,” but incites students to take action to “disrupt and dismantle” America’s fundamental social and political institutions.
Minnesota’s new K-12 social studies standards — now in the final stages of rulemaking approval — exemplify this ideology. The standards add ethnic studies to the core social studies disciplines of history, civics, economics, and geography, and incorporate its concepts throughout. One ethnic studies “anchor standard,” titled “Resistance,” is typical. It requires students to “organize with others to resist systemic and coordinated exercises of power” against “marginalized,” oppressed groups.
These new standards and their related benchmarks prime youngsters to view American institutions with suspicion and hostility from the earliest grades. Kindergartners, for example, must “retell a story about an unfair experience that conveys a power imbalance.” First-graders must “identify examples of ethnicity, equality, liberation and systems of power and use those examples to construct meanings for those terms.”
High school students will be required to “analyze how caste systems based upon race, social class, and religion have been used to justify imperialism, colonization, warfare, and chattel slavery” and to “examine the construction of racialized hierarchies based on colorism and dominant European beauty standards and values.”
Even subjects like geography are shot through with extremist ethnic studies ideology.
For example, fourth graders will no longer be required to learn the names and locations of continents, the Atlantic Ocean, the Amazon, England, or China. Instead, they will “describe places and regions, explaining how they are influenced by power structures.” When they study states and capitals, they must include “a recognition of indigenous land these places were built on.”
Criminal Justice as Oppressive
The ethnic studies-driven campaign to discredit American institutions as illegitimate is most clearly evident in the standards that focus on criminal justice. Students will study our police departments and justice system in connection with an ethnic studies standard that requires them to “understand the roots of contemporary systems of oppression” and “eliminate” “injustices.”
Fifth graders, for example, will “examine contemporary policing” and its alleged “historical roots in early America.” (The claim is that our police departments sprang directly from slave patrols of the Old South.) Sixth-graders will study the “impact” of “Minnesota’s juvenile justice system” on youth “from historically disenfranchised groups.” High school standards suggest the notion of criminality itself is racist: “Explore how criminality is constructed and what makes a person a criminal.”
Biased, misleading instruction of this kind will likely convince many young people that policing and the very idea of criminality are oppressive, racially “constructed,” and among the many things schools are instructing them to “resist.”
Advocates’ Ambitious Plan
Remarkably, the activist campaign to transform Minnesota’s public schools has generated minimal public pushback. A key to its success was the promotion of ethnic studies as a unifying cultural learning experience, while in fact it stokes interracial hostility and delegitimizes authority. This deceptive strategy is likely to become a national model for activists seeking to transform our K-12 education system.
Across the country, students’ exposure to CRT — think The New York Times’ “1619 Project” — initially came in piecemeal fashion, through outside interests such as teachers unions and professional associations. In contrast, ethnic studies advocates aim to impose this corrosive ideology through government action, either weaving it through all subjects as a “lens” or requiring an ethnic studies course as a discipline comparable to history or civics.
In 2021, California became the first state to make an ethnic studies course a high school graduation requirement. Though education officials there adopted a deeply flawed, leftist curriculum, they did so after rejecting an initial “liberated” draft as too radical.
Ironically, Minnesota lawmakers have now injected this extremist version not in one required course for teens but in academic standards for all subjects, including math and science, from kindergarten through 12th grade. In addition, the ideology has been hard-wired into teacher licensing requirements and fundamental school mechanics, so the transformation will be difficult to reverse.
Extremist Org Driving the Campaign
Today, ethnic studies may be easier than CRT to sell as a cover for radical ideology because it remains largely free of the political baggage that CRT has accumulated, and sounds appealing to American ears in a multi-ethnic society that values fairness and cultural understanding. A 2022 poll by the Minneapolis-based Center of the American Experiment found a majority of Minnesotans approve of ethnic studies in schools until they become aware of its extremist agenda.
In Minnesota’s 2023 legislative session, Democratic leaders and leftist activists took advantage of this goodwill by mounting a coordinated bait-and-switch campaign to deflect public scrutiny. The campaign was spearheaded by a coalition of activist teachers and community organizers, whose parent organization is the Minnesota chapter of the Education for Liberation Network, which has California roots.
The goal of “EdLib MN” is to “be a political force” to “contend with the status quo of colonial education that prioritizes Eurocentric curricula” and “predominantly white educators and administrators,” according to its website. During the legislative campaign for an ethnic studies mandate in Minnesota schools, the organization retweeted a graphic that called for “the abolition” (not reform) “of policing,” and declared that “defunding the police” means “abolishing the social order and building a new society.”
“EdLib MN” leader Brian Lozenski, a St. Paul-based professor who serves on the board of the national EdLib Network, has been candid about Ed Lib’s endgame of political upheaval. In an article titled “The Black Radical Tradition Can Help Us Imagine a More Just World,” which he wrote in June 2020, he described the George Floyd riots in Minneapolis as “mass uprisings against racialized state violence,” which portend “the inevitable death” of the American “social order that prioritizes vulgar economics.” After Covid closings, Lozenski declared, “Schools need only reopen if they join the social unrest and actively combat the greater public health crisis of systemic racism.”
At the state capitol in St. Paul, however, savvy activists and their Democratic legislative allies lobbied for liberated ethnic studies using a benign, inclusive “kumbaya” message. They framed ethnic studies as unifying: “An unequaled opportunity to bridge the ethnic and cultural divide” in Minnesota classrooms by “invit[ing] students to more deeply explore” the state’s “many diverse cultures and histories.”
“When everyone gets a chance to learn about everyone in their community,” read one promotional piece, “it brings us closer.” A legislative sponsor portrayed ethnic studies as a way to cultivate the sort of cultural pride her children felt when encouraged to bring their Lebanese food and gowns to school.
Ed Lib’s Lozenski served as a chief testifier for the primary ethnic studies bill. He did not disclose his radical agenda or connections but held himself out as a concerned parent who favors ethnic studies because it will provide Minnesota students with the “intra- and inter-cultural knowledge” they need in a “globalized world.”
Ethnic studies advocates’ entire legislative strategy was marked by calculated deception and lack of transparency. Sweeping proposals to infuse “liberated” ideology through K-12 schools were subtly woven throughout bills that were pushed through at breakneck speed, using slickly packaged testimony and often omitting examination of the legislation’s actual text. Earnest students flocked to the capitol to appeal to legislators in person — in line with Ed Lib’s national strategy of portraying the campaign for ethnic studies as “student-led.”
The final omnibus bill not only entrenched ethnic studies throughout Minnesota’s K-12 education system, it also created a permanent “Ethnic Studies Working Group” at the Minnesota Department of Education to implement the mandate. By law, the members of this powerful group — which will design a statewide ethnic studies framework, recommend teacher training, and develop instructional resources — must be chosen “with input” from EdLib MN’s Ethnic Studies coalition. As a result, going forward, the political extremists who launched the crusade to hijack Minnesota’s public education system will play a central role in determining what students learn in history, civics, language arts, math, and science classrooms across the state.
St. Paul Schools Show What’s Coming
To see what’s coming for Minnesota’s roughly 500 district and charter schools, look at the St. Paul Public Schools, where a “critical ethnic studies” course became a graduation requirement in 2021. School officials designed the curriculum in consultation with Lozenski and other ethnic studies activists.
The St. Paul curriculum does not cultivate mutual understanding but pushes students to form tribalized identities and stokes defiance of authority. It exhorts 16-year-olds to “build” a race- and ethnicity-based “narrative of transformative resistance,” to “challenge and expose” “systems of inequality,” and to “resist all systems of oppressive power rooted in racism through collective action and change.”
Related artwork, labeled “seeds of resistance,” announces school-approved targets of politicized resistance. This artwork promotes the liberated “abolitionist” agenda, and features protest signs that read “No Bans/No Walls” and “Abolish Prison.”
Today, St. Paul students and parents lament growing disrespect for teachers and dangerous hallways. Youth crime in the city is rising, and in a recent survey, a majority of St. Paul high school faculty and staff report that they feel “unsafe” or “very unsafe” at school. What will happen as ethnic studies further delegitimizes authority there?
Similar campaigns are underway in other states, not only California — where activists are now going school district to school district to sell the “liberated” version that failed at the state level — but in Washington, Oregon, Vermont, and elsewhere. Minnesota provides a cautionary tale. Unless legislators and citizens understand “liberated” ethnic studies’ real agenda, many more states will follow.
Katherine Kersten is a senior policy fellow at Center of the American Experiment. This piece originally appeared in The Federalist.
When lawmakers legalized marijuana last session, they also set aside tens of millions of tax dollars to subsidize the marijuana industry. The bill that legalized marijuana, HF 100, instructed the…
Evan Ramstad at the Star Tribune wrote a great story highlighting the multitude of entirely foreseeable potholes that electric buses are hitting in towns across Minnesota. The piece is solid…
But you already knew that. Although he has not yet been charged in the Thanksgiving-eve fatal stabbing at an Edina bus stop, KSTP-5 has named the 32-year-old suspect in the…
Last week, the Fraser Institute published its annual Economic Freedom of North America report. The new edition, which looks at data from 2021, ranked Minnesota among the least free states…
The 2023 legislature set up a 13-member commission to redesign the Minnesota state flag and seal based on the false narrative that the design depicts a Native American on horseback…