Kersten responds to Star Tribune Counterpoints re: Edina School District’s racial identity policies

On Saturday, October 7, the Star Tribune ran my op-ed piece on the Edina Public Schools (“Racial Identity Politics are ruining Edina’s fabled schools”).  Today the paper features two commentaries in opposition, and four letters to the editor (all opposed). Together, they provide a window on why our public schools face the ideological assault they do.

The first commentary is the most revealing. It’s headlined “Why it’s crucial for today’s students to unlearn racism.” The author is Annie Mogush Mason, Program Director of Elementary Teacher Education at the University of Minnesota.

Though Mason asserts that “Kersten’s commentary rests on untenable ground throughout,” she makes no attempt to provide evidence for this claim. Instead, she offers her own view of American history, which she says justifies ideologically driven education of the kind the Edina schools practice.

Mason clearly regards our nation as a despicable place. She denounces “the savagery of colonization” that gave birth to America, and declares that “racist practices”

allowed this country to expand geographically and to amass its great fortune. These practices also contributed to the development of the white race, and for those identified as white to gain and maintain… ’white privilege.’

(One wonders why, if America is such an oppressive place, so many “people of color” continue to risk their lives to come and live here.)

Mason views herself as a member of America’s moral vanguard. She seems to believe that she and her fellow social justice warriors—purified of our nation’s sins—are entitled to compel the rest of us to face up to, confess, and seek forgiveness for our own complicity in evil.

Schools must be at the center of this re-education campaign, in Mason’s view.

Teachers, she tells us, must engage “in careful study of how their lives and identities”—as white people—“interact with those of students and families.”

“When white teachers do this work,” she assures us, “they are less likely to get stuck in feelings of guilt or shame about their white privilege.” Thus liberated, she says, “they can turn their attention”—not to teaching reading and math effectively—but to promoting “justice in schools.”

Mason informs us that students also are increasingly “able and willing to explore how their own world views are limited by whiteness.” Thanks to the racially conscious instruction they now receive, she notes,

As I write, children and young people in my neighborhood are busy doing things like organizing teach-ins at their schools, attending mayoral forums and engaging in action research projects to strengthen their schools.

Could this be why so many American kids increasingly struggle to read or do math? According to Mason, both teachers and students are leaving academics behind to focus on social justice.

Annie Mogush Mason holds a position of influence at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. As Director of Elementary Teacher Education there, she works “to bring an intersectional and race-conscious framework to curriculum and instruction,” according to her web site.

Mason says she works “primarily with preservice teachers [student teachers who have not yet begun to teach] to understand how their personal identities impact their work with students, and I encourage all of my students to develop orientations toward social justice.”

The fact that ideologically motivated educators like Mason wield such influence at the University of Minnesota should be of serious concern to the citizens of our state.

The author of the second counterpoint to my op-ed was Charles Heinecke, a junior at Edina High School. His piece was headlined “To this white male, there’s no ‘culture of intimidation’ at Edina High School.”

Heinecke claims he has never experienced or witnessed ideological intimidation at the high school. But then, he is not the sort of student at whom such intimidation is aimed, since he shares the social-political agenda of the powers that be there.

Heinecke seems untroubled by Edina School District leaders’ own admission that the high school has violated students’ First Amendment rights. On August 24, 2017, Commissioner Peter Kirsanow  of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights wrote to the chair of the Edina school board about reports of high school teachers’ “discrimination” against and “bullying” of students “with different political beliefs.” Kirsanow reminded school officials that federal civil rights law prohibits such discrimination in public schools.

In a response dated Sept. 21, EPS Superintendent John Schultz essentially acknowledged that the high school has failed to meet its First Amendment obligations. Since receipt of Kirsanow’s letter, he wrote, “the district has invited a team of attorneys to conduct training on employee and student free speech rights and limitations, which was attended by administrators and all high school staff.”

Heinecke’s failure to notice free speech violations at the high school is not surprising. His own Star Tribune commentary shows little attention to detail, and repeatedly mischaracterizes my words.

For example, he criticizes me for “us[ing] the word ‘Marxist’ to describe an AP English class” in which he says he was a student. “As to Marxism, he says, “I don’t recall learning that private property is theft” in that class.

In fact, the teacher of the class in question used the word “Marxist” to describe her class. I merely quoted her. Specifically, the teacher wrote in a course description that “By the end of the year, [students] will have…learned how to apply marxist[sic], feminist, post-colonial [and] psychoanalytic… lenses to literature.”

Educators and students like Mason and Heinecke are free to berate those who point out the increasing ideological indoctrination—and the growing academic mediocrity—of the Edina Public Schools. But that won’t change reality, and the urgent need to take steps to prevent further decline.