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Instead of striving for academic excellence, jackboot methods are being used to force students to think “correctly” on social issues.
This op-ed originally appeared October 7, 2017 in the Star Tribune.
Editor’s note: A longer version of this article appears in the fall issue of ‘Thinking Minnesota,’ a publication of the Center of the American Experiment.
For years, the Edina Public Schools (EPS) have been one of the brightest stars in the firmament of Minnesota public education. Parents who moved to the affluent Twin Cities suburb gladly paid a hefty premium for a house, because it meant their kids could attend the district’s top-notch schools.
But today, test scores are sinking in Edina’s fabled schools. One in five Edina High School students can’t read at grade level and one in three can’t do grade-level math. These test results dropped EHS’s ranking among Minnesota high schools from 5th to 29th in reading proficiency, and from 10th to 40th in math proficiency between 2014 and 2017. Across the district, about 30 percent of kids are not “on track for success” in reading, and the same is true for math.
A number of factors may be at work here. Clearly, however, there’s been a profound shift in district leaders’ educational philosophy. In place of academic excellence for all, the district’s primary mission is now to ensure that students think correctly on social and political issues — most importantly, on race and “white privilege.”
District leaders enshrined this new mission in EPS’s “All for All” strategic plan, adopted in 2013. The plan mandates that, going forward, the EPS must view “all teaching and learning experiences” through the “lens of racial equity.”
If “equity” meant “treating kids equally,” all thinking Minnesotans would support it. In this context, however, it’s code for racial identity politics — a simplistic blaming of “white privilege” for the racial learning gap and any other problems that minority populations experience.
The “All for All” plan mandates sweeping change to how education is delivered in Edina. For example, it dictates that, from now on, the district will hire “racially conscious teachers and administrators.” It also declares that students must “acquire an awareness of their own cultural identity and value racial, cultural and ethnic diversities.”
In education-speak, this means that Edina children will now be instructed that their personal, cultural “identity” is irrevocably tied to their skin color. This directly rejects the colorblind vision that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. pioneered, and that the vast majority of Americans share.
Highlands Elementary School is a prime example of the “All for All” plan in action. The school is pervaded by an obsession with race — in classrooms, at parent meetings, and on its “Wonder” blog and social media.
Katie Mahoney, Highlands’ “racially conscious” principal, was hired in 2016. This fall, she announced that the school’s “challenges” for 2017-18 are to teach children “how to embrace ancestry, genetic code and melanin,” and to how “to be changemakers.”
Work on the first goal began last year with the “Melanin Project.” The school’s youngest students (K-2) traced their hands, colored them with their skin color, and made a poster reading “Stop thinking your skin color is better than everyone elses [sic]. Everyone is Special!”
Educators have no business prompting immature and impressionable children to classify themselves and others by skin color.
But Mahoney’s political agenda seems much broader. For example, on the school’s “Wonder” blog, she has promoted an A-B-C book for young children entitled “A is for Activist.” The book features texts like the following: “Are you an Activist?” “C is for … Creative Counter to Corporate vultures,” “F is for Feminist,” “T is for Trans,” and “X is” for “Malcolm X.”
Cornelia Elementary School also has a “racially conscious” principal, Lisa Masica, hired in 2014. Masica began her tenure by obtaining a race-oriented “social justice” curriculum for the school with “standards” like “Unpacking Identity” and “Unpacking Action.” She floods the school’s K-5 teachers with equity-related resources, like a video featuring a black “slam poet” denouncing police brutality.
Unfortunately, from 2015-17, the reading proficiency of Cornelia’s students who are black, Hispanic, and of two or more races dropped from 58 percent to 34 percent on the state’s MCA-III tests.
At Edina High School, racial identity politics are the leading edge of an agenda that includes an angry, male-bashing feminism and left-wing calls to activism in classrooms, school publications and school assemblies. On the “Rate My Professor” website, one disenchanted student said of the school’s required 10th-grade English course: “[This] class should be renamed … ‘Why white males are bad, and how oppressive they are.’ ”
EHS students describe a culture of intimidation at the school for students with nonconforming views. The lockstep partisanship they complain of was on display after the 2016 elections, when 80 staff members (all but a handful of whom were teachers) co-signed a partisan manifesto in the student newspaper bashing President-elect Donald Trump as a racist and aligning themselves with the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton.
“Many of you [students] have made clear … that right now, you don’t feel physically safe,” the article read. “Know that we will do all that we can … to fight for you” and that “we will teach rebellion against a broken world.”
EHS policy prohibits partisan bias by teachers, but the teacher charged with keeping it out of the school paper herself signed the editorial.
On Aug. 24, 2017, Peter Kirsanow — a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights — wrote to the chair of the Edina school board about this and other recent incidents at Edina High School. He admonished the board about teachers’ “discrimination” against and “bullying” of students “with different political beliefs,” and reminded them 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.”
Today, Edina students are being deprived of their right to a solid education by teachers and administrators who substitute indoctrination and intimidation for effective instruction. It’s time for Edina’s citizens to demand that changes.
Katherine Kersten is a senior policy fellow at the Center of the American Experiment. She is at firstname.lastname@example.org.