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Column: Social activism is replacing genuine teaching

For the Valley News
Published: 5/15/2021 10:20:12 PM
Modified: 5/15/2021 10:20:11 PM

In her recent op-ed column (“Reset the conversation about ‘divisive concepts,’ ” May 7), Carolyn Dever dismisses as a “sign of the times” all concerns about young students in Hanover being taught critical race theory and the widely repudiated 1619 Project. Unfortunately, because of a lack of transparency by School Administrative Unit 70, its statements and agendas, and its violations of New Hampshire’s Right to Know Law, there are serious and legitimate concerns.

The SAU’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee violated the state’s Right to Know law by holding closed meetings since at least spring of 2019. Meetings were not advertised or recorded, nor were minutes published. Attempts to attend a meeting were rebuffed, and efforts to join the committee were either rejected or ignored.

The district has started to institute fundamental changes, including mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion training for all employees. The committee agenda states that parents “need education,” and it has determined that “equity needs to be part of the fabric of everything,” the curriculum “must be overhauled completely” and “become less centered on logic and argument,” racism needs to be discussed starting in kindergarten and “white privilege needs to be addressed head on.” The committee was not open and inclusive, as its name implies, and it still is not on SAU 70’s website. The Right to Know Law is crucial for a democracy, yet Dever dismisses legitimate concerns about this lack of transparency as “paranoid.”

Further, Hanover High School’s website says: “The concentration of whiteness and wealth in our community is symptomatic of the systemic racism that has shaped our nation’s history and current reality.” It also says: “We must equip white faculty and staff to examine their own privilege.” These ideas are taken from critical race theory.

On Jan. 26, the Ray School’s new assistant principal, in a letter introducing herself, mentions “equity” throughout. She says teachers should “question their curriculum through the lens of equity consciousness,” shift their “instruction and content” and be actively engaged in “difficult conversations.” What does this mean? “Equity” is antithetical to “equality.” When asked, she only provided references to critical race theory authors and websites.

It appears SAU 70 hasn’t considered the large body of material produced by opponents of critical race theory, anti-racism and the 1619 Project. Scholars, both Black (Carol Swain, Glenn Loury, John McWhorter, Ian Rowe and others) and white, have published widely and established organizations such as Fairness Against Intolerance & Racism and 1776 Unites, which has an inclusive curriculum for high school students and is working on K-8.

Ray School just purchased 17 books for the school library. All except one are about racial issues, some radical. One is Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, the children’s version of Ibram X. Kendi’s book, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. It is neither definitive nor accurate. Kendi is a major proponent of critical race theory. He sees racism in everything, argues that white people, by virtue of the color of their skin, are oppressors, and that the only way to end discrimination is through more discrimination, but only against white people.

Is this appropriate for young school children?

Ray School leadership emailed links to websites that parents could use with their children: The website Raising Race Conscious Children “dismantles MLK’s colorblind framework”; Learning for Justice makes clear that “math education is absolutely political and has been used in violent ways to subjugate, harm and even kill”; EmbraceRace states that “all children develop racial biases by kindergarten; privilege and bias training must begin immediately”; Teaching for Change promotes “defunding the police,” “ending white supremacy” and “inciting new radical possibilities.” All straight out of critical race theory. This is social activism, not genuine teaching. Those who don’t subscribe to it, who believe it is inappropriate for children, are silenced, shamed and called names.

All these ideas have been sprung on the community without discussion or input. Many don’t understand the direction the school is taking but are afraid to speak out.

When presented with these facts and no published curriculum, which most well-regarded schools provide, what can the public conclude? We don’t know the academic objectives for each grade level, nor the content of the lessons. However, we now know SAU 70’s philosophy: that social justice, equity and activism are the No. 1 priority.

There are too many examples of critical race theory in schools across the country to allay fears it isn’t happening here. According to The Daily Wire, a Missouri school official “instructed teachers to create two sets of curricula: a false one to share with parents, and then the real curriculum, focused on topics like activism and privilege.” The Washington Times reported that a New York private school’s headmaster admitted the school’s anti-racism and critical race theory coursework “demonized white people for being born” and used “language that makes (white students) feel ‘less than’ for nothing they are personally responsible for.” The Daily Caller reported that public school students in Buffalo are told “all white people play a role in perpetuating systemic racism.”

This isn’t some “fever dream.” It is a lived nightmare, and our children are the victims.

Finally, Dever is simply wrong about HB 544. It does not “literally ban” speech about racism, nor “wrest away local control” of schools. Rather, it explicitly affirms “academic instruction” and encourages discussion of racism. To call those who support the bill “white supremacists,” “liars” and “fearmongers” belies the diversity and inclusivity she so ardently professes to support. Name-calling turns a discussion of substance into hate speech and intimidation. Diversity of ideas is clearly unwelcome.

What is sadly lacking — another sign of the times? — is a civil and more balanced discussion of these crucial issues by knowledgeable experts in a public forum so we can work together to provide what is best for our children and our community.

Miriam Richards, of Norwich, is a former senior lecturer in the Linguistics and English departments at Dartmouth College.

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