Last week, fifth-grade teacher Amy Parker took the pages of the education site Chalkbeat to celebrate New York City’s initiative to promote “culturally responsive education” in its public schools. Parker introduces her essay by lamenting that “School taught me to hide who I was and what I valued” because it didn’t assign books with characters who had gay parents. But, at the same time, Parker also complains that she “was overly represented in the books [she] read and the classes [she] took.”
To make up for this injustice, Parker has now committed herself to providing a “culturally responsive and sustaining education” or “CRSE.” This means that she will pick texts on the basis of “representation” and “diversity” and emphasize racial and sexual identity in all her lessons. Instead of learning about the world and how to contribute to it, her students will now learn about themselves and how to become “agents of change.”
For these courageous efforts, New York City will support Parker and other teachers like her with a gargantuan sum of money: “Over the course of three years, almost $500 million will be allocated to CRSE so that our students are reflected in what and how they learn.”
While everyone is certainly entitled to her opinions, even bad ones, this becomes a problem when it comes with such a high price tag and threatens to become the dominant position of an entire profession. I may not teach in New York, but even here in Texas, this kind of thinking and the policies it inspires are increasingly common in our public schools.
Political Activism Isn’t Education
It is worthwhile to consider and rebut Parker’s argument, not only because it promotes a radically leftist message to a captive audience of children, but because it’s bad pedagogy that deprives those children of a quality education.
The most obvious problem, as voices against critical race theory have noted, is the fact that a school classroom is a space intended for the development of knowledge and competency, not ideology and activism. Parker clearly believes the latter and trains her students to see themselves and others through the lens of race and sexuality.
However, people are much more than this. As Aristotle established long ago and Jordan Peterson reiterates today, people can only thrive when they define themselves by their virtues and achievements and find meaning and purpose therein. When they do otherwise, defining themselves by accidental qualities (that is, through things that happened to them rather than things they effected themselves), they will never find meaning or purpose, because there is none.
Society doesn’t care what people are; it cares about what people do. And this holds true for any culture and any political system.
Teaching Identity Politics Turns Kids into Sad Victims
That’s why identity politics is a terrible model for public education — or any other cultural endeavor, for that matter. It discourages achievement and learning and projects a false reality.
A student in such an environment doesn’t bother understanding the world beyond himself, nor does he learn to become a better reader, writer, and problem-solver. Rather, he adopts a mode of thinking that his fate is largely predetermined by labels and systems, and learns that the only way to change his fate is by challenging the system through activism.
One cannot understate just how vicious this kind of thinking is. As Jeremy Adams declares in his recent book “Hollowed Out”: “The big lie is that our students are hopeless, powerless victims. It is a lie that brings passivity and cynicism, that encourages finger-pointing and hate, that is a harmful counsel of despair.”
Besides the fatalism implicit in identity politics, there is also the accompanying push to activism. Does the world really need more activists? Neither Parker nor any leftist educator ever seems to ask this question. Yet this is probably the main concern for most parents. They’d like to see their kids grow up to do great things and have a great career, not take to the streets and social media to protest old statues and conservative politicians.
We Read to Broaden Our Minds, Not Confirm Biases
Another question no one seems to ask is if kids really need to see themselves represented in the books they read and the media they consume. Is it true that “Children are more engaged in class when they can see themselves in their lessons and materials,” as NYC’s departing Chancellor Meisha Porter attests? In my experience, both as a student and a teacher, this is not the case.
Like many other millennials, my favorite book series in elementary school were “Goosebumps,” “The Great Brain,” and “Choose Your Own Adventure.” I liked them because they were a fun escape from my drab public school experience. Reading about experiences that are vastly different from their own is part of what makes reading compelling, for children and adults alike.
In high school, I enjoyed more dystopian classic novels like “Animal Farm,” “1984,” and “Brave New World” because they were relevant critiques of my school experience. It wasn’t that I “identified” with oppressed farm animals, or Winston Smith, or John Savage; these books helped me see that public school was indeed a dystopia and that I wasn’t crazy.
When I started teaching, it was the same thing. The texts from authors celebrated because of their skin color never seemed especially engaging for any group of students. It turns out that, just like movies hoping to capitalize on identity politics, books that do so will inevitably fail. Kids won’t read them, and teachers won’t use them.
Kids Aren’t Interested In Racial, Sexual Propaganda
Parker may gush about the handful of students who have taken her lessons on diversity, equity, and inclusion to heart and have signed petitions for transgender rights and expressed guilt over their racial group’s role in history, but she seems relatively indifferent to whether her students can write an essay, graph an equation, or collect data for a science experiment.
All this leads me to think that Parker and other like-minded teachers are not being honest. The classroom she is describing in her essay sounds terrible, but she pretends like all her students really enjoy it. Experience and logic suggest that this simply isn’t the case.
It is far more likely that Parker is like the leftist teachers on TikTok who garner positive attention for how well they can indoctrinate their students while teaching them nothing. Her essay in Chalkbeat is just more virtue signaling — or shameless shilling, considering that half a billion dollars is being spent on CRSE.
Meanwhile, students at NYC public schools continue to fare poorly in reading and now district leaders are eliminating talented and gifted programs for the sake of equity. Rather than empower their students, New York City educators seem more interested in enabling them with leftist narratives.
This may satisfy the progressive itch now, but it will only compound the failings of public education. Let’s hope other cities and states take heed of New York’s CRSE and do the exact opposite.