The kids are not all right. The number of school shootings in 2020-2021 was the highest (93 in total) since 2000-2001, according to a recently released report by the National Center for Education Statistics. Other negative indicators also increased since the pandemic lockdowns: cyberbullying, student verbal abuse of teachers, student acts of disrespect for teachers other than verbal abuse, and widespread disorder in the classroom.
A separate federal study released in early July found that more than 80 percent of public schools reported that the pandemic had taken a toll on student behavior and social-emotional development, and that more than 70 percent of schools saw increases in chronic student absenteeism since the onset of the pandemic (and school closures). And about half of schools also reported increased acts of disrespect toward teachers and staff.
It’s not difficult to identify what might have triggered this new “pandemic” of student misbehavior. For an entire school year, if not longer, millions of American students went to a fully virtual learning environment in which it became easy to skirt the rules, avoid discipline, and still pass. Largely free from the structure and discipline of a school environment, many academically (and socially) regressed. Educators overwhelmed and frustrated by distance digital learning had difficulty teaching and motivating their students, and for many, burnout or apathy became the norm.
Lockdowns have been associated with all manner of problems in our nation’s youth, including declines in student mental and emotional health, motivation, social skills, reading proficiency, and general academic achievement. Some studies have found that students made little or no progress while learning from home. Lockdowns have also been correlated to increased child suicide rates.
This tracks with anecdotal information I’m hearing from those working in public schools in my native Fairfax County, Virginia. A high school athletic coach with more than 30 years of experience — including multiple state titles — recently told me that the most recent crop of players is the most arrogant, disengaged, and resistant to instruction he’s ever seen. He’s now contemplating retiring.
CRT to Blame Too
Yet I suspect it’s not only the (entirely unnecessary) lockdowns that are affecting students’ behavior and antagonism toward authority. For at the same time that lockdowns were beginning to have deleterious effects on students, another dramatic social crisis was already enveloping our nation’s schools: anti-racism curricula.
The progenitors of the 1619 Project (published in August 2019), subsequently followed their error-ridden propaganda with an extensive educational initiative promoted in school districts across the country. In September 2019, the chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools announced her intention to disseminate 1619 Project education materials. More than 3,500 classrooms nationwide are now using the curriculum.
And it’s not just the 1619 Project that’s in on the game. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Teaching Hard History” anti-racism curriculum project has been welcomed by many educators, including in my home state of Virginia. (Some of my fellow social studies teachers from my time teaching in Virginia public schools are its biggest proponents.) A social studies curriculum crafted by the corrupt, Marxist group Black Lives Matter also spread to many school districts. BLM’s objective, textbook writers explained, is to make “classrooms and schools sites of resistance to white supremacy and anti-Blackness, as well as sites for knowing the hope and beauty in Blackness.”
Millions of American students are now exposed to anti-racist curricula that encourages skepticism and cynicism, if not outright enmity toward our country and its founders. They are taught to interpret all events in our nation’s history through the lens of racism, sexism, bigotry, and the manifold “phobias” (e.g. xenophobia, transphobia) supposedly endemic in American culture. Children are told the history of the United States is one defined not by generations of men and women who sacrificed and suffered for the sake of a more perfect union, but by evil white men who sought to perpetuate white supremacy for their personal aggrandizement.
A Generation Taught to Despise Authority
In other words, an entire generation of American youth is actively being inculcated not in civic virtue, but radical activism, if not outright Marxism. They have been encouraged to not only question authority, but despise it. Who can be trusted? Certainly not George Washington or Honest Abe, who, students are told, were racist bigots responsible for terrible evils against black and indigenous people. And if the men who built this country and its great institutions are worthy not of emulation but censure, then why should students bother respecting the teachers or principals who represent this supposedly systemically racist regime?
It should come as no surprise then that we are witnessing an increase in social degeneracy and a decrease in intellectual acumen among American youth. A teacher at my local public elementary school not long after the end of this recent school year related how misbehaving students, rather than being punished, are now given time to “cool down” by going to play outside or in the gym. Teachers, he added, are terrified to discipline minority children and risk accusations of racism from the kids and their parents. He too has decided to retire.
Of course, the left for many years has pursued education policies that discouraged discipline and promoted an activist, anti-authority mindset, as Max Eden’s research has well shown. But lockdowns and the political fervor that followed George Floyd’s May 2020 death dramatically accelerated this process, as The Federalist reported, not only for the United States, but globally. Moreover, it was liberal politicians with the support of many educators and school administrators who suppressed resistance to lockdowns, and aggressively tried to assert primacy over parents when it came to the needs of children.
Let there be no doubt: It is the corrosive effects of lockdowns and the anti-racism education regime that best explain a generation of American students who oscillate between laziness and violent activism. Kids lost out on more than a year, and sometimes multiple years, of essential socialization and time in the classroom. When they were “educated,” they were exhorted to challenge authority and spit on the political, cultural, and economic inheritance bequeathed to them by their forebears. Moreover, the more students witnessed school authorities abdicate their responsibility, the more their activist, anti-authority mentality was reinforced.
There should be little surprise then if they become the most intellectually and emotionally impoverished generation in our country’s history. The consequences of this will be felt for decades. Those responsible for these disastrous decisions need to be held accountable. Elections this year offer us one way to do exactly that.