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The Political Assault On Our K-12 Schools

Today the gravest threat to American public education comes from educators who would use the classroom to indoctrinate students from kindergarten through the 12th grade in radical ideology and political agendas.

Much of this indoctrination takes place under the banner of “social justice,” which is a short-hand for opposition to American traditions of individual justice and free market economics. Proponents of social justice teaching argue that American society is an inherently “oppressive” society that is “systemically” racist, “sexist” and “classist” and thus discriminates institutionally against women, non-whites, working Americans and the poor.

Educators who advocate teaching for “social justice” share radical views of American society. That is their right as citizens; but they have also made these radical views the central focus of their educational programs for students in America’s public schools, which is not. Social justice teaching violates the professional obligations of teachers in a democracy to educate students not indoctrinate them. Political indoctrination in the classroom not only violates the professional obligations of educators, it undermines America’s democratic commitment to providing a solid academic education for all of the nation’s children.

In recent years teaching for social justice has become a powerful movement in American schools of education. Among its leaders are William Ayers, a former leader of the terrorist Weather Underground and self-proclaimed “street fighting communist,” who is Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Ayers is the inspirer and editor of a twelve-volume Columbia Teachers College series “Teaching for Social Justice;” Peter McClaren, Professor of Education at UCLA, and influential theorist of the teaching for social justice movement is the author of a widely read book describing Che Guevara as the most important pedagogue of the 20th Century. And the outgoing and incoming presidents of the 25,000 member American Education Research Association, the major umbrella organization of the education school professorate, are both supporters of the doctrine of teaching for social justice in K-12 classrooms. In fact the AERA has just hired its first Director of Social Justice.

Programmatic radicalism is not incidental to social justice education but its core. Lee Anne Belle, director of the education program at Columbia’s Barnard College, is co-editor of the book Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, a text for prospective K-12 teachers, in which she explains that social justice education is necessary because American society “is steeped in oppression.” Most oppressive of all, Bell contends, is free-market capitalism, which she defines as an “economic system that structures and requires” poverty. The chapter on “Designing Social Justice Education Courses” in Professor Bell’s text, states that “Courses can have a single issue focus (racism or classism for example) or a multiple issue focus (sexism, heterosexism, and ableism [a term to describe discrimination against people with disabilities].”

Social justice educators enjoy the full support of professional education organizations and schools across the country. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, which is the largest accrediting agency of teacher education programs in the US, says that if an education school “has described its vision for teacher preparation as ‘Teachers as agents of change’ and has indicated that a commitment to social justice is one disposition it expects of teachers who can become agents of change, then it is expected that unit assessments include some measure of a candidate’s commitment to social justice.”

The effects of these policies are manifest in the overtly political nature of many of the nation’s 1500 education schools -- the institutions responsible for training the next generation of K-12 teachers. For example, Brooklyn College’s School of Education bases its evaluations of aspiring teachers in part on their commitment to “social justice.” The College recently released a statement stating, “Our teacher candidates and other school personnel are prepared to demonstrate a knowledge of, language for, and the ability to create educational environments based on various theories of social justice.” Humboldt State University in Northern California, requires prospective high school history and social studies teachers to take a course in Social Studies Methods, whose professor, Gayle Olsen-Raymer explains in her syllabus: “It is not an option for history teachers to teach social justice and social responsibility; it is a mandate.”

Even a subject seemingly removed from the realm of politics -- mathematics – is a vehicle for political indoctrination in the hands of social justice educators. The Master of Education program at Northeastern University offers a course to K-12 teachers called “Teaching Mathematics for Social Justice.” Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Number is one text in this field. Its editors, Eric Gutstein and Bob Peters, are both public school math teachers. Their textbook is intended to “provide examples of how to weave social justice throughout the mathematics curriculum.” The authors include “teaching suggestions” in the book, among which are an exercise to calculate the cost of the Iraq war; a “math project about racial profiling;” a lesson on reading line graphs detailing “corporate control of U.S. media;” and even a cartography lesson where students consider a “map of territory that Mexico lost to the United States.”

Since its inception, public education in America has been about creating the next generation of citizens of a democracy, meaning individuals who can think for themselves, not citizens who are force-fed orthodoxies or doctrines of a sectarian nature. The mission of America’s elementary and secondary schools has been to serve American pluralism: to educate a community of citizens who disagree with each other into a common culture of tolerance and respect. The goal of America’s public schools is encapsulated on the Seal of the United States: “E Pluribus Unum”: out of many one.

The leftist political agenda of “social justice educators” undermines the American public school system as we have known it. The historical ideal of public schooling as a means of assimilating all children (and particularly the children of new immigrants) into a common civic and democratic culture is now under assault by the education professors advocating teaching for social justice and deriding the common civic culture ideal as nothing more than capitalist hegemony.

A democracy cannot tolerate the corruption of its educational system by a political faction, whatever its persuasion. The “social justice” movement in American K-12 schools is a surrogate for the radical left, whose purpose is to indoctrinate public school children in sectarian political and social ideas. As such, it threatens the very foundations of this republic. A diverse community like ours cannot survive if its taxpayer supported educational system becomes the captive of a particular political faction. We call on legislators to restore the principles of professional education, which is viewpoint neutral and which supports the fundamental principles of a pluralistic democracy, to our nation’s public schools.

David Horowitz, Director, the Academic Freedom Project

The David Horowitz Freedom Center