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Critical social justice in K-12 education, Part 2: Collective guilt and racial scapegoating – Even in Idaho? 

Critical social justice in K-12 education, Part 2: Collective guilt and racial scapegoating – Even in Idaho? 

Anna Miller
February 9, 2022

Meridian Middle School handed out flyers that pressured teachers to judge students by the color of their skin. It told teachers to “reject the myth of colorblindness” and treat students differently based on their level of “privilege” associated with their gender or race. It says teachers are biased whether they know it or not and must “acknowledge [their] role as a social activist.” 

Public officials often claim events like this are simply one-off, random occurrences. Kurt Liebich, president of the State Board of Education, recently said, “I absolutely understand the national debate but what happens is everybody’s watching the national debate, seeing those examples and then if they see one thing happening in Idaho, they just assume that we have this major systematic problem.” This claim is used to justify political inaction and complacency and appropriating more money for public education. However, there has been a firestorm of these episodes across Idaho. 

For example, districts across Idaho, including West Ada, Pocatello-Chubbuck, and Coeur d’Alene, use the anti-racist social emotional learning (SEL) curriculum Second Step to teach kids that parents are “roadblocks” to their goals, white children are privileged, and they should protest for antiracist political causes such as Black Lives Matter. Teachers in Blaine County schools are trained in intersectionality, implicit bias and microaggressions. The chairman of the Blaine County School Board promised to protect teachers from parents’ concerns about what is taught to their children. Teachers in the Nampa school district are given SEL training focused on “race, racial justice, structural racism, white fragility, white privilege [and] white supremacy.” 

Critical race theory is baked into Coeur d’Alene school’s district-wide Equity Framework, which includes the adoption of culturally responsive teaching models, implicit bias training for teachers and staff, restorative justice practices, and implementing an “equitable curriculum” by embracing an identity-based view of knowledge that prioritizes storytelling over facts. Wood River High School Equity Task Force member advocates for complete elimination of talented and gifted programs. Its members claim, “There just aren’t defensible forms of GATE identification that exist above and apart from racist, classist, xenophobic, anti‐disabled ideologies. They’re inextricable.” They have asserted that “teachers are learners and activists” and promised to “be out on the streets dropping a knee or raising a fist in support of Black Lives Matter.” 

Each of these incidents provide powerful evidence suggesting radical ideologies pervade Idaho’s education system. Perhaps the complacent rhetoric of public officials like Liebich is designed to distract and confuse from these events – to suggest that “it is not happening in Idaho” but really to say “and it is good that it is happening!” Regardless, concerned citizens and public officials need evidence that this is happening across the system. 

On the surface, it appears these events could not happen in Idaho. Idaho’s social studies standards don’t embrace ideas of systemic racism or anti-racism. School districts are required to cultivate an understanding of American democracy and its noble achievements such as extending the right of individual freedoms to all citizens. Standard textbooks often support these views, though not as consistently as one might hope. The school system appears to be good enough in these limited ways.

What Idaho demands in its standards is undermined in its execution, or rather Idaho’s other standards undermine its official standards. From teacher training and preparation to school programming, the whole infrastructure of education undermines intentions at the state level. Teachers arrive in schools steeped in teaching techniques designed to dismantle traditional culture, reject colorblindness, adopt social constructivist views of truth and culture, and promote anti-racism. Teacher training reinforces and expands these early efforts. Education nonprofits offer curriculum and programming packages to school districts and principals to bring these elements and techniques into the daily experience of the classroom. 

Teachers and administrators are required by state certification standards to be versed in critical race theory and to impart it to students. The Idaho standards for initial certification of professional school personnel require that non-teaching staff like principals, social workers, school psychologists, literacy teachers, superintendents and other school personnel be trained in culturally responsive teaching. The standards cite the definition of culturally responsive teaching made by Gloria Ladson-Billings, a professor at University of Wisconsin known for introducing critical race theory to education. According to the State Department of Education, at least 15% of school districts use culturally responsive practices. 

All prospective teachers are required to complete a bachelor's degree program from an approved accredited institution with a focus on education. However, colleges of education at Idaho’s largest public universities train future educators in social justice, anti-racist activism, and corresponding pedagogical methods such that graduates believe CSJ is equivalent to good teaching.

School districts reinforce teacher standards through mandatory training farmed out to leftist groups. Most districts do not share information regarding teacher training on their websites. This transparency problem makes it nearly impossible to assess the actual number of teachers required to undergo subversive training. What we know comes from interest groups or from whistleblowers. Teachers in at least a dozen districts are required to take diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) trainings. The training is provided by Vector Solutions under the misleading title of “SafeSchools.” Whistleblower teachers in Blaine County shared the training materials with Parents Defending Education, revealing that the training includes implicit bias, microaggressions, and Kimberle Crenshaw’s work on intersectionality and gender ideology. Districts claim Vector Solutions’ trainings are “proprietary” so they will not release the materials to the public.

The Idaho Education Association (IEA), the state's largest teachers union, hosts equity trainings for thousands of teachers across the state. For example, IEA’s certified trainers offer courses to teachers such as “Equitable and Just Schools I and II,” which trains teachers in understanding unconscious bias, institutional racism, microaggressions, privilege, internalized and transferred oppression, social justice, and “examining the ‘isms’ that exist in our system.”

The Second Step Program, used in at least 21% of Idaho school districts, is a quintessential example of using SEL as a vehicle for critical social justice. For example, eighth grade lessons 2 and 8-13 are labeled “bullying” but actually discuss power and privilege. They assert “sometimes people experience privilege based on race and gender” and lists “power and privilege” as a reason for bullying. White students are almost exclusively portrayed as the aggressor in these lessons. 

Action civics, a national civics trend teaching children to protest for antiracist political causes, has also penetrated school curricula with full endorsement from the State Department of Education. The department recommends iCivics as a leading curriculum resource for social studies classes; iCivics endorses action civics and antiracism. 

Many school districts have followed the SDE’s directive to adopt the iCivics curriculum. For example, iCivics is used in the Boise School District’s Elementary Citizenship curriculum and Coeur d’Alene School District’s eighth grade social studies curriculum.

iCivics curriculum pushes the narrative of systemic racism. For example, iCivics leaders have argued that the younger generation’s approval of NFL players kneeling in protest at the playing of the national anthem is a sign of civic engagement rather than disrespect to the country. This likely explains why Boise School District’s third grade citizenship curriculum requires students to read a Scholastic News article about NFL players “kneeling to protest unfair and sometimes violent treatment of black people by the police” and to “write a paragraph expressing your opinion about whether or not you support their protests.” No counter argument is ever offered. 

The white shaming flyer posted in Meridian Middle School was developed by the education nonprofit Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), whose mission is to prepare students for college. However, AVID is also committed to anti-racism. AVID has been impacting Idaho schools for 20 years and — by its own account — is present in at least 10 districts, 36 secondary schools, and 11 elementary schools and has trained thousands of educators, administrators, and counselors.

AVID’s website contains many examples from its curriculum and teacher trainings reminiscent of the flyer. For example, AVID provides a Privilege Walk activity for both teacher training and classroom instruction wherein educators and students deconstruct their racial and sexual identities and rank themselves according to their power and privilege. Another lesson on “Colorblindness: The New Racism?” teaches, “Failure to see and acknowledge racial differences makes it difficult to recognize the unconscious biases everyone has. … White people have the hardest time opening their eyes.” The lesson further prompts students to become “awake” to the understanding that racism is present everywhere and perpetuated by white people. 

How much collective guilt and racial scapegoating is being fostered through AVID programs in public schools? District officials claim that any curriculum or teacher training materials AVID provides are “trade secrets” and refuse to release any information to parents. This lack of transparency in AVID’s programs prevents a definitive conclusion regarding the pervasiveness of this problem.

Citizens across the country know something is amiss in our school system. Something is deeply amiss. Idaho’s public officials, however, insist the state is immune from these disturbing nationwide trends. Of course there is a difference between Idaho and a city like Portland, Oregon where public schools are training “child soldiers.” But the difference is not what people think. Something pernicious is happening here, and what it is is exactly clear. 

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