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How Public Schools Became Ideological Boot Camps

Posted on Monday, June 17, 2024
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by Outside Contributor
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A pair of teachers at New Jersey’s Fort Lee High School recently taught students that Hamas is a peaceful “resistance movement” and Israel is committing genocide. Teachers at California’s Berkeley Unified School District are “indoctrinating students with antisemitic tropes and biased, one-sided anti-Israel propaganda disguised as education,” according to a complaint by the Anti-Defamation League. Meanwhile, students recently chanted “from the river to the sea” at college campus “tentifadas—but when pressed could identify neither. 

Why does this keep happening? And how can public schools at once be hotbeds of radicalism and “woke” indoctrination, yet produce students who are so poorly informed about the radical causes they ostensibly espouse?

The answer has a lot to do with one of American education’s dirty little secrets: on any given school day in nearly every public school in the country, curriculum materials are put in front of children that have no official oversight or approval. It’s true that schools might have a state- or district-adopted curriculum, but that doesn’t mean it’s getting taught. Nearly no category of public employee has the degree of autonomy of the average public school teacher—even the least experienced ones. Teachers routinely create or cobble together their own lesson plans on the widely accepted theory that they know better than textbook publishers what books kids will enjoy reading and which topics might spark lively class discussions.

Not your child’s school or teacher? Wanna bet? A 2017 RAND Corporation survey found that 99 percent of elementary teachers and 96 percent of secondary schools use “materials I developed and/or selected myself” in teaching English language arts. The numbers are virtually the same in math. But putting teachers in charge of creating their own lesson plans or scouring the internet for curriculum materials creates an irresistible opportunity for every imaginable interest group that perceives—not incorrectly—that overworked teachers and a captive young audience equal a rich target for selling products and pushing ideologies.

This ungoverned mess is how the majority of high-profile curriculum controversies happen.

Earlier this year, The Free Press’s Francesca Block broke news that PS 321 in Brooklyn, New York, sent kids home with an “activity book” promoting the tenets of the Black Lives Matter movement, including “queer affirming,” “transgender affirming,” and “restorative justice.” The book was not authorized for classroom use either by the NYC Department of Education or Brooklyn’s Community School District 15. It appears to have begun its journey into students’ backpacks at the massive “Share My Lesson” website run by the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers union.

The site claims 2.2 million members—more than half of all U.S. public school teachers—and hosts “more than 420,000 resources” that have been “downloaded more than 16 million times.” Lee & Low Books, the publisher of What We Believe, the BLM activity book, is a Share My Lesson “partner” and includes the book in its “anti-racist reading list for grades 3–5.” Other Share My Lesson partners include Amnesty International, the ADL (the Anti-Defamation League), GLSEN, and the Southern Poverty Law Center—all producing free lesson plans and materials for classroom use. 

The advocacy group Parents Defending Education has documented over a thousand incidents of schools teaching lessons on race, gender, or other hot-button issues that parents deemed inappropriate or upsetting. They are seldom traceable to formally adopted school curriculum. But there are 75 different lesson plans and resources for conducting “privilege walks” and more than 100 lessons and resources on “preferred pronouns” at Teachers Pay Teachers, another lesson sharing megasite.

Prior to legislative efforts to ban the teaching of critical race theory in public schools, there were only three school districts in the country known to have expressly authorized teachers to use the New York Times 1619 Project in lesson plans: Chicago, Buffalo, and Newark, New Jersey. However, the Pulitzer Center, which partnered with the Times to produce 1619 Project classroom materialsclaimed to have “connected curricula based on the work of [Nikole] Hannah-Jones and her collaborators to some 4,500 classrooms”—another illustration of the yawning chasm between curriculum that is officially adopted and what actually gets taught.

Teachers putting controversial material in front of children, either naively or to pursue an agenda, isn’t even the worst of it. When they hunt for materials to engage students, teachers shoot low. A 2019 study published by the Fordham Institute rated most of the materials on Share My Lesson and Teachers Pay Teachers as “mediocre” or “probably not worth using.”

A similar report from The New Teacher Project found that students “spent more than 500 hours per school year on assignments that weren’t appropriate for their grade and with instruction that didn’t ask enough of them—the equivalent of six months of wasted class time in each core subject.” Disadvantaged students were the hardest hit. Choose-your-own-adventure lesson planning inevitably results in gaps and repetition when there’s no coherent blueprint for what students should learn, or when those plans are disregarded by schools and teachers. Which river? Which sea? It was never covered. 

All of this should be sobering to parents and policymakers who think “curriculum transparency” is the solution to classroom controversies. Knowing the curriculum or programs a school district has “adopted” is a cracked lens. Absent regulations specifically requiring teachers to post all lesson plans and materials online on a daily basis, including material they create or find on the internet, it’s nearly impossible to say with any certainty what occurs inside the black box of the public school classroom.

Robert Pondiscio is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he focuses on K–12 education, curriculum, teaching, school choice, and charter schooling.

Reprinted with Permission from AEI.org – By Robert Pondiscio

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of AMAC or AMAC Action.

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PaulE
PaulE
27 days ago

Hey congratulations to the author for coming to the conclusion that our public school system has been a hotbed of leftist indoctrination. Too bad it’s half a century too late and we’ve already lost at least two full generations of our youth to the left’s indoctrination machine.

Bill
Bill
27 days ago

This is the result of God being kicked out of the public school system in the 1960s.

Theresa Coughlin
Theresa Coughlin
27 days ago

full disclosure: I went to public school. I don’t have kids but if I did, I would pull them of the public schools. If I were a kid still in the public school system, I would beg my parents to pull me out. The job of the public school system is to teach reading, writing, math, history (and NOT the woke version) and science. that is it. Anything else has NO PLACE in the classroom.

LauraC
LauraC
27 days ago

As a retired elementary school teacher I can certainly confirm that 1) for the most part teachers teach whatever they please and 2) many school districts don’t give teachers nearly the guidance and materials they need. The people who develop curriculum aren’t educators for the most part and make a killing off the state and federal departments of education producing terrible product. When you go backward to the colleges and universities that are producing teachers, you can see where this cr$p that passes as education is coming from. Any half way intelligent person can teach their own kids twice what they’d learn in school in half the time per day. Public schooling is a disaster.

kit
kit
27 days ago

destroy teacher unions

Bob Hellam
Bob Hellam
27 days ago

I was a teacher at a Christian middle school for 15 years. I carefully adhered to the curriculum of our A Beka textbooks. But I certainly added materials and content of my own making. So did my public-school teachers back in the day when although we knew they were probably all Democrats they didn’t try to indoctrinate us. (I graduated from high school in 1965.) The problem is not that teachers add other material to the curriculum or create their own material. The problem is the teachers themselves, who don’t know what it means to be a teacher rather than a manipulator of young minds.

Jim
Jim
27 days ago

One simple thing will solve the public school system marxist machine: DEFUND AND SHUT DOWN THE FEDERAL DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION. PROBLEM SOLVED!

Thinking
Thinking
27 days ago

What a scary subject. Teachers are deciding what to teach our children, from gender to what to believe (religion) prepping them for a pedophile society where everything is normal. Men are women, women are men and everything in between. Hey 4 year old little girl you feel like a boy? We can help you. And these kids get mutilated for something that a teacher decided she was now a he. Everything is shoved down our throats and these sick individuals don’t have to accept us at all. We are the sick ones in Obiden’s eyes. No Mr President you are dismissing the citizens of this country. Only you won’t have to deal with what America has become under your regime. And future generations will not be kind to you. You tried to interfere with God’s creation and judgement day is at hand for you.

LMB
LMB
27 days ago

You have to have a college degree to teach! And where do these creten get their degree?! From the Marxist-Leninist institutions of the Socialist camps called Colleges and Universities!! That is being taxpayer-supported while charging you parents an arm and a leg to have them turned into HAMAS Protestors and spout socialist dialog!!!

hopinow
hopinow
27 days ago

the only sensible answer is to return department of education back to individual states. NO MORE federal dept. of education. the only other option is home schooling.

Paul W
Paul W
27 days ago

There is only one practical answer for parents of school age kids. H-O-M-E-S-C-H-O-O-L.
It has been shown that even some expensive private schools are teaching leftist un-American propaganda. It may be difficult, but for the love of your child(ren), just find a way and DO IT. It is the ONLY way that you’ll know what they’re being taught.
PS In addition to autonomous rogue teachers being a problem, another huge variable in the equation are teachers unions…we all saw how much those leftist run abominations cared about the kids during the plandemic!

Bob Olden
Bob Olden
27 days ago

Teacher certification programs in all public colleges and universities are likely to be promoting all of this crap. I was getting an emergency credential for elementary education at Cal State LA and I was appalled at the low level of concern for excellence in language arts, thinking skills, and social sciences. I didn’t see a lot of direct indoctrination in wokeness, but this was quite a few years ago. No doubt they all have to tow the line on everything leftist by now.

DenvilleSr
DenvilleSr
27 days ago

There is nothing new being disclosed here. In 1975 my employer was under a consent decree that forced us to stop using “racially sensitive” tests of math and reading comprehension in order to judge abilities of potential employment candidates. We stopped the testing altogether because any printed matter, such as an article out of an encyclopedia, was apparently understood differently by people with different skin hues. How questions regarding statistical analysis or using data to make a decision are racially sensitive I could never figure out. As a result of this government mandated foolishness, I hired a young man who interviewed well, but I later found out he couldn’t read articles in a popular industry trade journal. I had him underline words he didn’t know . On a one page article, there were 12 words of which he did not know the meaning. He had a degree in chemical engineering! Another new hire couldn’t write a comprehensible business letter. It turned out all of her college course tests required fill-in-the blank, true-false or multiple choice answers. She had never written a college term paper! I wasn’t hiring public school teachers, but I had to doubt that their candidate pool was better than mine.
Our high schools are turning out students who don’t know history, can’t communicate very well (It’s actually like… difficult, you know.) and seem to form opinions without the use of substantiating facts. In my state, schools may not advise a young student’s parents when little Paulina wants to be called Paul! Kids can’t drink until they are 21, vote until they are 18, but can decide their gender at any age without parent’s knowledge. And it is elected officials who make these rules! Look at the low voting turnout for local and state elections. Why are we not forcing these political hacks to find a job in the public sector where such stupidity will get them fired?

anna hubert
anna hubert
27 days ago

The only ones profiting from the schools are the “teachers” Kids are not even in the equation

Morbious
Morbious
27 days ago

There are established ways around this but many parents who can afford to do so choose bigger houses, new cars and expensive vacations all the while ostrich like in hoping their kids will emerge unscathed.

Bill Smith
Bill Smith
27 days ago

Good intentions, poor outcomes. Every state has an elected official heading a board of education which is tasked with providing an education for its youngsters. There seems to be an overabundance of material promoting subjects and topics of interest to administrators, teachers and their unions, but very little recognizing the importance and backbone of the system–parents. Perhaps parents should become unified, active, vocal and demanding that curricula be properly developed for each subject taught, published as a guide for the teachers to follow and constant monitoring to see that the programs are implemented as designed and intended. The education of children is a unique product in any society. If they are to become effective, useful, contented citizens, it must be done correctly. The federal department of education is another political body, an experiment in a national educational system which has been less effective for citizens and their children than originally intended.
Time for the sunset effect.

sal
sal
27 days ago

Are Palestinians believers of the Islamic faith and do they not seek Sharia law. Which means anti US Constitution. Muslims have no respect for our way of life. We must not initiate force. And we believe in the Individual right to life, liberty and property rights. Muslims initiate force, will take over and enforce their beliefs in the name their god. They have armed training bases her in America. This is all being allowed even the current protest and allowed unlawful obstructing taking place, so that we as true citizens will allow for the new world order. I cannot believe how so many people are ignorant of what is going on. People need to wake up. Muslims need their own country.

Robert Zuccaro
Robert Zuccaro
27 days ago

The result of politics, mainly leftist, infiltration of everyday life whose goal is to control and indoctrinate the population.

Barrett T Smith
Barrett T Smith
27 days ago

During my 35 year career as a teacher, I always kept my political beliefs to myself.

sue
sue
27 days ago

I thank God for the LCMS schools that my children attended and I taught at. My granddaughter was able to attend LCMS schools all the way to 8th grade. Then we searched for the best school that supported our ideology and morality. Other option was home school which we would have readily stepped up to. The tuition was worth the outcome of developing a well-rounded, patriotic citizen. God bless America (even through all the stupidity we have been witnessings)

NinaRae
NinaRae
27 days ago

The simple solution…Homeschool ! If you cannot personally do this find someone you trust who IS homeschooling & join forces. Our children are too precious to ignore what’s happening under our very noses in public schools!

Neil Gipson
Neil Gipson
27 days ago

They became ideological boot camps when FATHER GOD, His Word and discipline were kicked out of our public schools by the demonic corrupt Luciferian Nazi democrats!

Robert Chase
Robert Chase
26 days ago

What exactly does the overload of administrators in school districts do? Certainly nothing useful. We have far more administrator positions yet still have the teacher free for all with lesson plans. Long past time for major reform. Start with the teacher unions.

scbubba
scbubba
27 days ago

On the federal level, abolish the Department of Education, and relegate the responsibilities to the states. We are enthusiastic proponents of homeschooling. It affords the greatest degree of flexibility, personal attention, pace, and content control. Teaching resources are plentiful and there is broad parental support available through co-ops. Our only son was predominantly homeschooled and excelled from 5th grade through high school. He was a Suzuki violin student, an expert teen Bible quizzer on our denomination’s Southeast Region, and lettered in both varsity basketball and baseball through a private Christian school. He completed an undergraduate degree and Pharmacy School. He is a nuclear pharmacist who manages pharmacy operations and oversees the mentoring of pharmacy students at a health sciences center of a major university. He is happily married with two young children, and he and our daughter-in-law serve in leadership at their local church.

Myrna
Myrna
27 days ago

Private schools parents put together and help are the only way parents can know what is being taught. Learning is a step by step process and is not indoctrination.

Stephen Russell
Stephen Russell
27 days ago

Began in the colleges then the HS JHS later

johnh
johnh
21 days ago

Public schools have been the mainstay of America for a couple hundred years & I dare anyone to tell THE GREATEST GENERATION that it does not work. The problem is that people pass laws that let the government take away the education that used to exist. And everyone does not have money to send children to private schools & the majority of this nation depend on our public schools to provide education ….and that includes History. Putting Ten Commandments back in school will help to fight Satan in this war.

Barbara
Barbara
27 days ago

My son and daughter-in-law have given the public school system a fair chance to get it right, even sending their oldest children to a Charter school that also proved to be a waste of time. So this fall they will start homeschooling those children and the youngest will never darken the doorstep of a public school (he’s just three). My grandson will be in 9th grade and my granddaughter will be in 7th. It’s not only the lousy curriculum that is causing them to do this but our public schools (and Charters are public) are becoming increasingly more dangerous for our children each year. My grandchildren go to a Charter school that is supposed to be racially diverse since admission is by lottery. Last year some of my granddaughter’s classmates turned her in for saying and doing racist things. They finally admitted they were lying but not before my daughter-in-law blew up at my granddaughter without even asking her if she did it. My DIL should have known better because my granddaughter’s two best friends are Black and she’s White.

George Mason
George Mason
26 days ago

The solution involves finding a way to enable parents to be aware of what is being taught to their children. How about in classroom cameras so that at any time parents can see what is being taught, how they child is behaving, how the teacher is teaching? It is our money that pays for our child’s education.
Another must do is for all public schools to again teach Christian values and morals. But this time it must be taught as a standalone class. These values are to be immersed, when appropriate, within the other classes. Indoctrination of these values ARE needed to keep the liberty and freedoms that we enjoy. Our people must embrace these values on their own. Otherwise, we will be forced into a police state.
We have forgotten why we are alive. We are alive not make money or seek power but to prove to GOD that we are worthy to spend eternity in heaven with HIM. Therefore, we must teach our young people Christian values and morals including what they must do to prove that they are worthy to go to heaven when their life is over (Hint: follow the Greatest Commandment).

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