The Paradise Valley School (PVUSD) Governing Board President Pro Tem indicated that white Christians shouldn’t determine curriculum.
Newly elected PVUSD member Kerry Baker issued the remark over the weekend in response to Arizona Department of Education (ADE) Superintendent Tom Horne’s recent actions to purge social-emotional learning (SEL), critical race theory (CRT), and other progressive ideologies from classrooms. Baker claimed that CRT isn’t present in schools but that what Horne sought to eradicate was true history; she pinned blame on white Christians for the purportedly misdirected purge.
“We are not a society of white Christians,” tweeted Baker. “It is dangerous to assume we are. It is even more dangerous to believe public schools are only made up of white Christians. Our communities are full of rich and diverse cultures and families. We should ALL be celebrated. Not just a certain population.”
Baker added the claim that Horne’s opposition to CRT made him a “racist.”
“When [Tom Horne] says he’s anti-CRT, he’s just reminding us he’s racist,” stated Baker.
Baker, a former Peoria Unified School District and Dysart Unified School District teacher endorsed by teacher union lobbyist group Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ), stands in opposition to major policy changes defining the Horne administration. Baker ran on a campaign opposing universal school choice, supporting SEL, and resisting public posting of teaching materials.
Baker is a product of the Leading For Change (LFC) fellowship program: a Democrat-run group that trains up Democratic elected officials and activists, founded by a board member of dark money group Arizona Advocacy Network (AAN), who’s also the former executive for Center for Progressive Leadership and Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona.
Baker explained in her LFC biography that she decided to run for PVUSD governing board because two of her six children had identities that aligned with her activist interests. According to Baker, she has helped one of her children transition genders, and another one of her children has autism.
In an interview with The Arizona Republic last year, Baker said that SEL was important because it enabled K-12 educators to fulfill students’ social and emotional shortcomings caused by school closures throughout the pandemic — much of which were prompted by educators and teachers unions.
During her first school board meeting earlier this month, Baker listed greater inclusivity of special needs children in regular classrooms, expanding LGBTQ+ rights, hiring SEL teachers, and emphasizing diversity among her priorities. Baker quoted Gov. Katie Hobbs in her introductory speech, saying that there wasn’t a shortage of teachers, just a crisis retention.
In addition to her dislike of “white Christians,” Baker appears to have a disdain for any groups composed mainly of white people — even if they’re children. In response to SOSAZ Director Beth Lewis posting a picture of Treasurer Kimberly Yee’s visit to the Brophy College Preparatory Republican Club last fall, Baker scorned the fact that the group looked too white.
“There wasn’t one [GIF] that said ‘so many white boys,’” wrote Baker.
Baker also supports allowing biological males to join female sports teams and enter female spaces, such as locker rooms and restrooms. Baker derided concerned parents opposed to this permissiveness as “transphobic.”
Throughout her campaign, Baker opposed efforts to ban any books from classrooms. She emphasized this stance as recognizing the importance of multiculturalism. Yet, Baker opposed any aspect of religion from entering the classroom — namely, Christianity. Baker claimed her opposition represented the proper understanding of ensuring a separation of church and state.
Right now, there’s a growing conflict between whether our schools should be focused primarily on academic instruction or social instruction.
Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), stated recently that teachers must assume the role of “Social Justice Warriors” in classrooms across the country. The National Education Association (NEA), another very large teachers’ union, urged the U.S. Justice Department to label concerned parents as “Domestic Terrorists” in an attempt to silence their objections. It’s clear that these teachers’ unions simply want to dismiss parents as being unworthy of advocating for their own children.
But parents need to be involved in the education of their children now more than ever.
Just look at what’s going on with Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman. She was recently sued for advertising links to chat rooms where minors discuss sex and gender with adults present and without parents necessarily knowing.
Then, there’s Chandler Education Association Union President Katie Nash, who is on video at a Chandler Unified School District Board (CUSD) meeting actively promoting the teaching of White Supremacy Theory, the 1619 Project, and “Anti-Racism” programs typically derived from Critical Race Theory (CRT).
What does any of this have to do with academic instruction? Nothing.
But it’s being pushed in our schools, and while it can be tempting to blame teachers for this, we need to be careful. Most teachers should be considered as dedicated and trustworthy professionals. Instead, this is a failure of union leadership and their minions who have lost interest in academic education in favor of a growing obsession with political power. What has been the result? Declining academic scores across the country.
Of course, all of this is in direct contradiction with Arizona statute, which clearly defines these social activities as fundamental rights reserved to parents to be directed by them in the home. But these teachers’ unions don’t seem to care. They’d rather do whatever it takes to usurp these parental rights—even if it means lower academic scores.
Is Academic Proficiency Now a Secondary Consideration?
As social instruction grows, academic proficiency suffers. Consider a recent CUSD presentation of a “Portrait of a Learner” program, which described several social aspirations for students, yet somehow omitted any reference to academic proficiency. Shouldn’t we expect academics to be the primary focus of something that involves “Learning”? Either that, or you would think it would at least push students toward developing practical job skills training.
This continued lack of focus on academic proficiency is resulting in a continued decline in student test scores across the state. There does not seem to be any comprehensive plan to recover from this.
One of the unintended consequences of this movement to focus on social instruction is “Parent Flight” to other educational alternatives such as charter schools, private schools, and homeschooling. The recent expansion of the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program in Arizona now allows for parents to choose from these alternatives over unsatisfactory district schools.
But as you might expect, teachers’ unions and their political arm, RedforEd, vigorously oppose this legislative expansion, claiming that it defunds schools. But what they won’t tell you is that it clearly does not defund a student’s educational opportunities. Equally important, it enhances a parent’s choice as to where they believe their children would receive the best education.
The program has been so popular that parents already overwhelmed the website in an effort to get out of undesirable district schools. Yet somehow it does not seem to occur to opponents of ESAs that, if they had district schools that were satisfactory to parents, then those parents probably would not even consider moving their kids to another competing educational alternative.
Quasi-Religious Woke Doctrine?
Perhaps what’s most frustrating about the growing social instruction in our schools is that, for years, our nation has been gradually removing religious (mostly Christian) influences from our public schools. In fact, it feels like the First Amendment right to “Freedom of Religion,” which was fundamental to the first European immigrants to this continent, has gradually been reinterpreted by the Left to mean “Freedom from Religion.”
But you can’t help but notice how certain aspects of woke doctrine seem to have become “articles of faith” that cannot be questioned by anyone without facing severe social backlash. It’s clear that Christian doctrine has been suppressed in schools and replaced by Secular Humanism, the belief that humanity is capable of morality and self-fulfillment without belief in God, and the more extreme Cultural Marxism, the Neo-Marxist movement seeking to apply critical theory to matters of family composition, gender, race, and cultural identity within Western society.
If teachers’ unions want to apply the “Freedom from Religion” doctrine in public schools, they should also apply a “Freedom from Extremist Political Doctrine” as well. It’s the only way to ensure our schools remain on neutral ground for political ideology, and it leaves social development at home with the child’s parents—where it should be.
Finally, along with our First Amendment rights comes a prohibition on “compelled speech,” which prevents a person from being forced, under threat or duress, to say things they don’t really believe in. But we hear regular reports of teachers being bullied and harassed by other “activist” colleagues to force them to go along with their extreme Leftist political doctrine. Many teachers simply comply because they are concerned about having to work in a hostile environment or having their livelihoods threatened.
This implies that there is some sort of informal “political test” for teachers in our schools. It is often enforced by aggressive colleagues who are usually associated with a teachers’ union. The apparent message is: “comply and be welcome, or dissent and be ostracized.” It is no wonder teachers are under such workplace stress because of these implied threats.
However, there is a recent report of one brave, principled teacher, who, in looking over the daily SEL lesson, simply said, “we are not going to do this today” and put the controversial assignment aside. So, if parents have the right to “opt-out” their children from the presentation of controversial subject matter, that same rule needs to be extended to teachers who do not believe in these social lessons or deem them inappropriate for the children in their class. It’s time to give these teachers an “opt-out” choice as well.
In conclusion, here are a few ways we can start to clean up our public schools:
Return the primary focus of schools to academic instruction rather than social instruction.
Reduce the influence of the politically biased teachers’ unions.
Protect parents’ rights to direct the social upbringing of their children.
Prohibit political and social ideologies from being established in schools.
Protect teachers from being compelled to present controversial materials that they do not believe in.
Kurt Rohrs is a candidate for the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board. You can find out more about his campaign here.
Recent legislation mandates that public schools offer Mental Health Instruction and Social and Emotional learning (SEL) programs to their curriculum. But the legislation does not specify what those programs should consist of.
However, companion legislation does offer some guidance on SEL instruction by prohibiting instruction typical of Critical Race Theory (CRT) doctrine from being presented in classrooms.
The legislation gives seven specific prohibitions on social instruction: It prohibits teaching that:
1. One race, ethnic group or sex is inherently morally or intellectually superior to another race, ethnic group or sex.
2. An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race, ethnicity or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.
3. An individual should be invidiously discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of the individual’s race, ethnicity or sex.
4. An individual’s moral character is determined by the individual’s race, ethnicity or sex.
5. An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race, ethnicity or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed by other members of the same race, ethnic group or sex.
6. An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress because of the individual’s race, ethnicity or sex.
7. Academic achievement, meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by members of a particular race, ethnic group or sex to oppress members of another race, ethnic group or sex.
Parents are concerned that SEL programs may still be used to usher in controversial political and social ideologies concerning race relations (CRT), child sexuality (CSE) and neo-Marxist political doctrine (“Equity” as Wealth Redistribution), which may be buried in the details of certain programs. Parents would probably be far more comfortable if these ideological considerations were carefully scrubbed from SEL curriculum.
It may be far more effective to base SEL programs on agnostic, apolitical concepts that are generally accepted across cultural boundaries and are not agenda driven by activist special interest groups. Programs that focus on good character and positive behaviors, instead of specific identity group grievances and restitution typical of cultural Marxist doctrine, would most likely find far greater support in the community.
Here are several positive social behaviors that are generally accepted across many cultures that we used to present to students and which generated little controversy. Perhaps we never should have gotten away from these fundamental principles of behavior.
Be honest. Don’t deceive, cheat, or steal.
Have integrity. Do what you say you’ll do.
Keep your promises.
Be loyal. Stand by your values.
Follow the Golden Rule.
Be accepting of differences.
Be courteous to others.
Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements.
Be considerate of others’ feelings.
Do what you are supposed to do. Try your best.
Persevere. Keep on trying.
Think before you act. Consider the consequences.
Be accountable for your words, actions, and attitudes.
Play by the rules.
Take turns and share.
Be open-minded. Listen to others.
Don’t take advantage of others.
Do your share to make your home, school, and community better.
Stay informed. Vote.
Be a good neighbor.
Make choices that protect the safety and rights of others.
Protect the environment.
“Whole Child” Concept
The newest iteration of SEL appears to be the “Whole Child” initiative, which combines the academic education of children and the management of their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The “Whole Child” initiative is driven primarily by the Association of Supervisors and Curriculum Development (ASCD) in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in an apparent effort to expand government agency influence into the home life and parenting of children. It is described by the Whole School, Community, and Child (WSCC) model as having 10 components:
Physical education and physical activity
Nutrition environment and services
Social and emotional climate
Counseling, psychological, and social services
Other collaborators are the Priscilla Chan/Mark Zuckerberg Initiative and Collaborative for Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL). Both these collaborators’ organizations have been criticized recently for surreptitiously weaving controversial Social Justice doctrine into seemingly innocuous education programs.
Whole Child programs can take on a variety of forms. The Chandler Unified School District’s approach includes several specific, and far less controversial, programs such as:
Mandarin Dual Language
Academy and Traditional Schools
Special Needs Programs
Band and Orchestra
Spanish Dual Language
There seems to be no generally accepted guidelines on SEL programs and the proper balance of academic instruction (the realm of teachers) and social instruction (the realm of parents). Both communities appear to be encroaching upon each other’s “turf” with parents recoiling about intrusive social instruction in the classroom and teachers dismayed about alternative school choice options being exercised by parents because of their discomfort.
It is long past time to resolve these conflicts with clear and distinct boundaries with respect to the education of, and raising of, children. Our children will be the ones who benefit most.
Kurt Rohrs is a candidate for the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board. You can find out more about his campaign here.
Arizona’s school counselors will soon be joining other school counselors nationwide to be trained in social-emotional learning (SEL) and other social justice topics for their 25th annual National School Social Work Conference. The conference takes place next week in Chicago, Illinois.
As AZ Free News has reported previously, SEL incorporates a wide swath of controversial theories and ideologies, such as comprehensive sex education (CSE), critical race theory (CRT), and culturally responsive education (CRE).
Nearly all of the topics at hand focus on handling and integrating various social justice issues in K-12 schools.
Keynote session topics are titled as follows: “Leveraging Transformative Social and Emotional Learning… From Imagining to Actualizing an Educational System Rooted in Love and Justice,” focusing on SEL implementation; “Building Authentic Alliances Through Critical Conversations,” focusing on intersectionality, a driving concept behind CRT; and “What is Safety from the Lens of Teens,” focusing on systematic and institutional racism.
Pre-conference forums will include discussions on racial and social equity. Breakout sessions will include discussions on integrating restorative justice mimicking progressive criminal justice reforms, SEL, equity, CRE, mental health therapies, inclusion, sexuality, gender identity, mass-shootings, interventions, racism, adultism, ableism, and social justice activism.
The training that Arizona’s school counselors will receive on SEL falls in line with standards set forth by the Arizona Department of Education (ADE). Last December, the department encouraged educators to expand on their SEL implementation.
Governor Doug Ducey appears to support SEL as well. In August, $1.6 million of the $65 million for learning programs went to fund SEL. Additionally, over $6.3 million was allocated for SEL programs as part of the AZCares: Flexibility and Funding For Schools and Families in 2020.
Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) will pilot a social-emotional learning (SEL) supplemental curriculum at 19 schools this coming spring. TUSD will rely on Character Strong’s SEL supplemental curriculum.
The following make up the tentative list of schools incorporating the pilot supplemental curriculum, according to TUSD spokeswoman Leslie Lenhart.
Elementary: Wheeler, Dunham, Collier, Robison, Grijalva, Erickson, Hudlow, Mission View, Cavett, Van Buskirk, and Ochoa
K8: Roskruge, Borman, and Robins
Middle: Alice Vail, Valencia, and Utterback
High School: Cholla and Santa Rita
Five schools already implemented the supplemental curriculum: Peter Howell Elementary School, Miles Exploratory Learning Center (K-8), Lineweaver Elementary School, Borton Magnet School (elementary), and Sam Hughes Elementary School. According to Lenhart, these five schools will serve in an advisory capacity for the pilot program.
SEL incorporates a variety of controversial teaching approaches, such as Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE), Critical Race Theory (CRT), and Culturally Responsive Education (CRE).
In a slideshow presentation discussing adoption of SEL curriculum, TUSD claimed that SEL cultivated “mindsets, skills, attitudes, and feelings” that set up students for success. The board also described SEL as a necessary precondition for education.
“In essence, SEL focuses on students’ fundamental needs for motivation, social connectedness, and self-regulation as preconditions for learning,” read the agenda item.
SEL promotes five competency areas: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness. The three functions of the TUSD SEL curriculum would focus on prevention and intervention using standards offered by Collaborative Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL): an organization that helped mainstream SEL, a budding theory at the time.
During the same meeting, the board approved spending $26,325 in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds on SEL professional development. The funds go toward training teachers, staff, and administration in trauma informed or culturally responsive care, de-escalation strategies, interventions, trauma, and resiliency.
TUSD has followed state precedent. In December, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) claimed that SEL was the key to solving the mental health decline in school-aged children. ADE based their claim on an advisory published by Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
Governor Doug Ducey has acted in support of SEL adoption as well. Last August, AZ Free News reported that $1.6 out of $65 million in learning funds would go toward SEL programming. Then in September, AZ Free News discovered that Secretary of State Katie Hobbs nominated an elementary school teacher for her SEL implementation and activism.