SMMUSD Adopts Anti-Racism
SMMUSD's New Anti-Racism Curriculum May Do More Harm than Good. It is the task of the public school system to create unity, not division
July 30, 2020
by Alyssa Erdley
News with Attitude
Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Superintendent Ben Drati sent an email to parents and the public outlining the district's plans to combat racism, including a website of parent resources, social justice standards for different grade levels, a revised United States History curriculum, and the future participation of the district in a Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action in February.
Although some elements of the plan appear to have been in the works for months, other elements seem hastily considered and more the result of a knee-jerk response to current events than careful thought.
The website of parent resources appears to have been thrown together in one afternoon, linking parents and educators to the websites of other groups where extremist ideologies are either not far beneath the surface or are explicitly exposed. The social justice standards ask young children to group themselves into narrow identities with contradictory messages on how to think about those identities, and the district's history curriculum has always been a far-progressive distortion. As for the participation in a Black Lives Matter action week, it is beyond the bounds. Calling Black Lives Matter partisan would be putting it mildly.
In looking at the new social justice standards and the revised history course, there is enough vagueness to hope that a sensitive teacher would not necessarily alienate every child in the class. In addition, some of the standards are simply basic civility and healthy thinking. For example, one of the K-2 standards is "I can feel good about myself without being mean or making other people feel bad." It's hard to quibble with that.
But other standards make less sense and one wonders about any evidence-based data to support bringing up race and identity explicitly in kindergarten. (Or anywhere.) For example, another kindergarten-level standard asks a child to be able to "name some of my identities." Why? Why is it important for a child to partition themselves off into a group it may not have even occurred to them exists? And what if the child can not point to any explicit "group identity" to which he belongs while others can? This sort of demand is suspect in its goal. Are we TRYING to get kids to separate off into identity-politics cliques?
The district already ran a long-term experiment in forcing students to obsess over the victim-oppressor roles of various group identities. Samo required a course called Freshman Seminar. The course curriculum consisted of a cherry-picking through U.S. history for every situation where one group suffered by the hands of another. As far as producing racial pride or harmony, the class was a colossal failure. At one meeting with the principal, every parent - representing Asian, black, white, Hispanic, and Jewish - reported their child came home from the course feeling ashamed of their identity. The next year, the principal (not the current one) revised Freshman Seminar.
The lesson was not learned. The new U.S. History curriculum takes on many of the cherry-picking aspects of the old Freshman Seminar. In the course overview, we are promised 11th grade students will be viewing the country's history "using a social justice lens." Again, why? Would it not be better, both for the students and for society as a whole, to teach them to look at history with a scientific and critical mind? Whatever ideological indoctrination is taught today will be yesterday's news by the time they graduate college. At the rate cultural norms have been changing, it might be even faster than that. Give students the flexibility they will need to weed out ideology from fact as they must react to the events through which they will end up living.
To that end, it would be a good idea for the curriculum to include perspectives that are based on evidence rather than narrative. Thomas Sowell and Shelby Steele come to mind as eminent scholars and excellent writers - both black - who see the race relations in a vastly different, and far more critically evidenced manner. Sowell, an economist, wrote Discrimination and Disparities among many other books. Steele is the author of White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era - also one of many erudite tomes.
When it comes to diversity, SMMUSD has always missed the mark regarding true diversity, that of thought. Only one narrative is allowed by both students and teachers. Only one narrow slate of opinions is acceptable. With Drati's "anti-racist" initiative, that slate becomes even narrower. Those with different thoughts, including ideas about how best to combat real racism, will be shunted to the side if not ostracized and punished. This is a good way to raise a generation of citizens who hate themselves and each other.
Instead, our public school should provide a place where all the many individuals can belong to one community, the United States of America. Inculcating pride in the true greatness of this country's founding ideals and documents, its real triumphs along with its sins, is a place of true potential for creating a sense of unity. When everyone perceives they belong to one great place, equally, is when you have a chance at real harmony among people who all have their differences.