Teaching About the Events at the Capitol

by Christopher Paslay

A Chicago activist group called “Mikva Challenge” has put together a slide show about the Capitol tragedy that misleads students and serves to further divide America. (Please click on the above picture to watch the companion video which analyzes the slide show.)

The events that took place at the Capitol on January 6th were reprehensible and tragic, and schools should offer teachers resources to help their students process these events. However, they should be doing this in a way that is productive and healing, and that provides students with balanced information so that they can think critically about the events that are having a real impact on their lives. 

Unfortunately, both in the media and in America’s public schools, there are a number of teacher resources that fail to allow students to critically analyze current events in an accurate and balanced context (they do not offer a classic pro/con format), but are presented from a one-sided lens that takes a complex situation and boils it down to a simplistic, over-generalized version of reality.

In particular, a teacher resource called “Response to January 6th DC Insurrection,” a slide-show put together by a political activist group based in Chicago called “Mikva Challenge,” is an example. This so-called “teacher resource” gives students strategically selected pictures and clips of events that do not accurately represent the larger whole of society, that do not give kids enough background information on complex issues, and seem to be designed to teach students WHAT to think, and not HOW to think.

The most concerning thing is that this particular activity is not teaching students that we, as Americans, must learn to understand each other, or that there are many sides to an issue.  It doesn’t present any universal themes that can bring us together, or reveal how at some level we are all the same. The teacher resource called “Response to January 6th DC Insurrection” literally polarizes people into camps: Trump supporters/whites on one side, BLM/people of color on the other.

It stereotypes all Trump supporters as violent racists, and all BLM activists as saintly freedom fighters.  Of course, the reality is that the events of the past seven months have been much more complex than this. There are 74 million Trump supporters, the majority of whom are caring people with real concerns about real issues. Yes, a small faction got violent on January 6th, which is inexcusable.

But those who have been following the news understand that there is a faction of BLM/ATIFA (about 7%) who have been violent and riotous over the past seven months, who have shot and killed police, burned-down police stations and federal court-houses, destroyed business, etc.  Much has been made about not stereotyping these mostly peaceful protesters as violent, but the violence was still real and just as inexcusable. Unfortunately, our news media is so polarized, that those who do not read a wide breadth of news from a wide variety of sources, will perceive events within a limited frame of reference. 

A more appropriate slide presentation, which asks students to process the events of January 6th, would be to show the background issues and concerns of Trump supporters and BLM protesters side-by-side. Show a slide that breaks down the issues of Trump protesters (energy independence, right to life, ending the lockdown, censorship by Big Tech, perceived voter irregularities, lack of cultural representation by the ruling class, etc.), and those of BLM protesters (racism, police brutality, healthcare, equity and inclusion). Educators could show how, although many Americans see the world through different lenses, we all basically want the same things: love, companionship, equal access to resources, and a relatively good quality of life.     

Next teachers could show a side-by-side slide of the inappropriate behavior perpetrated by the fringe Trump faction in the Capitol (the horrible violence and attack on police), and compare it to the inappropriate behavior of the fringe BLM/ANTIFA faction in the summer and fall (the destruction of businesses and people’s livelihoods, the murder of police and civilians, the destruction of Federal courthouses). In short, teachers could show how ALL violence is wrong (whether it takes place in the sacredness of Washington DC, or within a person’s neighborhood or private business in Portland or Seattle), and is NEVER acceptable. 

Again, this is not to condone what happened in the Capitol last week, or to discount or cheapen the struggle for racial justice by BLM. However, educators must refrain from oversimplifying events, smearing and stereotyping entire groups of people, and from giving students only fragments of the whole of reality in order to shape their perspectives on issues; teachers should teach children HOW to think, not WHAT to think. 

The teacher resource called “Response to January 6th DC Insurrection” does none of this, and is quite shocking in its use of selective information and gross lack of context. 

Exploring White Fragility: Debating the Effects of Whiteness Studies on America’s Schools

Click here to pre-order Chris’s new book, Exploring White Fragility: Debating the Effects of Whiteness Studies on America’s Schools, due to be released on April 11, by Rowman & Littlefield. (Click on the picture above to watch a detailed description of the book.)

“Paslay’s thorough review of attitudes and actions associated with whiteness studies and racism give voice to all sides of diversity and pluralism so that we, as a nation, can continue the ongoing conversation about how to treat each other with the respect ALL humans deserve.” –Dr. Eugenia Krimmel, education professor and ESL/Bilingual education advisor at the Pennsylvania Department of Education

“This is a brave book. Paslay reveals and cuts through the endless layers of antiracist gospel which, in the name of enlightenment, leave one cohort of brown kids after another uneducated. Aspiring teachers seeking clear eyes and genuine progressivism should start by inhaling this book.” –John H. McWhorter, associate professor of linguistics and comparative literature at Columbia University

“This well-researched, well-argued, and thoughtful book provides a clear and comprehensive account of how the theory of white fragility is dividing rather than uniting American society and America classrooms. A must-read.” –Jonathan Church, author of Reinventing Racism: Why ‘White Fragility’ Is the Wrong Way to Think About Racial Inequality

“Paslay provides a thorough exposition and measured critique of the new ideology that has colonized the minds of America’s school administrators and threatens to wreak havoc on our students—especially students of color. It’s a must-read for any parent or teacher who is concerned about the soul of the next generation.” –Max Eden, education policy expert and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute

#DisruptTexts: The Purging of Classic Literature from Schools

by Christopher Paslay

The celebration of one group should not depend on the disruption of another, as true wisdom and knowledge are not zero-sum.

Meghan Cox Gurdon, the Wall Street Journal’s children’s book critic, recently wrote an article titled “Even Homer Gets Mobbed,” about an educational movement called #DisruptTexts, which Gurdon describes as a “sustained effort” to “deny children access to literature,” which is encouraging schoolteachers to “purge” and “propagandize” classic pieces of literature. 

“The subtle complexities of literature are being reduced to the crude clanking of ‘intersectional’ power struggles,” Gurdon writes, and explains how Seattle English teacher Evin Shinn tweeted in 2018 that he’d “rather die” than teach “The Scarlet Letter,” unless Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel is used to “fight against misogyny and slut-shaming.”

Gurdon’s article also mentioned how Heather Levine, a Massachusetts English teacher from Lawrence High School, bragged on twitter about how her school got rid of Homer’s Odyssey.

“Very proud to say we got the Odyssey removed from our curriculum last year!” Levine tweeted. Gurdon contacted Levine for comment, but Levine replied that she found the inquiry “invasive.”

For the record, Lawrence High School has officially denied removing the Odyssey from their curriculum Thursday on Fox News, and has stated that they do incorporate classic texts into their reading lists — which puts the school at odds with what is being stated publicly by one of their own English teachers. 

Despite Lawrence High School denying removing the Odyssey from their school, #DisruptTexts is still gaining traction across America. 

What exactly is #DisruptTexts? According to their website:

Disrupt Texts is a crowdsourced, grass roots effort by teachers for teachers to challenge the traditional canon in order to create a more inclusive, representative, and equitable language arts curriculum that our students deserve. It is part of our mission to aid and develop teachers committed to anti-racist/anti-bias teaching pedagogy and practices.

In short, it’s identity politics fueled by polarizing Critical Race Theory.

One of the founding members of Disrupt Texts is Tricia Ebarvia, who is currently an English teacher at Conestoga High School, PA, — which is right outside of Philadelphia — where she has taught world literature, American literature, and AP Lit, among other subjects; her resume is quite impressive. 

She wrote an article last year for the International Literacy Association titled, “Disrupting Your Texts: Why Simply Including Diverse Voices Is Not Enough,” where she encourages English teachers to “disrupt texts” by dumping lesson plans based on universal themes in literature, and adopting activities that racialize classic novels and teach students to view such texts through the lens of racism and white oppression.

In the article Ebarvia asks literature teachers to “resist colorblind readings of texts,” to “consider the role that race and whiteness have played in your own socialization, particularly around your beliefs about schooling,” and to “begin with the premise that public schools never intended to educate all children equally and look for the ways in which this holds true today.”

She states that “curriculum has never been neutral, but always ideological,” and ironically, her remedy isn’t to eliminate political ideology by focusing on concrete skills and universal themes that unify the races, but by injecting more political ideology into the lesson, ideology rooted in zero-sum identity politics.

The movement to “disrupt texts,” like modern anti-racism, comes from a place of breaking things down, not building them up. Notice the movement isn’t pro, but anti. Notice it doesn’t call for cooperation, but for disruption.  This is the fundamental difference between classic multiculturalism — which aims to bring diversity through celebration — and modern anti-racism — which aims to root out so-called “whiteness” by polarizing students and teachers by race and dividing them into tribal camps: inherently racist privileged whites on one side, and victimized and oppressed people of color on the other.

Such approaches may be one reason why the international performance gap in education between the United States and the rest of the world is widening. The 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a test administered every three years that measures what fifteen-year-old students have learned in math, reading, and science. According to an article in US News & World Report, American researchers were troubled “that 30 countries scored higher than U.S. students in math and that the performance gap between top-performing and lower-performing students is widening, especially in reading.”

In April, Rowman & Littlefield is releasing my new book, titled, Exploring White Fragility: Debating the Effects of Whiteness Studies on America’s Schools, where I use both existing research and anecdotal classroom observations to reveal how the use of things like white fragility theory and anti-racism are having unintended negative impacts on our schools and classrooms; I also briefly examine the #DisruptTexts movement as well.  

Anyone who is concerned about critical race theory and the indoctrination of our students in identity politics should read the book, which is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Educators should not be “disrupting texts” in our children’s schools. The racialization of classic literature is misguided, and although the movement may have good intentions, we should base instruction around synergy, not dichotomy. The celebration of one group should not depend on the disruption of another, as true wisdom and knowledge are not zero-sum. Let’s cooperate and celebrate, not accuse and cancel. Instead of focusing on superficial skin color, let’s use the universal themes found in classic literature — like courage, friendship, and redemption — to bring us together, and make our students critical thinkers and upstanding future citizens.