With gubernatorial recall election underway, California public schools are staying open … for the time being. Like many Golden State mothers I make no mistake about the lack of appetite among the educational nomenklatura to keep them open.
And I’m not at all surprised that in an interview with Los Angelos Magazine, United Teachers Los Angeles President Cecily Myart-Cruz sounded unperturbed by the fact that the students in the largest school district in the state are falling behind:
“There is no such thing as learning loss. Our kids didn’t lose anything. It’s OK that our babies may not have learned all their times tables. They learned resilience. They learned survival. They learned critical-thinking skills. They know the difference between a riot and a protest. They know the words insurrection and coup.”
What I find troubling about educrats is not that they merely express this sentiment, but their expressed enthusiasm for molding America’s children into tools to achieve their political goals, and the fact that they see “public health” school closures as an “opportunity” to achieve it.
The AFT Webinar - Part One: Randi Weingarten
I witnessed it myself when I logged into an American Federation of Teachers webinar last September. The teachers’ union webinar qualified for professional development credits, and was lead by its President Randi Weingarten. It featured the Robert Kennedy’s daughter, and the President of RFK Human Rights Center Kerry Kennedy, NAACP President Derrick Johnson, and AFT “star teachers”.
Johnson addressed the webinar via a pre-recorded speech (“due to COVID,” Weingarten explained). What he had to say about race being a social construct, equality before the law, the wisdom of our founding principles, and the wisdom of the elders felt old fashioned, and didn’t align with the mood of the event.
Ostensibly, AFT was promoting high school lesson plans, called Defenders of Civil Rights and Democracy developed by the RFK Center focusing mostly on the Civil Rights Movement. But if historians try to immerse themselves into the time and place they study in an attempt to imagine what it meant to be alive at the time, the AFT discussion was not concerned with such esoteric pursuits. Teaching how American system of government is designed wasn’t on the agenda either. Instead AFT put together a how-to for funneling teens into left wing political groups, or, as the moderator put it “think civics from the point of view of activism”.
Weingarten gave a fervently partisan talk, decrying Donald Trump’s 1776 Project which in her opinion “erases the original sin of America”. She compared Black Lives Matter to Hong Kong protests, and urged participants to think that we are at a “tipping point” of democracy, like the RFK and MLK assassinations. Kerry Kennedy did not protest the likening of her father to a lifelong criminal, and an opiate addict George Floyd. Nor did she point out that the Presidential candidate was assassinated by a Palestinian terrorist.
Weingarten continued fuming: “We have a government that demonizes BLM, ridicules science”, and forces hysterectomies on immigrants. She compared that allegation to “Mississippi hysterectomies”. Presumably she misspoke, involuntary sterilization under Black Crow was called a Mississippi appendectomy. No word on Planned Parenthood performing abortions on black and other minority women.
Weingarten declared that, considering the wave of BLM marches sweeping the country, the time for Defenders of Democracy curriculum is now. She expressed hope that it will have a ripple effect, that it will “summon kids’ passions to create freedom fighters for justice” by encouraging them to agitate within their communities. That rhetoric suggests that the ideas advanced in public schools are not native to American communities.
The AFT Webinar - Part Two: Kerry Kennedy
Kerry Kennedy turned out to be a silly woman. Kennedy, who once received an award from the hands of Solidarnost leader Lech Walesa, declared that anyone can be a hero. She explained that when she gives speeches in high schools, she asks kids to raise their hands if they’d ever didn’t study for a test. Usually a lot of hands go up. Then she tells students that if they took that test anyway, they, too, are heroes. I have news for Ms. Kennedy—the students took the test for the same reason they didn’t prepare for it: they don’t care.
Kennedy speculated that voting is being suppressed, and that students need to get out there “with your body, your heart, and your mind, and do something creative.” A Chardonnay mom’s dream.
Then she proclaimed that children need to find heroes in their own communities and work with them to “stop the litany of abuses by the federal government.” But who are these certified “heroes,” and where can students find them? Weingarten reassured participants that AFT is working with multiple organizations that can “platform” students into “communities”. As if students don’t already live in communities.
And so I observed the daughter of the single most politically connected family in American history sending other people’s children to a far left activist group to offer their “body” and “mind” for the group’s use. And she’s telling them that they are heroes for following her instructions. This is how lives get ruined.
Next, Kennedy told of anonymous kids inspired by the Defenders of Democracy curriculum. A group of students, she said, was working on a poster about recycling. They took pictures of people sorting their trash, depositing it into the proper bins, and the recycling bin being picked up by the recycling truck.
Then the students got up on their bikes, and followed the truck, thinking that they are going to take pictures of the waste being properly disposed. To their surprise, the truck dumped the recyclables together with the rest of the garbage. Teens took pictures, Kennedy continued, which were picked up by a local paper, stirring up a scandal and pressing the mayor to terminate the contract with the waste management company.
To be clear, there is a lot that our kids don’t know about recycling. For instance, even here, in the environmentally committed San Francisco Bay Area, a large number of people do not comply with recycling regulations. Not necessarily on purpose, but because it’s near impossible to know which products are recyclable, and to keep up with the body of regulations that vary between cities and counties. More importantly, China who was buying American recyclables in the past no longer feels like being a recipient of our garbage. Left with no options, some municipalities have been sending all waste to landfill.
There was no verifiable details in Kennedy’s story, and it sounds too much like an urban legend. It encourages teens to think of themselves as heroes when they are simply being mislead, and to look for an excuse to turn against their communities. It also feels very 2019. Today’s teens are much more keen on accusing someone of racism.
The AFT Webinar - Part Three: The "Rock Star" Teachers
Weingarten then invited her “rock star” teacher Mona Al-Hayani to share her “most effective motivators,” her “tricks of the trade.” The arch-ideological teacher explained that her first step is to create a “safe space” in the classroom.
Al-Hayani proceeded to explain that students somehow feel “burdened,” but out of that burden emerges power and strength” when she gives them “tools to become activists.” The educator explained that the tools in question are “accurate and reliable sources.” And “once students are aware of the accurate and reliable sources, there is no holding them back from engaging in their community.”
The speech was so vague and filled with cliches that it was unclear what practical help any webinar participant could get out of it. I strongly suspect that they key to Al-Hayani’s success is low expectations and predictability.
The only interesting point brought up by Al-Hayani was the observation that right now is an “opportunistic” moment. This summer, some students participated in BLM actions, so it was important to get to the children today. This way instead of “stay[ing] idle,” they can “move forward” on the activist path. She said that although home “might not be the best environment […] social media is preparing them for the action.”
The AFT “star teacher” perfectly summed up the theme of the event: uprooting children from their family, and community to deliver them to professional activists.
The teacher noticed that during closures her students are teleconferencing with her more often, giving her an opportunity to politicize them. It was always my impression that teens and young adults participated in BLM movement out of loneliness, and boredom because Marxian political activism was often the only game in town. Al-Hayani would probably concur. If the lockdowns are turning out to be a godsend for an activist teachers and union insiders, why would they ever want to return to the classroom?
Weingarten agreed that kids have significant feelings because “we are in four crises” those being COVID, recession, “long-needed reckoning with racism,” and “extreme weather” such as the fires and hurricanes. Another “star teacher” added that “under the circumstances building community is essential,” and that community should be built around the curriculum championed by his union.
AFT sees students not as vulnerable human beings with unique educational and social needs to be nurtured to allow them to grow to their full potential, but clogs to be put into the activist machine, and school closures as an opportune time to isolate them, and rip them away from the world they know. Is it any wonder that students at LA Unified learned nothing but rioting last year?
Photo Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News