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The New Public School Orthodoxy

As Lincoln is said to have warned, “the philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.”

Readers likely are familiar with the bleak state of American higher education. The U.S. spends more per student than most of its peers, yet comparative-academic-proficiency studies from the Pew Foundation and others consistently rank us in the middle or bottom rungs. Literacy rates are lower today than in 1840, well before the imposition of compulsory public education. University campuses have become pedagogic citadels of woke-ism. What is less understood is the degree to which these same forces have invaded the nation’s primary and secondary public schools.

From Loudoun County to Cupertino, the K-12 public-education system is subverting our shared welfare. A vast array of public and private forces—legislatures, teachers unions, school boards, curriculum providers, and monied special-interest groups—are working in unison to advance a worldview hostile to traditional American values. The evidence for this is legion, and reveals itself in three interconnected threats: sex and gender theory, critical race theory, and replacement parenting.

Sex and gender theory comes in many guises but is centered around the separation of biology from personal identity. This messaging begins in kindergarten, where children are sometimes exposed to cartoon instructional books like Who Are You?: The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity. Teachers tell impressionable children, “Babies can’t talk, so grown-ups make a guess [about their gender] by looking at their bodies.”

This is followed in later grades with books like My Princess Boy and Jacob’s New Dress, and graphical tools like “The Gender Unicorn” to cement the illusion that chromosomes and body parts are irrelevant. At the same time, state legislatures are passing non-discrimination laws allowing students to access school bathrooms and locker rooms according to their gender identity. Teachers are being ordered to use students’ preferred gender pronouns under threat of dismissal, furthering the lie that biology is irrelevant.

But an equally dangerous goal of sex and gender theory is to sexualize children. What was once known simply as “sex ed” has morphed into “comprehensive sexuality education.” Teaching tools like “It’s Perfectly Normal,” a book meant for ten-year-olds, contain realistic depictions of fully exposed child genitals and sex acts. 

Schools today not only promote child sexuality, they facilitate off-campus sex-related medical services for their minor charges. Under California’s Assembly Bill 1184, recently signed into law by Governor Newsom, the first time parents are notified that their child has received such “sensitive services” could be when the bill shows up in the mail.

Then there’s critical race theory, the now-ubiquitous subject that galvanized Virginia’s “domestic terrorists” (parents) and kept Terry McAuliffe out of the Governor’s Mansion. Why the uproar? As Virginia’s parents discovered, CRT is a thinly veiled form of cultural Marxism.

As first reported by Christopher Rufo, in Cupertino, light-skinned elementary school kids are taught to “deconstruct their racial identities, then rank themselves according to power and privilege.” Similar kinds of exercises are occurring across the nation. Under CRT, representative democracy and capitalism are taught as tools of white patriarchy. Indeed, the tactics employed to advance the CRT worldview reminds one of the Soviet era joke, “The future we know. It’s the past that keeps changing.” An example is the “1619 Project,” which, although widely discredited, is being pressed into service by public schools in an effort to “reframe” the Declaration of Independence, the War of Independence, and the Constitution as racist machinations of the oppressor class.

Finally, there is replacement parenting, otherwise known as social & emotional learning (SEL). While parents may have resigned themselves to schools acting in loco parentis, SEL takes it to the extreme. Far from being concerned with cultivating traditional conceptions of character and virtue, the goal of SEL is to “mitigate the interrelated legacies of racial and class oppression in the U.S. and globally.” It seeks to “critically examine root causes of inequity” and develop “justice-oriented, global citizens.” In furtherance of these aims, schools have assumed the authority to engage in woke therapy sessions through topics like “self-awareness,” “relationship skills” and “responsible decision making.”

As SEL advocate Dena Simmons put it, “What’s the point of teaching children about conflict resolution skills, if we’re not talking about the conflicts that exist because of racism or white supremacy?” But SEL goes even further: It invades the recesses of a child’s inner life and records what’s discovered there through intimate surveys, family-life assessments, and class exercises designed to achieve doctrinal assent to the ever-evolving demands of social justice.

What’s behind all this? It’s not a secret. The purpose of public-school education is to indoctrinate future generations into a new orthodoxy, a replacement worldview for the beliefs that animated previous generations of Americans. Sex-ed promoter SIECUS, for example, openly advertises its aim: “Sex Ed for Social Change.” This new orthodoxy is religious in nature, with its own dogmas and practices. Metaphysical claims are supported with appeals to “ancestral” and even pagan roots. California’s version of CRT (“ethnic studies“), encourages teachers to guide children in chants to Mayan and Aztec deities. Utterly rejected, of course, is anything resembling the biblical worldview upon which all of western culture developed and advanced, along with its derivative concepts: the nuclear family, liberal democracy, capitalism, and equal protection under law.

If politics is downstream from culture, and culture from people’s personal beliefs, then America’s public schools turning into ideological indoctrination camps is a flashing red signal. How long our civilization can survive such intellectual and moral nihilism is open to debate. But as Lincoln is said to have warned, “the philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.”

In 1943 the Supreme Court was asked to decide if public schools could force children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. This was in the middle of the Second World War, a time of fervent patriotism. Notwithstanding, writing for the majority, Justice Robert H. Jackson wrote: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in matters of politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word their faith therein.” Perhaps it’s time that public schools were reminded of this.

Mark R. Schneider is a California attorney and founder of the non-profit Protect Our Kids, whose mission is to educate parents about the scope and dangers of the public-school system.