Education

Massachusetts Wants ‘Woke’ Activists to Set School Curricula

Protesters pass the Massachusetts State House following the death of George Floyd, in Boston, Mass., June 3, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
Bills proposed by the state legislature would empower left-wing interest groups to determine what kids learn in schools.

As battles over education heat up across the country, legislators in Massachusetts are considering a range of measures to empower left-leaning activist groups to set education policy for the state. On Monday, the joint education committee of the state legislature had a hearing that discussed, among other things, a bill to institute a “critical approach and pedagogy” for a curriculum of ethnic studies, “decolonization,” and “social justice” instruction.

“An Act Relative to Anti-Racism, Equity and Justice in Education” is being spearheaded in the Massachusetts lower house by members Nika Elugardo and Erika Uyterhoeven, both of whom identify as socialists, as H.584. In the state’s senate (as S.365), it is backed by the chair of the education committee, Jason Lewis.

This bill shows how the ratchet of ideological transformation works. One of the central mechanics of power for the ‘great awokening’ involves taking over key chokepoints in policy and civil society — from accreditation organizations to human-resources offices in major corporations — in order to impose growing demands upon American life. With “An Act Relative to Anti-Racism, Equity and Justice in Education,” the Massachusetts legislature would invent a commission, with members chosen by activist groups, to act as an engine of perpetual ideological agitation in the state government.

The bill proclaims “that education in dismantling racism be taught to all students, that teachers and school counselors be trained in pedagogy and practices that uplift students of all ethnicities and backgrounds, [and] that truth and reconciliation regarding slavery, genocide, land theft and systemic racism is centered” in the Bay State’s curriculum.

To that end, the bill would establish a “Commission for Anti-Racism and Equity in Education” that could weigh in on a range of issues. An “Anti-Racism and Equity in Education Trust Fund” established by the bill would have its funds used with the commission’s “consultation and recommendation.” Moreover, this commission would advise the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on a host of issues:

(i)Develop curriculum materials with a social justice perspective of dismantling racism and to advise the department on improving the history and social sciences framework.

(ii) Ensure that ethnic studies, racial justice, decolonizing history, and unlearning racism is taught at all grade levels using a critical approach and pedagogy that is age-appropriate.

(iii) Advise the department on ways to ensure equity in the Massachusetts Test for  Education Licensure; and

(iv) Ensure that teachers and school counselors have access to professional development that fosters equitable, inclusive curriculum and pedagogy and practices that support racial justice.

The range of this commission’s responsibility would, then, cover everything from curriculum to professional development to teacher licensing.

The bill essentially deputizes a number of activist groups by giving them authority to pick the membership of this committee. Teachers’ unions, the ACLU, and other groups would determine who would sit on the “Commission for Anti-Racism and Equity in Education.” According to the bill text, each of these groups would get to select one member for the commission: the Massachusetts Teachers Association; the American Federation of Teachers of Massachusetts; the Boston Teachers Union; the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents; the Massachusetts Association of School Committees; the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs; the Collaborative of Asian American, Native American, Latino and African American Institutes of the University of Massachusetts Boston; the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts; the North American Indian Center of Boston; the NAACP, Boston Branch; the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston; the Massachusetts Community Action Network; the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance; the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth; the Cape Verdean Association of Boston; the Asian American Commission; and the Parents Union of Massachusetts.

This way of constituting the commission would ensure the dominance of a coalition of left-leaning and interlocking groups. For instance, three of the member organizations of the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance (MEJA) are the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the Boston Teachers Union, and the American Federation of Teachers of Massachusetts — each of which also gets to pick a commission member. Another member of the MEJA is Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, which is the parent organization of the Parents Union of Massachusetts.

As of this writing, no votes on the bill have yet been scheduled. However, some major organizations have begun to mobilize for its passage. For instance, the Massachusetts Teachers Association has endorsed this proposal.

This is not the only curriculum reform proposed by members of the Massachusetts legislature. “An Act Teaching Anti-Racism in Massachusetts Schools” (H.3718) would create a commission to develop a mandatory curriculum in “anti-racism” that would cover most academic subjects (including science, health, English, and history). “An Act to Establish an Integrated Cultural Studies Curriculum in Our Schools” (H.689) would create a council that would establish a statewide curriculum in “integrated cultural studies,” which the legislation says is “the interdisciplinary study of race and ethnicity.” This bill explicitly proposes to use racial categories to determine the composition of this committee — mandating, for instance, that the council include “six teachers of color.”

These bills illuminate how the formalization of ‘woke’ doctrines in education is often a top-down effort involving a collaboration between activist cadres and the machinery of the state. However, in a democratic society, the use of state power is itself a matter of public contestation. While some state legislators aim to install a bureaucracy that will impose various ideologies of identity, the people of Massachusetts — parents, teachers, and concerned citizens — might have a very different view.

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