Brett Jensen | @Brett_Jensen
It’s a Thursday morning at Ardrey Kell High School in the Ballantyne Area of Charlotte, and a teacher walks into what has been designated as their “Social Justice Homeroom,” to begin that week’s lesson and discussions on what can be an extremely sensitive, and even controversial, topic.
For instance, the teachers that have an expertise in science, math, English, foreign language, but with little to no background in areas of social justice or race relations, are required to engage their students on topics such as coming out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, how to become an activist or how a student is essentially inherently biased in thoughts and actions.
These weekly lessons, many of which fall under the hot-button issue known as Critical Race Theory (CRT), are mandatory, at least at Ardrey Kell.
WBT News obtained over a dozen of the lesson plans and PowerPoint slides provided by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Schools and those created from within the school. However, each parent interviewed for this story was unaware these topics, and many others, were taught to kids in 9th-12th grades this school year.
Many of the discussions have made a large section of teachers uneasy by being forced to teach and discuss these types of topics.
“It’s gone on too long,” said one CMS high school teacher speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing their job. “Other districts and other states have people coming forward (to speak out). I’m tired of being told I have to do this and feeling really uncomfortable with it.”
What is CRT? There are a myriad of explanations, and most center around the viewpoints of those that write the definition.
Here’s the description from Britannica: “Critical race theorists hold that the law and legal institutions in the U.S. are inherently racist insofar as they function to create and maintain social, economic, and political inequalities between whites and non-whites, especially African-Americans.”
CRT comes from the first half of the 20th century and is rooted in Marxist beliefs of a classless society, and is an offshoot of Critical Theory, which according to Britannica, also spawned “Critical Legal Studies,” which wanted to, “abandon the notions of law or legal rights altogether.”
CRT evolved in the 1990’s under the late Prof. Derrick Bell at Harvard University, to become a form of racial identity-based Marxism, which aims to analyze the gaps between dominant and marginalized racial and gender entities. Bell is known as the “father of modern CRT.”
Sections of the lesson plans from CMS on CRT discuss in great detail the origin of the Black Lives Matter organization. And while those interviewed believe this is something of importance, they also believe that all aspects of the organization should be discussed, such as the violence, riots or looting that were associated with some of the protests throughout the country.
And while there seems to be little argument that what CMS is teaching students, at least at Ardrey Kell, is CRT, Southwest Learning Community Superintendent Steve Esposito said they don’t call it that.
“Our work within the district, really around the diversity, equity and inclusion work, it’s really about addressing the concerns and issues that come from race,” he said.
“I would say to you that we don’t use the CRT language as a part of how we define this work. If anything, CRT to us means ‘Culturally Relevant Teaching,’ which is around ensuring that our underserved students are provided with appropriate teaching practices, the appropriate curriculum, the appropriate text, and that we are implementing everyday strategies and practices to address students that may not have as many opportunities as others, right?
“So, CRT for us is Culturally Relevant Teaching. We are not prescribing to the acronym, Critical Race Theory.”
In an interview with the North State Journal, N.C. Superintendent Catherine Truitt said that CRT hijacks education terms such as “equity” in order to make it look legitimate and has issues with the fact that CRT believes that racism is inherent.
“It’s important to define what equity and education mean, because we’re starting to lose our way in this battle of ideologies,” Truitt told the NSJ. “Equity in education means providing every child what they need at the time they need it. It does not mean ensuring equal outcomes.”
In another interview, Truitt told the NSJ the term “culturally responsive teacher” is no longer what it used to mean.
“It’s absolutely been hijacked,” Truitt said. “It doesn’t mean grouping your students into affinity groups and stereotyping them, and saying, ‘Well, because you’re Hispanic, you’re going to read Hispanic poetry.’ That’s what it doesn’t mean.”
WHERE’S THE LT. GOVERNOR?
Scores of teachers are upset because they say practically each of the more than a dozen PowerPoints provided by CMS is without question far-left leaning and doesn’t supply fair or accurate representation of events or ideologies of those not rooted in far-left culture.
For instance, one lesson plan labeled “Breaking Barriers” shows Hillary Clinton after she made her Democratic nomination acceptance speech in Philadelphia in 2016. It also shows Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was added to the court in 2009, and Vice President Kamala Harris swearing in newly-elected Democratic senators.
What that same lesson plan doesn’t show is Republican Mark Robinson, who became North Carolina’s first Black Lt. Governor after being elected in November. Nor does it mention Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Supreme Court Justice, who was nominated by President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, in 1981.
When informed that he was not part of the lesson plan, Robinson was upset, yet not surprised.
“It’s not about words, it’s about an agenda,” Robinson said. “It’s not about uplifting anybody. It’s about tearing down ideologies that they are opposed to and tearing down people that they are opposed to.
“I have talked to parents who told me that during Black History Month that their children wanted to do me as their Black History Month project and the teachers refused them that opportunity to do it because they were diametrically opposed to my politics, which is ridiculous. That’s the type of thing that’s existing right now.
“Unfortunately, in our education system, we’ve already seen that shift into higher and higher and higher education, where there’s been a lot of indoctrination about a lot of left-wing teaching, but it is now filtering even down into elementary schools.”
N.C. House of Representative and Speaker of the House Tim Moore was appalled by CMS leaving out the Lt. Governor.
“It is absolutely a huge deal that North Carolina now has a Black Lieutenant Governor,” he said. “That is a major milestone, not only for African-Americans, but for all of North Carolina. It shows where we are as a state and where anyone, regardless of their race or background, has the opportunity to be elected to the highest office, or in this case the second highest office, in the state.”
After examples like Robinson or O’Connor being excluded from the slides, first-year Ardrey Kell principal Jaime Brooks said complaints by teachers have made them look to recognize individuals that are not only Democrats.
“I am aware of folks coming forward and feeling like the right has not been heard,” she said. “And I think it’s incredibly important and I have engaged any parent in this and that the goal here is not to alienate either side. Social justice work and including all voices should not be a political movement. And if we have a situation where anybody feels that they’re not being heard, it’s incredibly important to sit down and hear that perspective. And I did do that, absolutely.”
However, what perplexes many CMS teachers and what wasn’t explained is how these lesson plans and slides that were provided by CMS weren’t viewed as anything but highly subjective and politically charged.
A high school teacher with CMS, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the political agendas in the lesson plans and slides have zero debate on where they stand and the point of view they’re taking.
One PowerPoint teaches how a student can become an activist and then asks for which topic they’d like to be an activist?
“We never get any of the opposite side of it,” a teacher said. “There’s no diversity in the people programming the lesson.”
They explained that even those people who are brought in from outside CMS to speak to the teachers about these topics are unabashedly liberal.
“You can tell that they’re (liberal) because they’ve been unprofessional and sharing their political views within our staff development, as well,” the teacher said. “These are presenters from outside of CMS. They share their own thoughts with comments by saying like the last four years talking about Trump and saying, ‘I’m not saying his name, but you know, the past four years as a country, yadda yadda yadda,’ or the current president has empathy, so you knew where their point of view was, for sure.”
While they may not call CRT what it officially stands for, many believe these types of teachings clearly violate CMS’ own policies, which, in part, states:
“Employees are further prohibited from (1) encouraging, supporting or coercing students or employees of the School System to support or reject in any way a political party, candidate or issue during work hours or while conducting official Board business, or (2) using their supervisory or other relationship as a board employee with students or employees of the School System in order to encourage, support or coerce such individuals to support or reject in any way a political party, candidate or issue.”
Policies also say that employees of the district maintain their First Amendment rights, but that neither the district nor its employees can engage in political activity using district time or resources, or on district property. Political activity is defined as either activity relating to a politician or a political issue.
SENSITIVE & COMPLEX ISSUES; PARENTS HAVE NO SAY
One of the touchier subjects these social justice homerooms have delved into concerns the LGBTQ+ community.
So delicate are these discussions that some wonder if Ardrey Kell is violating state law by not getting written permission from parents to allow their kids to either opt-in or opt-out of discussions with these topics.
According to several teachers at Ardrey Kell, a teacher asked during an in-school advisory forum about whether or not parents should know the school was requiring teachers, who do not possess the necessary background to discuss topics like “coming out,” to address sexual identities. Those teachers said Brooks emphatically answered “no,” parents should not be told because, “Social justice is not something we ‘opt out’ of.”
What is even more troubling to teachers and the parents that were interviewed and just informed about the LBGTQ+ PowerPoints is that these discussions were put together by students from within the school. Parents and teachers alike say these students don’t have the wherewithal or life experiences to be the origins of difficult topics like “coming out.”
In a NSJ article, Wake County Schools had to issue a letter to teachers warning them about violating student privacy rights when discussing gender identities and sexual preferences.
According to the article, the letter said, “We equally value the rights of students to maintain their privacy and engage in conversations of identity, self, culture, and other personal topics only when they are comfortable doing so and when appropriate to achieve outcomes outlined in the NC Standard Course of Study.”
Moreover, the letter then cites the federal law for the Protection of Pupil Rights.
Many parents and teachers believe Ardrey Kell is violating these rights.
As a result, teachers at Ardrey Kell say they and many of their colleagues tend to either skip or gloss over the LGBTQ+ topics.
“There are some teachers who obviously viewed the lessons beforehand,” a teacher at the school said. “And sometimes we did not show certain videos, or we might’ve shown a clip of the video or we edited it, and sometimes even the wording, to be a little bit more generic.
“Honestly, I think a lot of the teachers probably have silently not done some of the lessons they weren’t comfortable with. I don’t advertise that I’m not doing this lesson today. So, I think people are either posting them (on the screen) and maybe just letting the kids look through if they want to and not like actually using all the materials the way they’re presented and given to us.
“I feel like it’s out of my comfort zone, for sure.”
When asked if parents should have the right to opt out or if such young people should have the ability to put together the lesson plans and topics of discussion about these subjects, Brooks is steadfast in her beliefs.
“When I have a group of students that come forward and say, ‘Ms. Brooks, can we please share with our school community ways that we are being bullied, ways that we are having microaggressions thrown towards us? Can we please educate our peers on things that you should say and should not say, things that are offensive and are not offensive?’” she said. “Then I believe that it is my job as a principal of a school to make sure that their voice is being heard, just like anybody else’s voice is being heard. That to me is social justice work.
“And I don’t believe that I need to allow people to tell us that we can or can’t teach our students about issues that other students in the building are experiencing.”
The problem with that, according to teachers within the school, is that at least one of the main points of topic in the LBGTQ+ category was labeled “Coming Out and Becoming an Ally,” which, they say, has nothing to do with the happenings within the halls of Ardrey Kell.
It then asks students to “choose something to come out as ….(sic)except make it something you do not like people knowing… .(sic)”
The lesson plan was put together by the Ardrey Kell Raise Your Colors Club.
Just how delicate are some of these topics? Delicate enough that there’s even a slide that says, “Caution TRIGGER WARNING.”
“The fact that in this instance that principal called teaching this type of curriculum is ‘social justice and something you can’t opt out of,’ is shocking and it is an absolute violation of First Amendment rights of those students,” Moore said. “That is basically saying these students have to go through and be indoctrinated on one point of view. That is absolutely terrible. That is thought control and there’s no excuse for that. We need to make sure that all points of view are taught to our students.”
Within the last month, the N.C. General Assembly passed a bill that would make it illegal for educators to make students feel something is wrong with them or that they’re inferior based on their characteristics, political viewpoints, what they believe or who they are. Essentially, it means that you can’t make minorities feel bad for being minorities, and teachers can’t make white males feel bad for being white males.
Democrats attacked the bill by seemingly defending CRT during debate prior to passing through the N.C. House. Rep. Kandie Smith went as far to say the bill is “paramount to a book burning.”
Many expect Governor Roy Cooper to veto the bill when it gets to his desk.
“We want our students to be there to get an education, not an indoctrination, and certainly not a beat down,” Moore said. “That is nothing more than state sponsored bullying if you allow the schools to use the education environment to tell students, to tell anybody for that matter, that they’re somehow less of a person because of who they are or where they’re from or what they believe.”
Nationally, U.S. Representative for N.C.’s 9th congressional district Dan Bishop co-sponsored a bill to rid different sectors of CRT.
“I have two bills,” Bishop said. “One specifically focused on the United States Military banning this, you know, this breaking us down into separate groups within the military that needs to be a cohesive unit that functions together.
“The other one is broader and bans the use of critical race theory anywhere in the federal government. And it bans the use of federal funds to advance those core critical race theory ideas anywhere. For example, you can’t teach critical race theory with federal money if my bill passes.”
Staff for U.S. Representative Alma Adams, a Democrat that represents most of Mecklenburg County, were asked for a statement regarding Rep. Bishop’s bill. They did not provide one.
Because of instances like how the CMS PowerPoints go into great detail about the Jan. 6, riots at the Capital, but fail to mention the 105 consecutive days Antifa tried to burn down the federal courthouse in Portland, Ore., and because they say they are systematically being shielded from learning about what their children are being taught, one set of parents said their two kids will be in private school next year.
“We want our kids educated, not indoctrinated,” they said.