This is the printed version of a speech delivered by Ruth Littmann Ashkenazi at the recent “Parent Empowerment Forum,” sponsored by the Republican Women of Prescott. The speech has been updated to reflect the untimely passing of the author’s dear friend.
In early July, I was in California visiting a close friend who was in hospice. Heartbreakingly, she has since passed away.
Almost 20 years ago, she and I became active volunteers in our sons’ schools, and she went on to become a 4th-grade public school teacher. She loved her job. Her failing health forced her to stop teaching but even in her final days she never stopped caring about children.
She said to me during one of our last conversations: “Ruth, we need to put students before politics.”
What motivated her to say this? I’ll do my best to explain.
About 2½ years ago, pre-COVID – during an overnight field trip with 4th-graders – my friend witnessed a young boy approach an outspokenly radical teacher, who was also on the field trip. This young boy said: “I feel like a girl today. I want to sleep in the girls’ cabin.”
The radical teacher – who openly discusses issues of gender fluidity with her students – had granted the young boy’s request when another teacher stepped in and said: “Absolutely not.”
Why did this particular teacher say no? Is she brazenly trans-phobic? Hard-hearted? Intolerant?
Let me suggest that she pushed back because she cares about the welfare of this little boy – who needs to understand that he can’t simply demand a change of sleeping arrangements because he feels one way or another – and because she also cares about the welfare of the girl students in the girls’ cabin: their comfort, their safety, their feelings, – AND their parents, who trust teachers to put kids’ welfare before personal political ideologies.
Sadly, too many Americans are afraid to speak up. They fear being called trans-phobic. Homo-phobic. Insensitive. And worse.
They are afraid that radical activists – not only in education but also in society at large – will accuse them of being “adherents to the norms of a culture baked in intolerance and racism.”
Their concerns are real. Every-day Americans (including teachers, like my friend) are witnessing the polarizing radicalization of education.
Our children’s education is not improving as a result of this trend.
Consider some statistics, pre-COVID:
Two-thirds of American eighth graders are not proficient in math and reading.
Nearly four out of five Black and Hispanic eighth graders are not proficient in math and reading.
57% of Asian eighth graders are reading-proficient and 64% are math-proficient.
42% of white eighth graders are reading-proficient while 44% are math-proficient.
These data points come from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.
They are not good grades … but (as what I believe to be a deliberate distraction from this failure) our attention has shifted from educating children in reading and math to issues of gender fluidity, white fragility, pronouns, privilege, and dismantling oppressive power structures.
On that note, let’s address that highly politicized acronym: CRT – which stands for Critical Race Theory. In a nutshell, CRT is a lens through which to see America as an inherently white supremacist culture, built by white men for white men.
The CRT paradigm holds that America remains a systemically racist country, to this day, with intersecting categories of marginalized peoples. For example: black, brown, female, LGBTQIA-plus, disabled, non-Christian – all of them oppressed by this country’s dominant white, generally heterosexual, generally Christian male culture.
CRT emphasizes the categorization of human beings. The founders and followers of CRT do not believe that the Civil Rights Movement – and the Civil Rights Act – moved America toward a better place. In fact, they believe the Civil Rights Movement was pretty much a sham.
The CRT worldview holds that, in America, there are “oppressors” and oppressed.” This antagonistic construct is similar to the world that Karl Marx perceived, only CRT emphasizes race instead of class.
Many vocal, left-of-center politicians, educators, and activists emphatically maintain that CRT is taught in law school, not in grade school. However, even CRT founders like Kimberle Crenshaw, acknowledge that Critical Race Theory has proliferated past its starting point. Others openly note that CRT manifests itself (incognito) in lessons that focus on privilege, power structures, and the “dismantling” of systemic racism.
CRT – without being called CRT – looks like these very REAL lessons within very REAL grade school classrooms. It’s hard to argue that CRT is not taught in grade schools with proof like this....
Please review the following slides and then continue reading below:
Slide 1: Public School Assignment for 3rd Graders: Privilege
Slide 2: Critical Ethnic Studies for Middle Schoolers: Destroy Oppression
Slide 3: Strategic Language: Anti-Racist Art Teachers
Note that these lessons do not invite discussion. They do not ask children IF privilege, power structures, and systemic racism exist. Rather, in keeping with the definitive CRT LENS, these lessons set forth “the truth about America,” and force students to think within that prescribed and extremely one-sided framework.
This approach to education also calls for PRAXIS, a term stressing the application
of one’s lessons to real-life problems – in other words, for activism. (Hence the emphasis on dismantling and destroying America’s systems of oppression.)
This is political grooming. Indoctrination. This is not educating the student. THIS is putting political ideology first.
In much the same way the radical teacher at my friend’s school decided that HER way of viewing gender is the RIGHT way of viewing gender, so too does CRT brook no tolerance for objection. America IS a racist nation, baked in intolerance … and if you object to that view, then you’re wrong. Or you’re in denial. Worse: you’re bad.
We often hear that children need to be taught “real history.” While I think we can all agree that American students are woefully lacking in knowledge of history, the term “real history” refers to something specific – and controversial.
I want to pause for a moment to take a straw vote.
- Raise your hand if you believe that American students should not be taught about slavery in school. (No hand was raised.)
- Raise your hand if you think that students should not be taught about Segregation? (No hand was raised.)
- Raise your hand if you’re in favor of teaching students about the good AND the bad in America’s past? (Hands went up.)
Sorry, but you’re still not in favor of teaching “real history” until you accept the bottom line, which casts our American history in the context of white men oppressing marginalized peoples.
If you oppose the teaching of THIS framework, then you are guilty of perpetuating white supremacist culture and inherent racial inequities. So, you can see that the term “real history” is as politically loaded as the term, “antiracist.”
The term, antiracist, you might know, is a term popularized by author Ibram X. Kendi, who maintains that being an antiracist does not mean that you are anti-racism, but rather means that you are FOR policies that create equity – not equality of opportunity.
Equity means equality of outcome. Racial inequities, Kendi maintains, are the result of systemic racism in our country.
Advocates of “real history,” frequently invoke Kendi, who is also famous for writing:
“The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”
Though Kendi’s beliefs are as dismissive of the Civil Rights Act as the beliefs of others in the CRT movement, his approach has nevertheless been endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association, the nation’s largest labor union, which published the following:
"White privilege is a set of advantages and/or immunities that white people benefit from on a daily basis beyond those common to all others. White privilege can exist without white people's conscious knowledge of its presence and it helps to maintain the racial hierarchy in this country.”
This is CRT – by any other name, real history, antiracism, equity, and so on – it is CRT and it is being taught to grade school students. And yet, union leaders like AFT President Randi Weingarten insists that “culture warriors [meaning most us here in this room] are labeling any discussion of race, racism, or discrimination as CRT to try to make it toxic.”
She’s lying about us. She is gaslighting. She is projecting her own deceptive methodology onto us – and playing a shame-and-blame game to keep us quiet, confused, and afraid.
This same kind of toxic shame-and-blame game is being played against those of us who are concerned about Social Emotional Learning (SEL). We know that our children are suffering emotionally and physically – especially in the wake of COVID. But we also know that much of what is being pushed as “social emotional
learning” is yet another attempt to politically (and even sexually) groom our students.
Consider the following two slides from major SEL curricula providers: CASEL & PLAYWORKS “equity statements.”
Please review the following slides and then continue reading below:
Slide 4: CASEL
Slide 5: PLAYWORKS
CASEL declares “SEL As a Lever for Equity and Social Justice” and premises its approach on – note the verbiage – “dismantling systems” and actively contributing to “antiracism.”
In its equity statement, Playworks declares:
“Addressing racial equity is our first priority because race is an accepted basis – by many people and institutions in the United States – for upholding inequitable policies, practices, and attitudes.”
In much of SEL, we see the same CRT agenda, wrapped in the disguise of a different curriculum.
So what do we need to do? We need to be aware. Educated. We need to stay active. Civil yet outspoken.
My friend – in spite of her heavily medicated state – called for putting students before politics, and she was spot on.
The two of us didn’t agree on much politically. Economically, she was far left of center. I’m not. But we both saw eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart about the desperate need to put students before politics.
I will always be so very grateful for my friend, and I know all of her former students feel the same. She will be deeply, deeply missed.
I am also very grateful for the school board candidates here today who will make it their mission to put students – their education, their welfare, their futures – before politics.