As summer comes to a close, educators around the country will spend the coming days preparing for the school year. Most districts require teachers to attend a handful of professional development sessions. Many who go through these find themselves asking, “what exactly are we supposed to be developing?” One would hope these sessions are practical affairs full of tips about classroom management, time to plan out curriculum, or information about the latest developments in cognitive science.
Alas, at best, they are notorious for awkward icebreakers and education platitudes, an extension of the same useless philosophies and classroom practices which they encounter in their education programs and certification process. More recently, they have come to resemble re-education camps, inculcating progressive worldviews and fringe ideologies among the nation’s teachers.
As an illustration of this inculcation, look no further than Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) in Kentucky, who held a Racial Equity Institute in July of this year. Full of professional development sessions for their teachers, administrators, and other building employees, the offerings form something of a greatest hits list of radical progressive ideas.
The opening slides of one training, “Racial Equity Work and Your Majority White Faculty,” delivered by Atherton High School’s Assistant Principal, includes the topics to be covered: implicit bias, critical race theory, and whiteness theory. Citing people such as the author of Towards a Critical Race Theory of Education Gloria Ladson-Billings, the slideshow includes statements like “white people view society and norms through [a] White lens” and “whiteness is power.” In line with this obsession with immutable characteristics, it goes on to criticize “white allyship” and encourages teachers to take the widely discredited Implicit Association Test (IAT). At the end, for further reading, the presenters recommend “How to Be an Anti-Racist” and “White Fragility.”
Perhaps the most egregious session on display was a training on “Teaching Anti-Racist Math at the High School Level,” led by several JCPS math teachers. Inspired by the work of Dr. Lateefah Id-Deen, who “investigates culturally responsive instructional practices that affirm mathematics identities,” the presentation emphasizes that “math lessons” ought to “focus on understanding social and racial injustices” as “an important piece of the broader struggle for justice.” Students are encouraged to “come up with a topic” for which they would “like to advocate.” In place of algebraic expressions or geometric proofs, learning targets would have students “empathize with those who suffer from food insecurities in Austin.”
It has long been hoped that the objective, rigorous field of study encompassed by the term “Mathematics” would remain untouched by the social activism which has seeped into much of the rest of the curriculum. However, reading through this training, it becomes clear that the goal of this particular professional development session is to turn mathematics into another branch of sociology.
And lest anyone think this advocacy in math class is a one off phenomenon, Seattle also adopted new math standards that ask students to interrogate “oppressive mathematical practices” and change the discipline from “individual to collectivist thinking.” Topics for study include liberation, power and oppression, and advocacy. Similarly, the entire state of California advanced math standards claimed the emphasis on finding the right answer was an example of white supremacy, and teachers must counter “racialized and gendered” mathematical practices.
Notably lacking in these instructional materials and curricular documents are, well, math standards. And that’s intentional. It’s all part and parcel of a larger philosophy of education called critical pedagogy, which envisions schools not as places of learning but places of advocacy. It’s not even worth training students to be progressive advocates of the future, but teachers ought to make their classrooms as little centers for advocacy in the present. However, even in this goal, advocates of critical pedagogy shoot themselves in the foot–how effective can an individual be in their advocacy without the ability to read, write, or understand mathematical concepts. One must wonder how successful someone can be in any endeavor without these skills.
There are countless more sessions with equally politically charged topics. One on LGBTQ+ inclusion in schools opens with teachers sharing their name and their pronouns. Yet another, “Read Woke,” discusses how to shape students’ “worldviews” to “disrupt the status quo.” Another covers the “equity screener” now in use at the district, seemingly a litmus test to ensure all potential hires are sufficiently progressive; it’s a knock against candidates if they in any way promote “colorblindness.”
At a time when learning loss has been at the forefront of educators’ and parents’ minds alike, that those in charge of professional development would waste time on politically charged, divisive concepts like white fragility, anti-racist math, and critical race theory is, frankly, a waste of everyone’s time; worse than that, it steals attention from what teachers need to focus on: real professional development. Teachers need guidance for how to best serve the students under their charge.
If schools across the country were to scrap all “anti-racist” training and devotion to all things Queer, and instead focus on developing what it takes to be a professional – content-area expertise, classroom management techniques, curriculum development – then we wouldn’t see parents pulling out of public education in the numbers they are.
In a feat of dark irony, the truly “anti-racist” thing to do would be to instill in teachers the pedagogical and instructional skills that they need to be effective educators. Instead, teachers are put through faddish, ideological indoctrination sessions that do nothing to actually improve upon the education of children. The development of professional teachers continues to fall to the wayside in favor of what we have now: a growing class of professional activists.