As millions of American students prepare to return to the classroom for a new school year, it is important to reflect on the centrality of education. Every society understands that education shapes the hearts and minds of its youth—which is why education is always political and often controversial. If you control the schools, you eventually control the direction of the culture.
The state of California is now establishing an “ethnic studies” curriculum for public schools, particularly for high schools in the state. The developing story can catch you by surprise, and some might assume that this is only of interest to Californians.
But what happens in California schools doesn’t stay in California. The state has for decades enjoyed outsized influence on such things as curriculum and textbooks because if a textbook is adopted in California—the nation’s most populous state—that book will produce enormous sums of revenue and will likely be adopted around the nation.
The story demanding our attention is a new state-mandated ethnic studies curriculum for high schools. Authorities in California have released what they call a “model” curriculum. But this is actually a model of what happens when people seize the public schools and turn them into engines of social and moral transformation.
The Wall Street Journal drew attention to this curriculum in an article by Williamson M. Evers. The headline reads, “California Wants to Teach Your Kids that Capitalism is Racist.” Evers writes, “California’s Education Department has issued an ethnic studies model curriculum and is soliciting public comments on it until August 15. The legislatively mandated guide is a resource for teachers who want to instruct their students in the field of ethnic studies and was written by an advisory board of teachers, academics, and bureaucrats.”
Then, Evers declares, “It’s as bad you imagine.” I’m going to go further and conclude that it’s probably worse than you can imagine.
Evers explains, “Ethnic studies is described in the document as the interdisciplinary study of race, ethnicity, and indigeneity with an emphasis upon experiences of people of color in the United States. It is the study of intersectional and ancestral roots, coloniality, hegemony, and a dignified world where many worlds fit for present and future generations. It is the xdisciplinary [sic], loving, and critical praxis of holistic humanity.” And, yes, that is how they spell the words. That is actually part of the problem.
In short, this proposal marks an agenda for absolute social transformation in the United States. Evers argues, “The document is filled with fashionable academic jargon like ‘positionalities,’ ‘hybridites,’ ‘neplantlas,’ and ‘misogynoir.’ It includes faddish social lingo like ‘cisheteropatriarchy’ that may make sense to radical university professors and activists but doesn’t mean much to the regular folks who send their children to California public schools. It is difficult to comprehend the depth and breadth of the ideological bias and misrepresentations without reading the whole curriculum, something few will want to do.”
While I did not want to read the proposal, I did—what I found was exactly what I expected, namely, an absolute agenda for a radical reorientation of the United States. It is an educational agenda aimed at a total societal transformation of American culture. The opening lines of the proposed curriculum read, “As early as the 1970s, some California public high schools began offering ethnic studies, positing that courses in the field would provide an opportunity to engage the hxrstory [sic], cultures, contributions, perspectives, and experiences of groups that have been overlooked, historically marginalized, and often subjected to invisibility within mainstream courses.”
“Hxrstory,” is not an accidental misspelling of the word “history.” There is a footnote in the curriculum that explains the word’s meaning. The curriculum states, “Throughout this model, curriculum language is used that deliberately offers an alternative to traditional wording that could have a particular context within the dominant culture. More information about these terms can be found in the glossary.”
On page two of the curriculum, the document states, “The field critically grapples with the various power structures and forms of oppression, including but not limited to white supremacy, race and racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia that continue to impact social, emotional, cultural, economic, and political experiences of native peoples and people of color.”
The proposed curriculum quickly reveals its main intent, namely, to turn all the academic disciplines upside-down and inside-out. This curriculum seeks to rewrite history, and subsequently, reality. It states, “As such, it can grow its original language to serve these needs with purposeful re-spelling of terms.” This misspelling includes history as herstory spelled as hxrstory and women as womxn. The impetus behind the spelling change is to connect “a gender and sexuality lens along with the socioeconomic class lens at three of its intersections. Terms utilized about this document which may be unfamiliar to new practitioners of the field are defined in the glossary.”
If you have to provide a massive glossary just to define the terms you are using as a model curriculum, then you have larger issues at stake. But of course, the worldview behind this assumes that even the English language itself is thoroughly corrupted by the patriarchy and represents a vestige of oppression and colonialism. Such language must be transformed.
The curriculum dates the emergence of ethnic studies back to 1960s, where movements like Third World Liberation Front emerged—citing approvingly in the curriculum. Also, in the 1960s and 1970s, liberal educational theorists descended on American public education—while influential in the periphery of schools then, they are now cited as central authorities in this new model curriculum.
Parents only emerge in the document once you get to page 15 of 26. Where they do show up, they show up as a problem. The document states, “Beyond content, it is important that ethnic studies educators are knowledgeable of the context in which the course is being taught. Here are some dynamics an ethnic studies educator might consider: Is the course being taught in a district where parents or community members are hostile to the field?”
The audacity of that sentence cannot be passed over—it amounts to an outright assault upon the sacred relationship between a parent and a child. Here, the curriculum calls educators to be weary and prepared for parents exuding a divergent worldview from that of the elitist curriculum. These kinds of parents are mired in the patriarchy and sold out to the oppressive structures that this new curriculum sets out to correct.
Another element glaringly absent from this proposed curriculum is the idea of critical inquiry and critical thinking. We might think that a natural curriculum for high school students is to present them with differing points of view so that they can learn the process of contemplative evaluation, developing a spirit of discernment. That ideal, however, will not do for this model curriculum. The entire purpose of its agenda aims at a cultural program of brainwashing—it serves the agenda of overcoming supposed oppression.
For example, a section of the curriculum defines intersectionality as capturing how multiple identities, race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, etc., overlap or intersect, creating unique experiences, especially for those navigating multiple marginalized or oppressed identities. The report states, “Intersectionality helps students better understand the nuances around identity and provides them with skills to be able to engage and advocate for and with communities on the margins of the margins. It helps with privilege at different intersections to recognize their social advantages in these areas and build solidarity with oppressed groups.”
Rather than a genuine engagement with what are undeniably serious moral issues of history and society, this curriculum represents total immersion in critical theory and the most radical ideologies of the left. One of the leading tools identified in this curriculum is known as the “privilege walk,” defined as, “An activity that allows students to confront aspects of potential personal privilege and learn about the challenges that others face that they may not have considered.”
On a “privilege walk,” students stand together and start out in the same place, but then take steps forward or backward depending on the advantage or disadvantage of a particular situation or context. For example, you would take a step forward if your parents told you that you were beautiful, smart, and capable.
There is no doubt that parental encouragement or the active presence of two parents has a positive and lasting impact on the life of a child. The issue is defining this as a privilege, which connotes that this is somehow undeserved, unearned, and something that should be overcome. Moreover, this “privilege walk” amounts to nothing less than a shaming exercise—to cast guilt upon those who, for example, have parents who took them to the art museum. Do the designers of this curriculum expect these “privileged” students to now apologize that their parents loved them, met their needs, raised and disciplined them, or clothed them? Is it now an act of wrongful “privilege” to take your children to a museum?
From a Christian worldview, we ought to have enormous concern for children who do not possess these same opportunities and structures. Children born out of wedlock to an absent-parent home represent a moral crisis that demands the full attention of all society. Care for the least of these, however, is not what this curriculum aims to accomplish.
Indeed, look no further than the glossary of terms found in this curriculum—a massive, 22-page-long foray into lunacy. It includes words like the following: “anthropocentrism,” meaning, “the belief that human beings are the most important entity or species in the universe or human centeredness.” The report clearly depicts anthropocentrism as a vice, not a virtue to emulate. Indeed, the worldview of this curriculum is that to believe human beings are the most important species on earth is a form of oppression.
Remember that the Wall Street Journal article ran with the headline, “California Wants to Teach Your Kids That Capitalism Is Racist.” That might seem like an unfair indictment from an article critical of this new curriculum—actually, it turns out that headline rightly captures the moral vector of California’s new proposal. The glossary defines capitalism as, “An economic and political system in which industry and trade are based on a free market and largely controlled by private companies instead of the government. Within ethnic studies, scholars are often very critical of the system of capitalism, as research has shown that native people and people of color are disproportionately exploited within the system. In a capitalist economy, surplus value (as profit) is generated from human labor and everything is commodified.”
The irony cannot be overlooked—California’s massive budget and economy relies on the benefits of capitalism. In this model curriculum, however, the state’s educational system proposes to define capitalism as the problem. The definition subtly but clearly inserted its moral vision for what is virtuous when it said that capitalism is “largely controlled by private companies instead of the government.” The proposal presents the problem and the solution in just a few words: private companies should not control the means of production; the government should. Indeed, the final sentence that asserts the exploitation of human labor and the commodification of all goods is classical Marxism.
Now, the Wall Street Journal is understandably as the Wall Street Journal, perhaps primarily concerned with that economic and political agenda, but Christians and especially Christian parents are likely to have even greater concern about some of the other terms that are in this glossary and the ideologies embedded within this curriculum. For example, on page three, you find the word “cisgender,” which means “a person who’s chosen gender identity corresponds with their sex assigned at birth.” If, therefore, you are not transgender, or if you do not identity by one of the other newly identified groups on the transgender spectrum, you are a cisgender. This is not a morally neutral term—it plays right into the hands of the sexual revolution by coercing children to adopt the language of the sexual revolutionaries.
The next word, however, is something that most of us have probably not heard before. It is “cisheteropatriarchy,” meaning, “a system of power that is based on the dominance of cisheterosexual men.” Critical theory permeates this definition, and the vocabulary of this curriculum peddles the LGBTQ agenda on parents, educators, and children.
On page 8 of the glossary, the word “hxrstory” appears, pronounced as “herstory.” The term means a type of history written from a more gender-inclusive perspective. In other words, the factual occurrences of the past must conform to the sexual and gender revolution. Indeed, the definition states, “The ‘X’ is used to disrupt the often-rigid gender binarist approach to telling history. In other words, to refer to a man as a king and a woman as a queen represents a rigid, gender binarism that must be overcome. Try telling that to Henry VIII.
The next word is another one you probably haven’t heard, but if you are a child in the California public school system, get ready. “Hybridites,” meaning, “a term used to describe the crossing intersection and mixing of two or more distinct cultures often to form new identities.” Another word, “nepantla,” means, “the recognition of confusion, chaos, and messiness in one’s understanding of self in the world.” This word, “also provides room for self-reflection to better understand and work through this liminal space.”
If you are scratching your head, imagine how this will land on the minds of high school students in California. Only the most dedicated, avid, and die-hard liberal political theorists have any clue or semblance as to what these words mean and how they are applied. The language of the moral revolutionaries is intentionally confusing, obfuscating the truth, veiling reality behind the subterfuge of vocabulary.
Other words, however, appear that are quite common in many American circles—their definitions, however, are astounding. “Social justice” is defined as “the equitable distribution of resources (rights, money, food, housing, education, etc.) to every individual regardless of ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, language, or nationality.” This definition equates social justice with equality of outcome, that is, an equitable redistribution of all resources.
The curriculum defines “transphobia” as “discrimination, dislike, prejudice, hatred, and a range of other negative feelings and/or actions expressed towards people that identify or are perceived as transgender.” Thus, any negative judgment, including the historic Christian worldview regarding gender and sexuality, amounts to oppression under this state-organized program. The Christian worldview will be, by state policy, at complete odds with the new moral orthodoxy and as such, Christianity must either capitulate or disappear.
The worldview implications from this curriculum proposal are astounding. This proposal asserts an ideological agenda from the far-left fringes of liberals, now peddled as mainstream educational policy. Here is official state policy perpetrating and advancing a massive moral and sexual revolution—and children are their target.
Interestingly, this proposed curriculum engendered the following headline from the most influential and decidedly liberal newspaper in California, the Los Angeles Times: “California’s Proposed New Ethnic Studies Curriculum is Jargon-Filled and All-Too-PC.” If this curriculum is too jargon-filled and politically correct for the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times, then there are far more ominous problems surrounding this curriculum.
Indeed, the editorial board stated, “A current draft of the model curriculum drawn up by a committee of teachers and academics and headed to the State Board of Education is an impenetrable mélange of academic jargon and politically correct pronouncements.” At one point, the curriculum encourages students to advocate for voting rights for undocumented immigrants. The editorial board then commented, “No problem with that per se, and community engagement is a fine way to involve students in politics and civic life. But there is no mention here—or just about anywhere in the curriculum—of students who might dare to disagree with the party line. In this case, for instance, some students might think that the right to vote in mayoral and city council elections is the prerogative of citizens, not noncitizens (that’s not a right-wing idea is it?), and they might want to meet with the school district about that. Chances are, with a curriculum like this one, they’d be afraid to even mention it.”
The parenthetical comment by the editorial board highlights the very target of this new curriculum. It is indeed implied that believing that, for example, only citizens ought to enjoy voting rights is a form of oppression inherited from cisheteropatriarchy.
Conservatives sometimes look at the culture and wonder, “How could this have happened? How is it that moral revolutionaries and progressives have made so much headway in the culture at large?” As we answer this question, we have to remember the centrality of education to the answer—the moral revolutionaries know that to control education is to control the vector of macro-culture. The leftward lunge of educational entities now rears its menacing agenda—and be assured that what happens in California will not stay in California.
Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr.