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As controversy swirls around the debate over the Edina public schools that Center of the American Experiment has launched, some charge the Center with exaggerating the political indoctrination going on in the district’s schools. They also say we fail to draw a connection between Edina district leaders’ embrace of an agenda based on racial identity politics and the district’s declining academic performance.
Those who read Edina English teacher Jackie Roehl’s account of the hidden agenda of the high school’s notorious “Pre-AP English 10” course—written in an unguarded moment—can judge for themselves. The account is linked here.
“Welcome to Pre-AP English 10, an innovative, challenging, and engaging course that we expect will prepare you for success at Edina High School and beyond.”
With this fanfare, Edina High School (EHS) announced the launch—in the 2012-13 school year—of a new required course for all tenth-grade students.
Why a new approach to teaching English literature? In a course description provided to students and parents, EHS listed several reasons. They included the following: “To ensure that all students get the high-quality curriculum and instruction they need to be successful;” to expand access to Advanced Placement courses; and to “provid[e] a common experience” for sophomores that “will facilitate a smoother transition from middle school to high school.”
But a far more candid—and startlingly different—version of the course’s genesis and purpose was written around the same time by one of its principal designers: EHS English teacher Jackie Roehl.
Roehl’s account reveals that Pre-AP English 10 is, and was intended to be, a year-long exercise in indoctrination in racial identity politics and “critical race theory.” The course teaches an extremist view of race that emphatically rejects the American ideal of color-blindness put forward by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Instead, it promotes an obsession with “white privilege” and an effort to blame any academic challenge that minority students may have on institutional racial bias at Edina High School.
The Edina High School “happy talk” document that introduced the course to students and parents concealed this ideological agenda. In fact, the way EHS has conducted the course is a textbook example of political propaganda. Propagandists attempt to manipulate people to achieve their ends by disguising their real agenda.
Here’s another troubling allegation about Pre-AP English 10: A new analysis of the grade-level reading difficulty of the books listed on the web sites of teachers who teach the course finds that the books used have an average measure of reading difficulty (or lexile range) at approximately the fifth-grade level.
This analysis was performed by a group of Edina residents who consulted an independent source to determine the reading level of the books, and then averaged the lexiles of core and “choice” books in a way that reflected their potential use in the course. (Given the seriousness of the charge, we are working to independently verify the data.)
When EHS announced the new Pre-AP English 10 course in 2012, it claimed that student assignments would be “carefully chosen” for “their rigor,” since “we’re aiming for the top.” In fact, the texts used in the course do not prepare tenth-grade students for future academic challenges, either in high school or college, if the new analysis is accurate. This would suggest a direct link between the race-based focus of Edina schools and the district’s lagging academic performance.
Pre-AP English 10 constitutes an abuse of parents’ trust, taxpayers’ money and –most importantly—vulnerable children. Edina citizens should hold EPS district leaders accountable for the way that EHS is substituting political indoctrination for solid instruction.
The real agenda of Pre-AP English 10
Roehl’s account of the genesis and mission of Pre-AP English 10—entitled “Voices from the inside: Jackie Roehl”—appeared in a 2013 book entitled More Courageous Conversations about Race. [Read Roehl’s essay here.] The book’s author was Glenn E. Singleton, president and CEO of Pacific Educational Group (PEG), a California-based “diversity” consulting group that trained Edina teachers and staff on racial issues for several years starting in 2009.
Roehl’s account was aimed, not at Edina students and parents, but at teachers and others around the nation who share PEG’s ideology.
In her essay, Roehl echoes PEG’s doctrine that schools like Edina High School are deeply racist institutions. A campaign to rid such schools of institutional racism, she writes, requires both “a major shift in teaching approaches and active social justice work.” Consequently, teachers must become social activists dedicated to changing their schools from the ground up, so they can abolish what Roehl calls the “systems of racism” that prevent minority students from reaching their academic potential.
According to Roehl, Pre-AP English 10 was designed to serve as a cornerstone of the campaign to launch such a transformation at Edina High School. The primary purpose of the course was not to teach students about great literature, elevate their writing skills, improve their grammar or enhance their understanding of the English language’s complexities. It was to enlist kids in a campaign to eradicate “White privilege” at Edina High.
What PEG teaches
Roehl’s essay begins with an account of her own conversion, so to speak, to PEG’s race-based ideology. Before her racial awakening in 2004, she writes, she had focused her teaching on “whole-class discussions about literature,” which she viewed as “Socratic.” However, after learning about “culturally relevant teaching” from another diversity organization, she realized that in her customary method of instruction, “my White students” were just “reflecting my White culture back to me.”
Roehl’s approach to teaching changed materially when PEG became involved with the Edina schools in 2009, she writes. PEG’s emphasis on “courageous conversations” about race—and “specifically, a study of critical race theory helped me reach the place I am today—a teacher who not only incorporates culturally relevant strategies but also understands the importance of critically examining the systems of racism that prevent some students from achieving to their highest potential in school.”
Critical race theory is an extremist ideology that rejects America’s colorblind ideal—Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, conviction that people should be judged by the content of their character. Instead, it holds that only an unrelenting focus on skin color can change America’s pervasively racist institutions.
The theory’s fundamental premise is that white people enjoy unearned “privilege” from birth. However, they are usually unaware of their illegitimate privilege, which is to blame for all the problems that minority groups face.
PEG maintains that white people must be made conscious of their privilege so the sweeping transformations required to “interrupt” a “system of White dominance” can take place. PEG instructs teachers that they have a “moral and ethical” obligation—in Roehl’s words–to close the racial achievement gap. In PEG’s view, that means teachers must use their influence over students to raise their racial consciousness and work to end institutional racism.
The logical implication of PEG’s ideology is that teachers’ most important job is not to convey subject matter knowledge to students. It is to become social activists who change their schools from the ground up, abolishing the “systemic issues” that PEG claims perpetuate racism.
In addition, teachers must act as therapists, ministering to students who are viewed as patients afflicted with “race, racism and Whiteness.”
Roehl’s account of how Edina teachers worked to transform EHS and its racist students
PEG’s “courageous conversations” about race and their influence on teachers’ classroom observations “were the missing piece for the school [EHS] to really begin systemic transformation” of its racist practices, according to Roehl. “PEG’s Beyond Diversity Workshops, equity team seminars, and CARE trainings,” she wrote, “gave my colleagues and me a framework to examine the individual and systemic practices at Edina High School that limit [minority] student achievement.”
Enraptured by PEG’s ideology, Roehl and her colleagues “wanted to impact the entire [EHS] staff.” Consequently, “[f]or the last 2 years, the CARE team used staff development time and even former faculty meeting time to present to the full staff the philosophies and strategies learned from PEG….”
According to Roehl, “We placed an equity lens over all staff development discussions—from literacy to homework to assessment.” (“Equity” in this context, doesn’t have its common-sense meaning of equal treatment for all, but signals an obsession with “white privilege” and racial identity politics.)
We even used specific readings and films from PEG seminars with our staff. For example, one 3-hour session on critical race theory and the film The House We Live In impacted many staff members, especially examining Whiteness as property, and pushed them to understand the importance of equity work at Edina High School. (emphasis added)
Pre-AP English 10 as the primary vehicle of PEG’s ideology
EHS’s new Pre-AP English 10 course, launched in the 2012-13 school year, grew out of this systematic effort to eradicate racism at the high school by Roehl and her colleagues. The course was designed to serve as a primary weapon in the assault on racist practices at EHS. As a central tool in re-educating kids, it helped to lay the foundation for what was intended to be a comprehensive high school curriculum rooted in racial identity politics.
The elements of the new course came together over several years. In her essay, Roehl describes the rationale:
Understanding critical race theory was a significant reason behind our school taking another step on our equity journey—incorporating a study of critical race theory into our sophomore English classes. English teachers felt that our district’s mission to give all learners the ‘ethical values necessary to thrive in a rapidly changing, culturally diverse, global society’ could not be fully met without explicit discussions of race, racism and Whiteness.
In fact, our largely White student body at our largely White school would be significantly underprepared to succeed in the world beyond the classroom if we didn’t explicitly teach them about race, racism and Whiteness….
Roehl then explains how the groundwork for the new course was laid:
To that end, sophomore English classes used the theme ‘The Counterstory’ to frame the curriculum…so students could critically examine perspectives that are often left out of the canon. English teachers also encouraged students to examine the role that power has in the stories studied to get a sense of the ways Whiteness silences some voices and amplifies others. Using the Courageous Conversations Protocol with our students, we were able to guide students through difficult discussions of race, racism and Whiteness. As a culminating essay, students used critical race theory to analyze two texts read in class.
At first, Roehl writes, students resisted this challenge to the color-blind vision they had held since youth. “I recall the moment 3 years ago when I told my class, ‘Let’s get a Black student’s perspective’ and many White students yelled at me in response: ‘You can’t say that! That’s racist!’”
But as kids absorbed PEG’s world view under teachers’ influence, things began to change. “In just 3 short years,” notes Roehl, “the discussions and written reflections about race and racism in our English 10 classes have grown immensely.” A pivotal moment came, she writes, when kids began to open up in class about their “personal racial awakening stories”:
[Two] years ago, students started to explicitly discuss race with their personal racial awakening stories and an analysis of the narratives of Blackness and Whiteness…. These racial awakening stories allowed students to explore the moment they first recognized race, and especially allowed White students—some for the first time—to think about Whiteness as a race. Through text-to-self connections, students were also able to discuss how Whiteness was showing up in the classrooms and hallways of Edina High School.
This binary view of the world as either Black or White is a striking feature of Roehl’s essay. Black students make up 6 percent of the EPS student population, while Hispanic students account for 5 percent and Asian students for 10 percent. The number of Asian students in Edina schools is almost double the number of black students. Yet Asians are essentially invisible in Roehl’s, and PEG’s, ideology and Hispanic students make only a token appearance.
The launch of the new Pre-AP English 10 course
After a period of experimentation, Roehl and her colleagues launched the new Pre-AP English 10 course in 2012-13. As a required course for tenth-graders, it allowed the teachers a year-long opportunity to indoctrinate the broadest possible cross-section of students with their racial identity politics-based ideology.
A secondary purpose of the course was to prepare more black and Hispanic students for Advanced Placement classes, in which Roehl noted that they were traditionally underrepresented. Roehl and her colleagues decided to label the new tenth-grade course as “enriched.” Presumably, they regarded its heavy ideological content—if not its level of academic content—as “enrichment.”
As Roehl put it,
The English Department felt the best way to address this curriculum gap [underrepresentation of black and Hispanic students] was to eliminate the leveling [ability grouping] of courses and provide the enriched curriculum to all students. Next year, this new course will launch with [a team of teachers] working together to ensure that all students have the opportunity for a successful enriched experience.
Roehl does not explain why teachers expected the new Pre-AP English 10 course to strengthen black and Hispanic students’ academic skills. She provides no details about its academic rigor. Apparently, the teachers believed that instructing minority students about the evils of white racism—and white students’ presumed responsibility for minority problems—would almost magically improve the ability of these students to succeed at more advanced course work.
EHS English teachers faced only one obstacle as they launched their new course: skeptical parents. Some parents, it seems, wanted their children to read classics of English literature, rather than books chosen to serve a political agenda. Roehl waved these pesky parents off dismissively: “[Q]uestioning parents,” she observed, “are all too common in the education profession.”
Roehl described her indignation toward these parents in detail:
Since a few vocal parents find my commitment to expanding the racial consciousness of my students troubling, parent-teacher conference days are draining and demanding….
[One] parent asked why the race unit didn’t include a discussion of the racism that White males feel from groups such as the Black Panthers. [Roehl does not reveal how, or if, she answered this question.] Other questions and comments are more veiled: ‘Wouldn’t students be better served with a classic rather than Black Boy?’ Or ‘My daughter is looking forward to a new unit.’
According to Roehl, “answering questions about race takes a special skill set.” But she and her fellow English teachers had been forearmed by PEG:
Fortunately, the English teachers can courageously explain to parents and students why White students also need help exploring issues of race and racism because their own White racial identity is invisible to many, and they reduce racism to something that happened in the past to other people….
Because of my PEG training I was able to stay centered on the compass and explain the beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and actions behind the English curriculum.
The picture of EHS English teachers’ view of their role in the classroom that emerges from Roehl’s essay should trouble Edina parents.
It is an image of Teacher as Social Justice Hero—an enlightened and courageous figure who indignantly brushes aside bigoted parents who want their children to read good literature rather than absorb extremist politics. It is an image of Teacher as Self-Appointed Therapist—intent on rescuing white students from themselves, their foolish parents, and the incorrigibly racist society in which they live.
A textbook example of propaganda
As noted earlier, the way EHS has designed and implemented Pre-AP English 10 is a textbook example of political propaganda. Propagandists attempt to manipulate people to achieve their ends by disguising their real agenda. Edina citizens should hold EPS district leaders accountable for the way that EHS is carrying out political indoctrination in place of legitimate academic instruction.
Pre-AP English 10 Today—Political agenda and “rigor”
In 2017, English Pre-AP 10 remains a vehicle for indoctrinating impressionable, captive students in left-wing racial identity politics. Three of its four themes are primary preoccupations of critical race theory: Colonization, Immigration and Social Constructions of Race, Class and Gender.
Most of the books used in the course are contemporary works with political themes, or works that lend themselves to interpretation through a “race, class, gender” lens. Even assignments that don’t appear to be ideological on the surface can be twisted to fit an agenda. For example, the 2012 communication that announced the new course lists a unit on Fort Snelling, and then specifies that Fort Snelling will be studied “as concentration camp and Dakota genocide.”
When the EHS English Department introduced Pre-AP English 10 in 2012-13, its announcement to students and parents stated that assignments would be “carefully chosen” for “their rigor,” since “we’re aiming for the top.”
However, as noted above, a careful analysis conducted by a group of Edina residents of the “lexile range” (reading difficulty) of this year’s texts indicates that their difficulty averages around the fifth-grade reading level, with a lexile score mid-point of about 717.
By contrast, the mid-point of the lexile range that Common Core—regarded as insufficiently demanding in some academic circles—recommends for enriched grade 10 reading is about 1200.
The lexile scale is based on two well-established predictors of how challenging a text is to comprehend: word frequency and sentence length, according to the Lexile Framework for Reading web site. It measures reading difficulty on a range of 0 to 2,000.
In addition, many of the works listed on EHS teacher web sites in connection with Pre-AP English 10 are films. It is not clear how often films are used in class, and teachers may vary in their approach. However, a significant reliance on films is unlikely to prepare students for either Advanced Placement classes or the academic challenges they will encounter at college.
Pre-AP English 10 was touted as intended to increase “equity,” and to ensure that more black and Hispanic students are academically prepared for AP courses. In fact, rigor has evaporated, and all students are suffering as a result.
In her essay for More Courageous Conversations about Race, Jackie Roehl tells the true story behind EHS’s Pre-AP English 10 course. Roehl sheds light on the crusade to use public education in Edina to advance an extremist ideological agenda. Citizens should insist that this scandalous situation comes to an end.