How Leftists Are Bypassing Red-State Legislatures to Corrupt Kids
For conservatives, Democratic infiltrations of state agencies to swing coming elections represent an immediate threat. But another infiltration accomplishes similar ends by longer-term means: creating "Trauma-Informed Schools" for teachers to shape children's personalities by instructing them to locate past trauma in problems like racism, sexism, and even climate change — problems that only big government can solve.
Today this project is spreading through schools, pushed by nonprofits with funding from the Biden administration for "social and emotional learning" but also with the encouragement of state agencies under the gaze of Republican-dominated legislatures. Nowhere has it spread faster than Missouri — a state with two Republican U.S. senators, three fourths Republican U.S. representatives, a fully Republican Executive Branch, and Republican congressional supermajorities. Considering this political lineup, Missourians might be forgiven for thinking they'd exempted themselves from leftist educational doctrine. But they'd be wrong.
On August 26, 2020, as schools reopened in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) issued this apparently unexceptional memo from Assistant Commissioner Blaine Henningsen:
The Department ... has partnered with Alive and Well Communities to provide additional guidance documents, training sessions and engagement strategies for educators regarding social-emotional learning and development ... [as] administrators are welcoming back students and staff members who may have experienced unprecedented trauma due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Judging by Assistant Commissioner Henningsen's background, which includes 31 years as a teacher and superintendent in the 15,000-person city of Carthage, he's probably not a wellspring of progressive dogma. Neither is M. Rene Yoesel, who is listed on the memo as the contact for further questions: she is the coordinator of school counseling at the Department and a former Republican candidate for the Missouri House of Representatives. But theirs is the Education Department, which partnered with Alive and Well Communities — a Missouri-based nonprofit which describes its mission as
re-orienting the trauma-informed movement…to recognize the trauma caused by racism ... [since] healing is possible only when we understand and acknowledge how trauma, including the trauma of anti-Black racism and white supremacy, are holding us all back from well-being.
Theirs is also the Department that commissioned Alive and Well to deliver a report titled "The Missouri Model for Trauma-Informed Schools," characterizing trauma off the U.S. Department of Health's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) definition as
resulting from 'an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual's functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.'
This definition, which makes trauma completely subjective, is not the accredited psychological definition, which makes diagnoses dependent on clinically determined traumatizing events — e.g., sexual assault or military combat. As mainstream psychologists and even center-left commentators have pointed out, it's a manual for priming children to be frightened of the world at large based on prognostications of racism, sexism, climate change, et al. What's more, even casual reports from inside schools suggest that teaching based on this definition disrupts lesson plans, loosens discipline, doesn't solve violence, distracts administrators, comes between parents and children, and diminishes student learning. But if Assistant Commissioner Henningsen and Coordinator Yoesel aren't pushing this redefinition, where is it coming from?
A hint of the answer comes at the end of Alive and Well's "Trauma-Informed Schools" report, which notes that it was issued in response to a request from both the Department of Education and the Missouri Trauma Roundtable. Looking closer at the Roundtable brings out the source of the state's trauma focus. The Roundtable was created by the Missouri Department of Mental Health as part of its push to build "a trauma-informed Missouri" after Democrat Jay Nixon entered the governor's office in 2009. Longtime director of the Department of Mental Health's Children's Clinical Services Division and Trauma and specialist Dr. Patsy Carter envisioned the use of "a variety of governmental agencies" to "embed mental health in the natural environments children are already in" — e.g., schools. A special mental health focus would be trauma: "one of the major public health issues of our times," which "is enmeshed with some of our biggest social issues and challenges."
Already, this use of trauma was expansive: employing "a variety of government agencies" to "embed mental health" in schools for trauma prevention sounds a lot like having unelected administrators supplant teachers and school boards in the name of a "public health issue" that until recently hadn't been considered one. But it hadn't yet slipped beyond standard psychology: the DMH's website, for example, includes a link to a video about trauma narrated by Dr. Carter that uses trauma's clinical definition. Nonetheless, in practice, this definition quickly disappeared in practice — thanks to Alive and Well.
Founded in 2014 and benefiting from the focus on race after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Alive and Well joined the Trauma Roundtable alongside venerable local organizations like Catholic Family Services and newer local nonprofits like the St. Louis Regional Health Commission. From there, it entered into a partnership with the Department of Mental Health to work toward creating a "trauma-informed" state. But its major break into schools came after 2016, when Democrat state representative Genise Montecillo — a former teacher who spoke openly about her 2015 suicide attempt, which she said was driven by traumatic childhood experiences — introduced a trauma-related amendment to a Republican-sponsored bill. The amendment, which passed along with the bill, instructed the Department of Education to establish the "Trauma-Informed Schools Initiative," providing information to schools about what it means to be trauma-informed — a move also supported by a state panel of academics, non-profiteers, and administrators appointed by Governor Nixon to issue a report on Michael Brown's death.
In 2017, the Trauma-Informed Schools Initiative was launched by the Department of Education in partnership with the Department of Mental Health. The next year, the Trauma Roundtable and the Department of Education asked Alive and Well to draw up a guidance document for the process, "The Missouri Model for Trauma-Informed Schools," which defines trauma as encompassing any life event, and ties it especially to race. Since then, the state has allocated 33 Trauma-Informed School Liaisons to spread the message. The Education Department commissioner, Nixon appointee Margie Vandeven, has lent the project her public support and mentioned that signs of trauma have also emerged among teachers. The process of trauma-proofing both students and teachers has been speeded by the pandemic, seeded by memos like Assistant Commissioner Henningsen's. And in 2022, Alive and Well estimated that it had reached more than 3.6 million students. Most recently, in 2023, it announced a merger with the St. Louis Regional Health Commission to continue its work, now under the heading of remedying health disparities affected by or effecting trauma.
Opponents of this indoctrination have strong arguments on their side. Though programs like these may sound benign, they create trauma where there is none and push political agendas at the expense of kids. They also serve to empower academics, administrators, and non-profiteers — people exempted from the feedback loop of classrooms and voting booths — and make parents, teachers, and students into passive recipients of these operators' wisdom. When Alive and Well feels comfortable advertising by featuring a picture of "members of the Kansas City Public Schools community assess[ing] their progress in moving through the stages of change outlined in the Missouri Model for Trauma- Informed Schools," the bureaucrats aren't serving the community so much as the other way around.
Still, arguments aren't enough. Political action is needed. In Missouri, as in some other states, recent legislation gives local schools boards more control over what schools teach, which Governor Mike Parsons has used as a reason not to engage with the problem. But school boards don't determine the materials state agencies send out, the policies they reinforce, or the people who lead them. So there's work for state politicians to do. Republican legislators can stop the Departments of Education and Mental Health from partnering with Alive and Well, they can pass a bill repealing their own Trauma-Informed Schools legislation of 2016, and they can hold hearings on trauma-informed education's spread. Finally, state officials like the attorney general can investigate whether Alive and Well's racially centered instruction violates the Equal Protection provisions of the State constitution.
But Missouri, like Texas and other Republican-led states, is dominated by a split between more and less establishment Republicans, and the former tend to dismiss questions about education content as "culture war" rhetoric. Really, these questions are anything but rhetorical — they get at who has the power to shape children's view of the world and how those practitioners use it — and establishment legislators need to recognize their stakes. If Democrats succeed in pushing their worldview into schools, part of the blame will be on Republican state legislatures and officials who are letting progressive infiltrations go unchecked.
Matt Wolfson is an ex-leftist investigative journalist and writer; he blogs at Oppo-Research.com and tweets @ex__left.
Image via Pxfuel.