The new public-school orthodoxy
An alien worldview has invaded our nation's schools. Coming in many guises, it defies easy explanation, but, like pornography, people know it when they see it. Once having seen it, it becomes incumbent upon them to address it, and the United States Supreme Court has paved the way.
This worldview's core beliefs are hiding in plain sight. Here are the big ones: reproductive biology is incidental. Sex is something we "assign at birth," often wrongly. Gender is mysterious and fluid, known only to the person defining it for himself, herself...verself, xemself. Children are sexual beings from birth. Western society is a class struggle between "oppressors" and "oppressed." White — "heteronormative" — males are especially oppressive.
On the flip side, moral authority is conferred upon those who lay claim to overlapping spheres of victimhood — what's called "intersectionality." Finally, because Western civilization is irredeemably racist and built on false premises, it must be dismantled.
As for naming this worldview, given the scope of its assertions, there is no firm consensus. Certainly, it does have Marxist roots, but Marx himself would likely have resisted applying that label. A better contender is Critical Theory, which Marx's later Frankfurt School disciples invented and which has spawned myriad related ideologies like Critical Race Theory, Critical Pedagogy, and Queer Theory. For the moment, and lacking an agreed-upon term, Woke-ism appears to be the catch-all label to describe the worldview infecting the nation's schools.
Image: LGBTQ+ classroom indoctrination. Twitter screen grab.
The evidence abounds. First introduced in New York, BLM-inspired curricula teach schoolkids to challenge the nuclear family, resist "white culture," and free themselves from the "tight grip of heteronormativity." Schools in Illinois teach grade-schoolers to celebrate the transgender flag; break the "gender binary" established by "white colonizers"; and practice using "ze," "zir," and "tree" pronouns.
Across the country, children are taught to deny their biology and embrace a spectrum of made-up sexual identities. In California, state law requires that boys' bathrooms have tampon dispensers ("Menstrual Equity Act"). Indeed, "Gender Dysphoria" is now a social contagion with school officials encouraging troubled teens to get "gender-affirming care" treatment leading to body mutilation and sterility, often with no parental consent.
In Nevada, William Clark, a high-schooler of mixed race, was told on pain of not graduating to "label and identify" his "gender, racial, and religious identities"; determine the areas of "privilege and oppression"; and "unlearn" his family's Judeo-Christian beliefs. Curricula based on the "1619 Project" teach children that cotton plantation owners invented capitalism and that America was founded to advance slavery.
Before its challenge in court, California's version of Critical Race Theory, called "Ethnic Studies," affirmed teachers who led children in chants to Aztec and Mayan deities. Now add to this the hegemonic power of woke teachers' unions (NEA, AFT, CTA, et al.) working in concert with powerful third parties (e.g., Planned Parenthood, SIECUS, GLSEN...), and kids stand little chance of avoiding what can only be described as indoctrination.
It's one thing for adults to embrace a world of make-believe; it's another to force these fictions upon our children.
What can be done?
First, parents of school-aged children must assert themselves in their children's educational lives. While the earthquake in Loudoun County, Virginia — resulting in Terry McAuliffe's defeat in last year's governor's race — was a welcome victory for parental rights, most parents are still not engaged. This needs to change.
Second, responsible citizens need to make public education a priority in their voting decisions. School choice initiatives must greatly expand to end the government monopoly. Voters must carefully vet candidate beliefs and voting histories, from the school district to the state house, and cast ballots accordingly.
Third and finally, our nation's jurists must start taking parental rights seriously. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the right of parents to "direct the upbringing and education of children." See Meyer v. Nebraska (1923), Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), and Washington v. Glucksberg (1997).
Lower courts have been less accommodating. In Massachusetts, the 1st Circuit in Brown v. Hot, Sexy & Safer Productions (1995) held that the "rights of parents as described by Meyer and Pierce do not encompass a broad-based right to restrict the flow of (sexually explicit) information in the public schools." A decade later, in a case involving a school mental health counselor giving sexually explicit psychological assessments to grade-schoolers, the 9th Circuit in Fields v. Palmdale School District (2005) held that "once parents make the choice as to which school their children will attend, their fundamental right to control the education of their children is, at the least, substantially diminished."
A since-deleted slip opinion reference by that same court put it more bluntly: "In sum, we affirm that the Meyer-Pierce right does not extend beyond the school door." Fields is still controlling law, which the ACLU and other activist groups regularly cite to reassure woke school boards.
Woke-ism is more than merely the latest incarnation of Critical Theory. It's a kind of religion with its own dogmas and practices that is being forced on our children's minds in public schools. An orthodoxy of chaos, it epitomizes what Dostoevsky observed in his classic, The Brothers Karamazov: "If there is no God, everything is lawful."
Of course, woke departments of education have stripped Dostoevsky and most other emblems of Western thought from their lists of recommended literature. Yet consider what happened when a group of Virginia Jehovah's Witnesses objected to their school-aged children being required to salute the flag.
This challenge occurred during the middle of WWII, a time of intense national patriotism. Notwithstanding, and writing for the majority in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette (1943), Justice Robert H. Jackson wrote: "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion (italics mine)." It's well past time the public schools were reminded of this.
Mr. Schneider is a California attorney and founder of Protect Our Kids.