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K-12 Brainwashing

By Ari Kaufman

It is no longer a secret that many public and private universities are populated by professors who use their classrooms to recruit students to their political agendas. But while the politicization of the universities is now common knowledge, an even more distressing instance of this abuse is to be found in the nation’s K-12 schools.

I have that on good authority. I have been a teacher in Los Angeles-area elementary and middle schools and have witnessed first hand how students who are younger and more impressionable are being regularly indoctrinated by leftwing teachers. Having worked in a number of different school districts over the past five years, from the well-to-do Palisades to the hardscrabble Watts neighborhood, I can further attest that cases of indoctrination occur far more often than many would believe possible.

One such case involved a substitute teacher of my acquaintance. During his various stints at our school, he was notorious for compelling elementary-school students to sign random petitions in support of the political causes he favored. He wasn’t shy about foisting his views on other teachers, either. Once, when my classroom’s American flag accidentally fell, he immediately stuffed it into the closet. And, in a sense, who could blame him? Seeing that three quarters of our faculty were declining to recite the daily pledge with their students he had probably concluded that mistreating the flag would not be frowned upon.

In indoctrinating students in his politics, he was by no means an anomaly. I can vividly recall the greeting of a grade school colleague last Columbus Day, as the bell for morning class rang. “Hey, Mr. K, Happy Murdering of Indigenous people Day!” Then he said: “I'll tell my kids the real Columbus story today. The one not in the textbooks!” In responding that I intended to teach the story of Columbus as it happened, not the Howard Zinn version, I admit that I may have stooped to his level of petulance. But it is difficult not to despair at the anti-American history now being taught throughout our public school systems.

It was the same story at a middle school in a more affluent part of Los Angeles County. Most of the 8th grade American history classrooms held polls in which students got to vote on “who really discovered America?” I am not naive enough to believe that teacher influence played no role in the eventual results, which showed “Chief Howling Wind” easily defeating Columbus, 178 to 2. How different things are from when I was in 8th grade, a mere 13 years ago. Back then, we took part in essay-writing contests about the heroic deeds of Columbus on his 500th Anniversary. By 1996, however, the holiday had been replaced on Los Angeles school calendars with Cesar Chavez Day, in honor of the labor radical.

School assemblies were arguably the most blatant forums for political indoctrination. By my rough estimate, 80 percent of these were focused on promoting an environmentalist agenda. It wasn’t enough to encourage elementary school students to recycle. No, the kids had to endure sermons on the supposed wickedness of humanity, especially corporate humanity. An over-the-top presentation by a yoga instructor was representative of the genre. After showing pictures of dead animals, meant to symbolize the victims of environmental depredation, she led the children in a mournful chant expressly aimed at stirring their emotions. “How does the seal look?” she would intone. “Sad!” they would echo. When I voiced my concerns about the patently exploitative demonstration to another teacher, she concurred. Nonetheless, she insisted on keeping her concerns to herself. She had a point: objecting to the assembly might prove unpopular with the faculty, not a few of whom were radical environmentalists and Green Party members.

In a similar vein, consider the presentation made by a college theater group from UCLA. Showing no interest in a balanced engagement with the issues, the group instead staged a 20-minute play whose theme can be summarized thusly: Once upon a time, the Earth was beautiful. Then humans came and destroyed it. To appreciate the effect of such simplistic narratives on students, consider the reaction of a little girl in my classroom. Visibly upset, she approached me after the play to ask: “Are we really ruining the Earth”? I did my best to explain, as objectively as possible, that the reality was a bit more complicated that the play would have her believe. But this had little effect.

In case the assemblies proved inadequate to steeping the kids in environmentalist dogma, there were also field trips designed to achieve the same end. The preferred field trip of most teachers was something called “Ocean Day. Organized by the Malibu Foundation, a non-profit group whose declared mission is “creating conservationists” out of school children, it was annual day set aside for environmental activism, or as it is euphemistically called, “in-school environmental education.”

The point of the annual trip was to clean up trash on California beaches. Their work done, the children would then pose for photographs conveying the message of the trip. On one occasion, for instance, they were asked to line up in the outline of a fish with an oxygen mask – a standard piece of environmentalist propaganda – while an aerial photograph was taken. My attempts to recommend a more educational venue for a field trip – for instance, the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles – met with indifference from school administrators. My fellow teachers were even less open to persuasion. Once, when I questioned the wisdom of ferrying the kids to spend yet another day picking up trash and reciting environmentalist slogans, two teachers in my grade level, both convinced environmentalists, dismissed my objections out of hand.

Environmentalist indoctrination is not the only problem in our public schools, however. It is not uncommon, for instance, for teachers to put their political commitments ahead of their teaching responsibilities. One such incident occurred at a school in Southwest Los Angeles, where I have taught full-time for the past two years. One of our faculty members missed the first week of the last school year. The reason? She was incarcerated, along with the school’s video camera, while protesting at the Republican National Convention in New York City. That teacher, who displays a “No War in Iraq” poster in her classroom, had already missed our training days in order to walk alongside Michael Moore and Jesse Jackson outside Madison Square Garden.

Upon her return, she regaled the faculty with her “protest” stories. Proudly displaying a picture from her stint in jail, she announced sarcastically, “this is our democracy at work!” She later had to miss more school in order to fly back to New York to retrieve the school’s camera and attend her court date. It was hard in the end to avoid the conclusion that she was more interested in boosting the fortunes of the political left than her students’ test scores. Yet the school’s administration looked the other way: This teacher was not disciplined and few people mentioned the incident afterwards; it was as though it never happened.

What does draw faculty and administrative attention on campus is anything that expresses a contrary or conservative point of view. Indeed, experience has taught me that a culture of intimidation obtains in our public schools. The case of one of teacher I knew provides an illuminating example. A 20 year veteran at the school, he had long hidden the fact that he supported the Republican Party, fearing, not without justice, that this would do him irreparable damage. The fact that his son was serving in Iraq had failed to prevent the pilfering of his “Support the Troops” sticker from his car in the school parking lot.

Besides him, there were only two other Republicans at my school: myself and a friend of mine. Both young and idealistic educators, we had not yet been apprised of the unspoken rule against challenging the school’s political culture. We learned the hard way last spring, when we published an article in the Orange County Register supportive of Governor Schwarzenegger and critical of the powerful Los Angeles Teacher’s Union.

The reaction at the school was as swift as it was severe. Formerly friendly teachers now refused even to acknowledge our presence; the convivial chatter ceased. One outraged teacher wondered how anyone could support Republicans, much less say a word against the teachers unions. (The evils of the Republican Party, on the other hand, were received wisdom; an African-American teacher who spotted a photograph of Condoleezza Rice in my classroom exclaimed, “That’s so racist!’) My skepticism about the teachers’ policy of leaving the school promptly at 2:30, part of the union-organized protest against the governor’s education policies, only added more tarnish to my reputation.

Ultimately, it was the teachers’ insistence on putting their own agendas ahead of the students that led me to resign my teaching post. It was bad enough that teachers neglected students in order to stick it to the Republican governor, that nearly a quarter of the faculty spent weekends at union rallies, marching alongside pro-terrorist organizations like International A.N.S.W.E.R., and that they believed as an article of faith that, as one teacher put it, “you can't be a teacher and also be a Republican.” But when it was announced this fall $8 would be subtracted from our salaries to fund campaigns against Governor Schwarzenegger’s reform initiatives, I resigned my teaching position out of principle.

Looking back on it now, I see that I was a poor fit for the public schools. While I love teaching, it has become clear to me that educational progress must take a back seat to the “progressive” political agendas of the teachers. I guess I had my priorities backwards.

Ari Kaufman is a writer living in Washington D.C. He blogs at Partial Transcripts.

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