This fall, I had the disturbing experience of sitting in on my daughter's second-grade Zoom class. A full-time school psychologist kicked off her weekly session of "Social Emotional Learning" by prompting the seven-year-olds to admit that COVID-19 is scary. Do you have anything at home that makes you feel better when you're frightened? She instructed the kids to leave their computers and return with an object that they might cuddle for the remainder of class.
The remarkable thing about this scheduled lesson was that it was not prompted by any indication that the students were afraid of COVID. The lesson itself seemed as likely to induce anxiety in those who were not anxious as it might be to soothe it in those who were. A class begun with girls sitting like scholars ended with them slouching like Linus, clutching a blankie.
Since the advent of lockdowns, parents have been catching glimpses of what's actually being taught in school. Because I send my daughter to a religious school that shares our values, I've gotten off easy. Many parents are discovering content—much of it lectures and online material that appear in no textbook—stunningly radical, devoid of rigor and apparently calculated to alarm.
"The only way to characterize the messages being pushed are the words 'negative,' 'nihilistic' and 'anxiety-inducing,'" said Luke Rosiak, an investigative journalist who's been following what's being taught in secondary schools for over a year. "The prospect that adults are inducing depression and hopelessness in children to further political aims is something that I think should disturb anyone."
Last week, Rosiak created a website—whataretheylearning.com—to aggregate the materials sent to him by parents across the country. The trove is astonishing. In Virginia, an elementary school teacher used a slide to teach her students that "objectivity" and "individualism" are part of a "white supremacy culture." In New York, a third-grade teacher directed children to count the races represented in the characters in their books in lieu of a math lesson. In Washington state, a high school used Ibram X. Kendi's How to Be an Antiracist as the basis for a 40-slide indictment of America as a nation overwhelmed by systemic racism and informed its students that they, too, are racist. Any doubt of their own racism, students were assured, merely reflected their inability to apprehend their own implicit biases.
"When you see what they're actually being taught, you think, 'This is stuff that almost no one in America thinks is true,' but we've got 60 million kids being told by an authority figure that it's a fact," Rosiak told me.
My own investigation into the California public school system last year unearthed a radical gender ideology pushed on children as young as five that was deliberately concealed from parents. Some of the most explicit materials were viewed in class, not to be taken home where parents might see it—material that, before quarantine, was not easily monitored.
To give just one example of the school system's mendacious game of hide-and-seek, in response to a May 2019 parent protest, the California Board of Education removed one of the most objectionable books recommended for kindergarteners—Who Are You?: The Kid's Guide to Gender Identity—from its official framework. I later discovered the book was still being supplied to teachers via the schools' virtual libraries.
In California and elsewhere, public schools routinely teach that gender is mindlessly presumed at birth by a doctor, but ultimately known only to them, the students. Any adult who tries to promote "rigid gender roles" (for instance, by encouraging kids to accept their biological sex) may be committing "spiritual abuse."
Anticipating parent objections to classroom lessons, Philadelphia public high school teacher Michael Kay tweeted a warning to his fellow educators in August that upcoming Zoom classes would have "potential spectators—parents, siblings, etc.—in the same room. We'll never be sure who is overhearing the discourse."
These interlopers, he wrote, might threaten "equity/inclusion work" in the classroom. "And while 'conservative' parents are my chief concern—I know that the damage can come from the left too. If we are engaged in the messy work of destabilizing a kids [sic] racism or homophobia or transphobia—how much do we want their classmates' parents piling on?" There was a time when a teacher might have considered the "messy work of destabilizing" a child the unfortunate influence of her worst peers—not the express goal of the adult running the class.
The Rutherford County School system in Tennessee seems to have been thinking along the same lines. This fall, it asked parents to sign an agreement pledging that they would not observe their children's online classes. "Violation of this agreement may result in RCS removing my child from the virtual meeting," the letter warned.
Unlike radical professors who only reach kids at 18, these educators are catching kids at vulnerable times—in elementary school, when they're still cowed by authority, and in middle school and high school, when they're awkward and angry and looking for any excuse to stick it to mom. Teachers should be preparing future leaders for civic engagement. Instead, they seem to be raising an anguished army.
Parents right now are exhausted. Parents right now are struggling. Working from home with children around is nearly impossible. The last thing parents need is another task. Here's one anyway: Drop in on your kids' Zoom sessions. Look up their teachers on social media. Find out who's teaching your children and what messages they're imparting. Our kids need a rescue mission, and badly. School will eventually resume—and the cameras will be turned off once more.
Abigail Shrier is author of Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters.
The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.