“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”
So said Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and so knew every sensible person before him, and even a few people in our own day.
But many people in our own day do not say so, or know so. Many people in our own day think they can say whatever they want, with just as much right as anyone who contradicts them, without needing to present supporting evidence. Their emotional commitment to their unsubstantiated opinion has as much validity as your rational argument or concrete evidence.
Suppose a school district were to propose adopting textbooks for US history and other classes in the social studies curriculum. Suppose in addition that certain people were to claim that these books are full of “critical race theory” (CRT) and that they should for that reason be rejected. In bygone eras they might be expected to (1) define CRT, (2) show that it is false or pernicious or both, (3) and quote text and give page numbers to demonstrate its presence in the proposed textbooks.
But these days, the complainants might feel somehow deserving of being taken seriously even if they (1) show no evidence of having made any effort, or having any capacity, to read and understand the scholarly literature in which the theory is developed, (2) much less show how the harms that they allege follow from the theory, and (3) assert that certain books are full of this pernicious theory without citing so much as one single instance of its presence.
This is where we are in the USA today, and in the school district where I live.
Since fellow residents of our district have looked at our proposed new high school history textbooks and denounced them as being full of CRT. Since CRT is objectively absent from these books, the assertions that they are full of it must arise on some other basis than its presence. Discerning that this is the case, and sorting out how to respond to the people making the assertions, is difficult. My own conviction is that patience and gentleness are needed, but that clarity and uncompromising firmness are also needed. We are obliged to (and want to!) love our neighbors; but time-wasting nonsense is what it is. How to dispense with the nonsense without failing to care for its inventors?
This is our challenge. The idea that words should be used to demonstrate logical conclusions based on evidence has fallen into such disuse that if you present an actual argument, your addressees, having no category for rational argument, will feel your attempt to persuade as a mean-spirited attack. “Argument” these days, in the absence of civil, rational discourse, means simply a nasty fight.
In this case, my own solution—undoubtedly inadequate—was to read closely and reply in detail—while omitting the names of the people I am responding to. I give them a pseudonym. I really do not want to hurt anyone’s feelings! But I can’t help feeling that it is more respectful, and even more loving (tough love?), to make an argument against someone than to ignore them. My apologies to anyone who doesn’t see (or feel) things that way.
The rest of this post comprises five elements: (1) another Caledonian’s remarks to the school board on July 25; (2) my own brief remarks, immediately following his; (3) my brief (limited to 3 minutes!) comments to the Board of Education of Caledonia Community Schools in its meeting on August 8, 2022; (4) my written evaluation of a review submitted by others of proposed textbooks; and (5) the comments from that review purporting to justify the conclusion that the textbooks are “seriously deficient” and should therefore be rejected.
I wish I could expect that what follows might persuade the people whose claims I am rebutting. I do hope that what follows might reassure some other doubting Caledonians that their teachers and administrators are not conniving leftists who are attempting to sneak subversive literature into their children’s classrooms.
1. Bob Thelen’s brief address to the Caledonia school board on July 25, 2022
NOTE: I originally used a pseudonym here, because I did not wish to call out or embarrass anyone. But since the Thelens published a letter in the Sun and News complaining about my rebuttal of their false claims about our curriculum, I no longer see any point in concealing their identity.
What follows is my transcription of Bob’s remarks at the July 25 school board meeting:
Good evening. Thank you for hearing me.
So one year ago my wife Chris and I saw Dr. Martin in an interview say that he had no evidence of CRT within our school system, so we responded to this board showing that it had, and only one of the school board members approached us to find out whether that teacher, or that divisive ideology, was still even present in the school system. So we didn’t exactly know either, so we decided that we would take a look at it as well. So, with that, we looked at the PD, we looked at the SEL programming, and now we’re looking at the curriculum that you guys have.
To our dismay, we found race gender theory being recommended and incentivized by virtually every government and educational institution that influences our school. That included KISD, the department of ed., the federal department of ed., the national teacher’s union, CDC, and now even the USDA. To be clear, we’re not talking about theoretical CRT—that’s easily dismissed as a university theory—what we’re talking about is the praxis of that theory, in forms like DEI, transformative SEL, and things like that, that have been integrated into otherwise good programs.
The term for K–12 education infused with CRT is called culturally responsive teaching, and it was coined by Gloria Ladson-Billings; she’s a self-described CRT scholar and current member of the culturally responsive learning advisory board at SAVAAS, the very company that produced the curriculum that you guys are now considering. So she literally wrote the book on bringing CRT into K–12 education, and it’s called Critical Race Theory in Education. The superintendent said there’s no critical race theory in our curriculum, but [points toward the textbooks in the proposed social studies curriculum] here it is.
We know this because [his wife] tried to use the curriculum public review process, which looked like it was designed to be difficult. Open building times were limited, not communicated well; so it was just hard to access it; let alone if you were a parent with somebody who’s got kids at home. Trying to find time to get in here is nearly impossible. Beyond the several books in the proposed curriculum weren’t available for the first three weeks, so we couldn’t even see those in the times that we were able to get in here; and the supplemental resources were not available at all, and those oftentimes are through sources we would consider to be biased, like NPR. Nothing could be viewed or taken outside of the room because the school claimed copyright concerns. I know a little bit about that, and there’s no merit to it. SAVVAS allows the school and teachers access to the materials to trial-run the content; community access to materials outside of the room shouldn’t have been an issue.
We informed the board of our difficulties trying to access the content, and the board president replied, “As a board, we rely on the expertise to choose the best option,” referring to the curriculum committee. The curriculum coordinator also said something very similar to Chris while she was reviewing the materials, and said that his only obligation was to endorse the curriculum committee’s recommendations. So therefore I don’t know what the public review process is really for, if our input is not being considered. Is it just virtue signaling, or are you guys going to really take a look at it? I hope you do. Regardless, we supplied you with our limited review of the new curriculum, which describes the troubling issues that we found. We request that you reject the purchase of it until concerns about factual inaccuracies and the impact of CRT adviser on the SAVVAS materials is addressed.
2. My brief address to the Caledonia school board on July 25, 2022
I spent two hours today reviewing the social-studies books that have been recommended for adoption. I had no difficulty getting access to them. I have a PhD in the history of Christian life and thought, and I have worked fulltime in academic publishing since 1996.
I have no special expertise in sociology, psychology, geography, or economics. I was interested primarily in the content of the history volumes. I spent most of my time in the American history volume, less time in the world history volume.
These books are published by one of the leading educational publishers. The authors and the boards of advisers have appropriate credentials from recognized universities: private universities like Harvard; public universities like Michigan State; religiously affiliated universities like Baylor and Brigham Young; also numerous smaller universities and colleges.
In the US history volume, I read the pre-Civil War section and the section on Reconstruction, then the presidencies from Reagan through Trump. I found straightforward factual narration of events, without bias. Partisan disagreements are covered by reporting what both Republicans and Democrats said or thought. Judgments are not made. This is not a critical book.
It is also not a social history or a people’s history or a history from below. It is structured largely according to presidencies and wars. In this sense, it is a old-fashioned presentation. But along the way it describes major developments in society.
The book is generously illustrated with photographs. Graphs and tables are used well to clarify information. Important primary texts are included throughout. Questions for students to consider are not leading questions; they invite students to ask why questions for themselves.
I spent less time on the world history book. I read the section on the origins of Christianity, where I have academic expertise. I saw a couple of very minor inaccuracies. In any book trying to cover the whole history of the world, experts in a particular small slice of history will find things to quibble with. Again, I found no bias. If the book as a whole is like the section that I read closely, it is a good book.
My review of the history volumes inclines me to accept without qualms the judgment of the professional educators who have selected this curriculum for our district.
I will add one postscript: Picking through the long lists of consultants for a book* to find one to criticize for debatable reasons having nothing to do with the book is not an intelligent or useful way to review a textbook.
* I got the misimpression from Bob Thelen that the person that he singled out for criticism was a consultant for the textbooks under review. I did not find her name among the consultants listed in the books.
3. My brief address to the Caledonia school board on August 8, 2022
Our family moved to Caledonia in 2003. Our first full day in town was the 4th of July. So we walked up the hill to the park. We heard music, we ate hot dogs, we met people. As we walked back we met a man pushing a bicycle. His kids had run ahead. He said: “Are you the new people down on Costner? I was supposed to find you and invite you to our cookout!” As we sat outside their house that night watching the fireworks with other neighbors, we knew we had found home.
Fall came. Our kids started school. They made friends. Their teachers welcomed them. For eight years we were blessed by the expertise and kindness of Caledonia school teachers. These teachers, staff, and administrators are some of the best people on earth.
In this room in May I heard a Caledonian who wants to represent me in Lansing say our schools are full of extreme leftist ideology that promotes racism. Last month I heard another Caledonian say these textbooks are loaded with critical race theory. I regard statements like these as slurs against the character or competence, or both, of our teachers and our administrators, and against you, our school board trustees.
When I asked the person who spoke against the textbooks to show me evidence, he said the evidence was in a letter that that had been sent to you. So I exercised my FOIA right to obtain a copy of that letter. I have emailed to you my assessment of their letter. You can share it with anyone who asks you. It was also posted at verbasparsa.org, my personal blog site, as of 7PM tonight. [NOTE: I was referring to the content of sections 4 and 5 below.] My findings? Tim Morris [who repeated theThelens’ concerns in his own comments during the course of this meeting] might find them reassuring. Their review does not support any of their complaints. As I said here in July: these are good, unbiased textbooks in which we have seen no evidence of CRT.
So here do these complaints come from? The world around us is changing fast. Change makes us anxious and fearful. We don’t all see all the changes in the same light. So there is confusion. Fear and confusion can turn into anger and strife. Bad actors globally and nationally deliberately yank our chains to create instability so they can grab power. They have direct channels of communication into our homes, 24/7. They want us to attack each other.
We must not. We must rediscover neighborly generosity and humility. We must recognize when our imaginings turn dark, when we begin to view our friends and neighbors, including our teachers, with suspicion and hostility, and ask ourselves why. We must speak and act out of love. And when love falters, we must follow established laws and protocols.
All Caledonia parents want the best for their children. So do Caledonia teachers. I believe the same is true of everyone in this room. So do you. Thank you for your good work to that end.
4. My evaluation of a negative review of the new social studies curriculum
I gave my own evaluation of the new social studies materials in a three-minute comment at the July meeting of the Board of Education, and I subsequently emailed the script of my comment to all trustees. The person who spoke after me gave an opposite evaluation. He seemed not to have been reading the same materials. When he engaged me in conversation after the meeting, I asked him to show me anything in the textbooks on display to support his allegations against them. He replied that the evidence was contained in a report that his wife emailed to the school board. I am inclined to take seriously any parent or community member who expresses concerns, so I requested and was given (under FOIA) a copy of that report. As you will see if you read what follows, you will see that I found nothing in their report to alter my own conclusion.
The Thelens mark five items as “SD,” which mean so seriously deficient as to warrant eliminating the book from consideration.
B4. The information is complete (no serious omissions).
The Thelens put SD, meaning that there are serious omissions; but they do not give any examples. So their SD is not warranted.
B5. The information is accurate (no serious errors).
The Thelens put SD, meaning that there are serious inaccuracies. They say that they found one politically motivated lie but do not cite it. From our conversation at the meeting, I believe they are referring to this passage on page 755 of US History Interactive: Reconstruction to the Present:
Convinced that the election had been stolen, thousands of Trump’s followers gathered for a rally in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021, the same day Congress was meeting to certify the electoral votes. During a speech in front of the White House, Trump asked his supporters to march to the Capitol to stop the certification process. After arriving at the Capitol, their actions turned violent. Rioters stormed the building and smashed their way into halls of Congress. Lawmakers and aides had to be evacuated, and the certification process was halted. Rioters destroyed property and killed a police officer. One rioter was killed, and three others died. Once the building was cleared later that evening, lawmakers returned and succeeded in certifying the electoral votes. The event shocked the nation.
The problem is the clause I have underlined: “and killed a police officer.” Initial news reports were that Officer Brian Sicknick died as a result of blunt-force injuries inflicted by rioters, but the news media corrected that report when it was determined that Officer Sicknick died not of blunt force injuries but of a stroke. No one has been charged with murder in the death of Officer Sicknick. So “Rioters . . . killed a police officer” should be corrected.
The minor error in the book does not misrepresent the character of the events at the Capitol on that day. Rioters brutally assaulted police authors. Several traumatized officers soon died by suicide. Rioters sprayed Officer Sicknick in the face with bear spray. The medical examiner said that all that transpired that day contributed to Officer Sicknick’s condition. The medical examiner said “all that transpired played a role in his condition.” (See https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/brian-sicknick-death-strokes/2021/04/19/36d2d310-617e-11eb-afbe-9a11a127d146_story.html.)
The Thelens’ statement that on the basis of this one error “we can assume” that there are more such errors and that the authors are politically biased is unwarranted. We cannot assume either of those things. The coverage of the events of January 6 was a late addition to the book; it is not present in the teachers’ edition. This paragraph seems to have drawn on early reports and to have gone uncorrected in line with the later reports. Perhaps it will have been corrected in a subsequent printing of the student edition.
(By the way, I found a couple of minor inaccuracies in the world history textbook’s section on the origins of Christianity. I noted them on the evaluation form that I turned in. I did not think they resulted from bias or any other big problem. As a publisher, I know that nearly every book includes mistakes.)
B6. Author(s) and/or members of the consultant/review panel include recognized authorities in the field.
The Thelens put SD, meaning that the authors and consultants are so far from being recognized authorities that the textbook should be rejected. In fact, the authors and consultants listed in the front of the US History book are professors at numerous recognized universities and colleges. So the SD on this item is incorrect. The Thelens justify their SD by describing members of an advisory board created by SAVVAS in 2020, neither of whom is credited with a role in the preparation or review of the history textbook that we are adopting, which was conceived, and I expect mostly written, prior to 2020. The two advisory board members that the Thelens single out are Gloria Ladson-Billings and Theresa Santos-Volpe.
The case of Gloria Ladson-Billings is worth noting, since she is indeed a significant figure in the application of critical race theory (CRT) to the study of differential outcomes in K–12 education As they note, she is the author of a book called Critical Race Theory in Education. I believe the Thelens are under the misimpression that this means that she “wrote the book” on getting CRT taught in K–12 schools, but this is a misunderstanding. I purchased the Ladson-Billings book and have read the first third of it. It is a collection of academic papers published by Ladson-Billings from around 1995 to the present. As an education scholar, Ladson-Billings wanted to investigate the cause of the well-documented difference in educational outcomes for African American students in comparison with White students. As she recounts the history of the study of this question, the first explanation, decades ago, was that the difference in outcomes arises from a difference in innate abilities. After this explanation was debunked, scholars hypothesized that the problem was a difference in educational opportunities, but Ladson-Billings says that research discredited this explanation as well. In search of another explanation Ladson-Billings and another scholar wondered whether the research that legal scholars were doing on differential outcomes for Blacks and White in the legal system might be applicable to differential results in the educational system. This, then, is the theme of her collected essays in Critical Race Theory in Education. To see how she defines CRT, and how she applies it to education, and with what results, read the book.
Does the fact that Ladson-Billings applies CRT to the study of disparities in educational outcomes mean that Ladson-Billings thinks that CRT should be taught in K–12 schools and introduced into K–12 textbooks? That is a very different question, and the answer is: no. As far as I have read in her book, she never suggests that. But beyond what I find and do not find in her book, she herself addresses this question in a brief introductory video lecture that is available for anyone to watch on Youtube. Here she gives a brief explanation of CRT and states that she does not advocate teaching CRT in K–12 schools because it would not be useful to students at that level. The Thelens have evidently not read Ladson-Billings’s book or made any other effort to understand her scholarship.
But all this is a distraction anyway. If you wonder whether a textbook teaches CRT, you find out not by investigating the backgrounds of the authors, and much less by investigating the backgrounds of people recently appointed to advisory roles at the textbook company that published the book, but by reading the textbook. I located and read numerous sections of the book in which CRT would show itself if it were present in the book. I did not find anything that depends upon or expresses any of the distinctive tenets of CRT. More to the point, the Thelens did not find anything in the book that depends upon or expresses CRT, or if they did, they did not cite it. Saying “here it is” and pointing at the books (as Mr. Thelen did at the July school board meeting, borrowing words from his wife’s written remarks) without being able to show anything inside the books to support that statement does not work. The words are dramatic but empty. And none of this affects the answer to the question whether the authors and consultants for this book are recognized authorities in their field. This is not a question about the content of the book, or about other people associated in some way with the company. And the answer is: yes, they are.
B7. Interpretations made and conclusions and generalizations drawn are supported by sufficient evidence to demonstrate that they are warranted.
The Thelens say SD, meaning that interpretations, conclusions, and generalizations in the book are so insufficiently supported by evidence that the book should be rejected. They give no examples of unwarranted interpretations, conclusions, or generalizations. Instead, they allege that the textbooks present slavery in the late medieval Islamic society in a more favorable light than slavery in the United States. They cite this passage, on page 321 of World History Interactive:
As in many earlier societies, slavery was a common institution in Muslim lands, though Islamic law encouraged the freeing of enslaved people as an act of charity. In Muslim society, people were not enslaved because of their race. Muslims often enslaved people in conquered lands because they were not supposed to enslave other Muslims.
Some enslaved people bought their freedom, often with the help of charitable donations or even state funds. However, if enslaved non-Muslims converted to Islam, they did not automatically become free. An enslaved woman who bore a child by her Muslim enslaver gained freedom upon his death. Children born of an enslaved mother and free father were also considered free.
Most enslaved people worked as household servants, while some were skilled artisans. To help break down the tribal system, Abbasid caliphs also created a class of Turkish enslaved soldiers who were loyal only to the caliph. Often educated in Islamic law and government, some of these men rose to high positions in the government, such as vizier. This set the stage for the Turks to become powerful later in the Abbasid era.
It is clear from their remarks that the Thelens find slavery morally repugnant in any society in any age. So do I. They wish the authors of World History Interactive used a condemnatory tone in their description of slavery under the Islamic Empire. They suggest that the agenda is to represent Islamic society as being morally superior to American society. But (1) slavery in the Islamic empire is treated only in the world history book, while slavery in the US is treated in the US history book, and as far as I was able to find, neither book compares slavery between in those two cultures, separated by an ocean and a millennium; and (2) these books—at least I can say this with some confidence regarding US History Interactive—do not make moral judgments. They narrate the history from an authorial stance that is nonjudgmental. The Thelens cite this example to the contrary:
Conditions for enslaved people were bleak. Human beings were bought and sold as property, separated from their families, fed and housed as cheaply as possible, forced to work long hours at hard labor, and beaten if they resisted.
(The Thelens give no page references, and I did not locate this passage; I am quoting it from their review.) This passage still makes no moral judgment, but the vividness of its description may move some or even most readers to make their own moral judgments in a way that the more distant and summary description of slavery in the Islamic Empire does not. But I find no warrant for the Thelens’ allegation that the world history textbook is whitewashing Islamic slavery. Islamic slavery in the eighth and ninth centuries is a more distant and less significant element of world history than the enslavement of African Americans from 1609 to the 1860s is of US history. So it is to be expected that American slavery would be described at greater length in more detail. This difference does not indicate a failing in either textbook. It certainly does not warrant the conclusion that both textbooks are so seriously deficient that they should be rejected. So this example is a failure, and the Thelens give no other example.
(It is also to be expected, by the way, that the authors of a textbook meant for American students would think that their readers might have preconceptions about slavery in earlier ages shaped by their knowledge of slavery in the US. This is no doubt why the world history textbook says that in the Muslim Empire people were not enslaved because of their race—a point that the Thelens question.)
B12. Content is free of gender, age, race, religious, ethnic bias, stereotyping.
The Thelens again give an SD rating, indicating that the book is so seriously biased that it should be rejected. They give no examples of bias in the book. They merely repeat their claim that because they have read on the Internet that SAVVAS is committed to culturally responsive curriculum, any SAVVAS book is necessarily filled with biases. But as shown above, this is an invalid argument. So the SD is again unwarranted.
B13. Content does not reflect an unacknowledged point of view or espousal of a political position.
The Thelens give an SD rating, indicating that the content so extensively reflects a political agenda that the book should be rejected. Again, they give no example from the textbook. Instead, they say that because the book points teachers and students toward NBC Learn and NPR, it follows that the book is biased. I don’t know anything about NBC Learn. I know NPR well. Every news source occasionally produces an article or a segment that turns out to have been biased, but NPR is widely recognized as being one of the least biased and most accurate news sources available.
The salient point here, though, is that the Thelens were unable to point to a single instance in which the text of the book(s) discloses a hidden bias or espousal of a political position. I read extensively in the US history textbook, including its accounts of every presidency from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump. I found no hint of approval or disapproval of any president, any other politician, or any party. The book is rigorously nonjudgmental and bias-free.
In the absence of any shred of supporting evidence, the Thelens’ vague claim that “most of the history material reinforces a more left leaning political agenda and narrative” is hard to understand. If their intent was to refer to supplemental material that teachers might use: that was not the question. The question was about the content of the book.
5. Transcript of the Thelens’ comments on their SD ratings
Note: I received the Thelens’ review in the form of several pages of photocopies of a printed email. I used my iPad’s scanning and OCR capabilities to produce the following transcripts. I include these here because they were submitted to a public process with the intent of affecting the outcome of that process, and because my own remarks above, in section 4 of this post, cannot be evaluated without reference to them.
What follows is my transcription of the scanned documents that I received.
B4 and B5
In my very brief review of the History and Govt textbooks, I found the information, taken individually, appears mostly accurate, but also, the topics covered were so brief and lacking detail that an accurate assessment of historical context cannot be made. In other words, the truth, but not the whole truth, is described most of the time, which can lead to a limited and biased understanding of historical events. It’s understandable that the immense amount of material that can fall under the heading of “history” can’t possibly be covered in detail in one textbook, but awareness of biases of what is covered, and especially, what is not covered and why, should always be a factor in choosing curriculum. The curriculum company lists many supplemental resources that provide digital audio/visual content to provide more context, but how much of this ‘lack of detail’ is recovered in these resources? Really can’t tell because we cannot access it, don’t know if it is politically balanced and don’t know how much of it the teachers plan to use. But I’m sure the teachers appreciate the more hi-tech options. In an extremely brief review, I found at least one example of politically motivated lies, which were spread recently by the mainstream media, listed as factual history in a textbook chapter summarizing the modern presidencies. I also found an entire paragraph concerning slavery that was in the student textbook but not the teachers’ edition. We can assume 1) there are more examples of errors, as I easily found these in a very brief review of the textbooks and that 2) the “historian” authors are at least somewhat influenced by political biases from the main stream media. The textbooks about Psychology and Sociology were not available to view at all until July 13th and I had no time to review these even minimally. In my very brief review of the History and Govt textbooks, I found the information, taken individually, appears mostly accurate, but also, the topics covered were so brief and lacking detail that an accurate assessment of historical context cannot be made. In other words, the truth, but not the whole truth, is described most of the time, which can lead to a limited and biased understanding of historical events. It’s understandable that the immense amount of material that can fall under the heading of “history” can’t possibly be covered in detail in one textbook, but awareness of biases of what is covered, and especially, what is not covered and why, should always be a factor in choosing curriculum. The curriculum company lists many supplemental resources that provide digital audio/visual content to provide more context, but how much of this ‘lack of detail’ is recovered in these resources? Really can’t tell because we cannot access it, don’t know if it is politically balanced and don’t know how much of it the teachers plan to use. But I’m sure the teachers appreciate the more hi-tech options. In an extremely brief review, I found at least one example of politically motivated lies, which were spread recently by the mainstream media, listed as factual history in a textbook chapter summarizing the modern presidencies. I also found an entire paragraph concerning slavery that was in the student textbook but not the teachers’ edition. We can assume 1) there are more examples of errors, as I easily found these in a very brief review of the textbooks and that 2) the “historian” authors are at least somewhat influenced by political biases from the main stream media. The textbooks about Psychology and Sociology were not available to view at all until July 13th and I had no time to review these even minimally.
The name of the company creating this curriculum is Savvas. Looking for more information about this company online, we discovered they are very proud to have created a Culturally Responsive Learning Advisory Board. In fact, in a 2020 press release announcing the new Board, Savvas said, “Culturally Responsive Learning must be woven into everything we do at Sawas.” And the CEO, Bethlam Forsa, has stated, “…equity and empathy, culturally responsive learning must be woven into everything we do: the curriculum we build, the professional learning we provide teachers, and the training we give our employees…” Right away we recognized one particular name on the CRLA Board, which was Gloria Ladson-Billings. We recognized her because she is a well-known CRT academic who has made it her life’s work to bring the concepts of CRT into the K–12 classroom under the guise of Culturally Responsive/Relevant Pedagogy. In fact, she is the author of the book, “Critical Race Theory in Education,” as well as other chapters and articles entitled…. “Toward a Critical Race Theory of Education (1995) and “Just what is Critical Race Theory and What’s it Doing in a Nice Field Like Education” (1998), all well before my son and his white classmates were told by a Cal teacher that because of systemic racism, they were all racists (public comment July 2021 Board meeting). In a current lawsuit in Tennessee’s 21st Judicial District against a school’s adoption of CRT laced Culturally Responsive SEL programming, expert affidavits state, “Culturally Responsive Teaching, also known as Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, was coined in 1994 by self-proclaimed critical race theorist, Gloria Ladson-Billings.” And “The implementation of this framework is the praxis of critical race theory in K–12 education to shift the knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and worldview of students to adopt critical race theory ideology.” Her writings criticize concepts such as colorblindness, meritocracy, deficit thinking and linguicism. She believes education should be “race centered” and recommends infusing curriculum with CRT by focusing on “social and ethnic identities” and teaching that society has “systemic inequities.” We have been assured by the Superintendent and his Curriculum staff that CRT is not in schools or curriculum . . . yet here it is.
Another Advisory Board member for Savvas is Theresa Santos-Volpe who is presented as providing the LGBTQ+ perspective. She has zero credentials in the field of child psychology/human sexuality or even education. She is educated in Museum sciences, and her only claim to fame in LGBT terms is that, as a lesbian woman, she was an activist and complainant during the Supreme Court case that legalized gay marriage. She is an activist and does not appear to have the qualifications to advise on human gender and sexuality issues in any curriculum our children are using. Also, Ernest Morrell is a Board member listed as “an award-winning literacy education scholar” and the author of the MyPerspectives ELA curriculum at Savvas. It was easy to find an example of parents (at Quincy Notre Dame HS in Illinois) who have publicly protested the use of this divisive curriculum. They claim “CRT, via Ladson-Billings’ culturally responsive learning framework, is the foundation of Savas’ ‘MyPerspectives’ curriculum” and the school no longer plans to use the inflammatory unit called “Power, Protest, and Change.”
It seems curious that this Board and the Savvas “culturally responsive learning initiative” was announced in a press release but appears nowhere on the Savvas website. Why would they hide this important information? How much impact these advisors have on the History and other curriculum is hard to say, as we would have to besable to pour over the materials for days. However, even during a quick look I found the use of the term “systemic racism” twice. This concept is not an undeniable truth, but rather a highly controversial principle of CRT ideology and is what led the racist Cal teacher to feel justified in calling her students racists. Advancing this worldview is the whole point of bringing CRT/gender ideology into the schools.
Some curriculum material is not consistent in its interpretations of controversial issues (i.e. Slavery) across different societies/cultures due to the bias that culturally responsive ‘equity’ viewpoints create. For instance, under the heading, Social Structures and Slavery in the World History textbook, the author repeatedly tries to minimize the atrocities of slavery perpetrated by Muslim society (considered a marginalized group in critical theories). For example, they state, “An enslaved woman who bore a child by her Muslim enslaver gained freedom upon his death.” ( That is rape and should be called out as such.) It continues, “In Muslim society, people were not enslaved because of their race.” (why is this even here?’ “Muslims often enslaved people in conquered lands because they were not supposed to enslave other Muslims.” What? This is saying Muslim enslavement of other races isn’t so bad because it wasn’t based in racism (like it is with white people) but rather their religious/societal norms, which prevent them from enslaving their own people! They also downplay Muslim slavery by saying things like… slaves could buy their freedom or be released thru charity, and they worked as household servants or skilled artisans etc. Compare that to just one random description I found of slavery in colonial America… “Conditions for enslaved people were bleak, Human beings were bought and sold as property, separated from their families, fed and housed as cheaply as possible, forced to work long hours at hard labor, and beaten if they resisted.” Slavery is horrific regardless of who does it (and all cultures have taken part) and trying to downplay it in the name of equity is irresponsible. I have been present when Caledonia parents made it clear that they want true, factual age appropriate depictions of history taught in the schools, not politicized views, and neither ‘whitewashed’ nor re-framed in the name of equity.
Any curriculum that is informed by culturally responsive pedagogy (i.e. CRT) is by definition filled with biases and stereotyping of individuals based on group characteristics and perceived power structures. And Savvas is clear they are committed to culturally responsive curriculum.
I found that most of the history material reinforces a more left leaning political agenda and narrative, as that is the most widely disseminated public information available. One example of this is the list of supplemental resources that the curriculum directs both teachers and students to use. This include sites like NBC Learn and NPR, which are both well-known politically progressive media sites. In fact, NPR is being criticized right now not only for its left leaning agenda, but for censoring real news that it has ignored because it didn’t fit its political agenda. I would no more send my kids to NBC or NPR for unbiased factual information, as send them to Wikipedia. That being said, they also mention online ‘original source’ materials, but I have not actually seen any of these resources as I had no access to review them at the Admin building and was told by staff I could not even have a list to ‘review’ further on my own due to “copyright’ issues. All in all, the school and the curriculum company go out of their way to ensure that parents have limited access to view their curricular materials.
Appendix (8/11/2022): a question about the board’s proper role in curriculum adoption
A question from a Facebook reader
Have the board members read these books to prove they do/do not include CRT? Did the 3 people claiming that they do offer any evidence to support their claim? Is it a fact or an assumption on their parts? You know, the old chestnut of “well I heard…”. When people say this I tell them I don’t want to hear what they were told. I want to hear what they know. Big difference.
To your first question: I think Marcy White was probably speaking for most of the members of the school board when she said: we don’t think it’s our job as school board trustees to read and analyze curriculum; we hire teachers and administrators whom we trust to do that; they know what they’re doing. To your second question: that’s what my post is about. The answer (my answer, anyway) is: no, they offered no evidence. But they think they did.
The response to my response
Wow. Really? Marcy White’s comments are unsettling to me. How can the board be depended on to make valid decisions in their schools if they’re admitting “It’s not our job…to read and analyze curriculum; we hire teachers and administrators we trust (assuming they do know what they’re doing) to do that; they know what they’re doing.” Another assumption that they are aware what their staff does or does not know what they are teaching. What if they’re not? They themselves wouldn’t know because “it’s not our jobs. . . . ” I wouldn’t want my grandchild’s and other children’s education be in the hands of her and any other board members who feel the same. If so, they’re choosing to remain uninvolved and ignorant of curriculum. I am not impressed. Isn’t she aware of past/current curriculum that teaches Columbus was a “nice guy” instead of a colonizer by every means possible? If I have somehow mistaken anything please educate me.
My extended explanation
I think I understand what you’re saying, but in my opinion the five school board members who voted to approve the curriculum did their job and came to right conclusion.
View the video of the meeting and see/hear for yourself exactly what Marcy White said, and why. Actually, watch the entire presentation of the textbooks, starting at 6:30 in the meeting. You’ll hear Dr. Traughber and the social studies teachers explain their process in some detail.
That takes you to 13:18. Then questions from the school board—or more precisely from board member Tim Morris—begin. To me he seemed to be struggling to come up pertinent questions. One of the answers he received pointed out that the question he asked was already answered in the briefing materials he had received. Another of his question, though, prompted significant further explanation of the process from the social studies teachers (beginning around 14:55). A comment (around 18:15) from Jason Saidoo, who chairs the board’s curriculum committee, revealed that the committee had in preparation for the board meeting spent significant time reviewing the materials and hearing from the teachers.
Around 18:56, Tim Morris began a new line of questions which to my ears seemed to suggest a conspiracy theory: in fulfilling our order for the books, the textbook company, with the passive help of the administration, might substitute different, unapproved books for the books that the board was being asked to approve. This was a very strange sequence. After a couple of semicoherent repetitions from Tim Morris, Dr. Martin stepped into explain again, in his gentle way, things that he said had already been adequately explained. But listen yourself, if you want, and see what you think. Both Dr. Martin and Dr. Traughber were very patient with their repeated explanations, but in effect they shot down the conspiracy theory pretty quickly.
Tim Morris then began (at 22:54) to raise other concerns, which seemed to me to be lifted from the report turned in by the Thelens. As with the Thelens’ own report, nothing in Tim Morris’s objections gave any indication that he had read and understood anything in the textbooks themselves; it was all ad hominem (or more precisely, ad feminam). This renewed gambit from Tim Morris evoked another long, patient explanation from Dr. Martin, which, despite the gentleness of his delivery, demolished Tim Morris’s objections. (To Dr. Martin’s explanations, in case you listen to that, I would add  the board of advisers to which Prof. Ladson-Billings was appointed was a special advisory committee for the publishing company in general, not to the panel of consultants listed in the history textbooks as having vetted their content, and  she was not even appointed until 2020, so her opportunity to influence the content of these textbooks, had she wished to do so, was very slight.)
Then at 30:34 Tim Morris began another even less coherent line of objection, which seemed to indicate that he thinks the school board should have the right to vet not only the textbooks but every website to which either the books or a teacher might refer students in the course of giving supplemental assignments. To anyone who has taught even one class anywhere, this suggestion is asinine. Again Dr. Martin took Tim Morris’s question seriously and answered it patiently and fully. Tim Morris’s response, with his further objection fully dispensed with (35:12): “I think it’s great that we have a curriculum. . . .” He goes on to acknowledge that teachers must have discretion, but then he repeats, again, the Thelens’ complaint about the Savvas advisory board. Dr. Traughber then refocuses attention on what is actually supposed to be the job of the teachers and the job of the school board.
Finally, at around 37:00 minutes, 24 minutes after Tim Morris raised his first question, Marcy White stepped in to sum up, reiterating that the school board had heard the teachers describe their process in some detail. She noted that the board pressed the teachers in particular on the question of bias. Then finally, at 38:18, she made the comment that I referenced previously to the effect that the teachers and administrators, not the board members, are the experts in curriculum, and that it is appropriate for board members to trust them. That concludes at 39:25.
So her comment was not by any means a dismissal of the school board’s responsibility to assure that appropriate curriculum materials are used. It was a summary of good process for carrying out that responsibility and perhaps obliquely an indictment of Tim Morris’s alternative approach, which seemed to me (neither Marcy nor anyone else said this) to amount to wasting everyone’s time by throwing up a series of inane objections and questions, perhaps with the intent (I’m guessing!) of securing the approval and gratitude of people like the Thelens. I simply can’t account for his strange behavior in this meeting in any other way. I.e., what we had from around 13:18 to 39:25 of this meeting: an unhelpful performance by one board member punctuated by patient and reasonable but really unneeded explanations by highly competent educators and concluded by the board president.
During the segment of the meeting designated for board member reports, Tim Morris again started in on the textbooks (1:04:28), complaining about the difficulty of the process (again echoing the Thelens). Jason Saidoo responded that the curriculum committee offered even more than the policy on textbook approvals required, effectively exposing Tim Morris’s objection as a further bit of grandstanding. This ends at 1:06:25.
(In passing you might listen to my three-minute comment to the board, beginning at 1:20:09.)
At 1:24:09, Marcy White put the curriculum to a vote. Jason Saidoo moved to approve. Tim Morris again briefly reiterated his objection, saying that he trusts the teachers but not the curriculum that they selected. This seemed to have been the last straw for Jason Saidoo, who began an incisive line of questioning to Tim Morris that imho thoroughly exposed the vapidity and perversity of Tim Morris’s objections. Listen for yourself, though, and see what you think.
(To be clear: I don’t think Tim Morris is a bad person. He has given his time, on a volunteer basis, for six years. And I suspect that his work on the finance/operations side of the school board’s work may be more competent than his last-minute failed intervention in the curriculum area.)
That, Rudy, is the context that I think you need to evaluate Marcy’s comment about trusting the teachers to make good decisions. She did not mean blind, careless trust. She did not mean defaulting on the board’s responsibility for oversight. She meant: performing due diligence to verify that the teachers are doing their job well, and letting them do it.