Notice extra angst and rage among many young people this holiday season?
Blame a harmful ideology that has a grip on K-12 education and is incentivizing resentment, fragility, and disruptive behaviors.
"Critical consciousness" trains students as young as preschool to find oppression, racism, or transphobia everywhere, every day, all the time. It induces a manufactured heightened state of anxiety and fear and encourages students to act on those emotions through activism.
Unfortunately, it is a feature of state education frameworks, teaching philosophies, district policies, curriculums, and lesson plans across the United States.
The ideology conditions students to assume any perceived slight, “microaggression,” or action is offensive regardless of intent.
Whether it's packaged as nebulous sounding education lingo, or derisive terms such as "whiteness," critical consciousness is an insidious set of ideas bent, frankly, on dehumanization and the destruction of western culture.
The most recent public display of critical consciousness has come in the form of antisemitism.
Just one snapshot of many came when a mob of students at a Queens, New York, high school forced a Jewish teacher to hide in a locked office.
The teacher became a target of frenzied students after it was discovered that she had posted a picture on social media in support of Israel.
The students went even further by sharing the teacher’s cell phone number and home address in group chats. Police were eventually involved in quelling the uprising.
Evidently, the students were just carrying out the district’s vision.
New York City Public Schools states that it is committed to "culturally responsive-sustaining education" and requires that its schools "foster critical consciousness about historical and contemporary forms of bias and oppression."
But critical consciousness is not a random occurrence.
It's a core principle of the ethnic studies frameworks.
For example, the "Civic Action" domain in the Washington State Ethnic Studies Framework states that "students, educators, and communities work together using critical consciousness to create collective civic action."
In other words, the state is training students to become activists for left-wing causes.
According to the consultant group Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Coalition, critical consciousness is one of the "foundational values of Ethnic Studies" that shapes the "guiding principles for teaching and learning in the field of Ethnic Studies."
These guiding principles include student activism against "imperialist/colonial hegemonic beliefs and practices," also known as decolonization.
Critical consciousness is also enshrined in district policies and curriculums that seek to turn students into social justice activists.
For example, Washington’s Mount Vernon Schools’ "Racial Equity" policy states that one of its core principles aimed at achieving its equity goals is for teachers to "develop students' capacity to use their critical consciousness and cross-cultural awareness to act in a manner that leads to productive social change."
The Connecticut state curriculum for "Black and Latino Studies" lists critical consciousness as a core competency of a "twenty-first century graduate."
Remarkably, it is listed as the only "learning outcome" for all 11 model units provided. The one-year course states that students will strengthen their "value for social justice to inform actions in their own community."
The Social Justice Academy in San Leandro High School in California uses its academic time to train students to "embody intersectional and transformative solidarity" or "true activism."
The academy’s guiding values include building a "critical, intersectional consciousness" so students are capable of resisting and taking action against "capitalism," "colonialism," and "transphobia."
According to a 2021 report, Burlington School District in Vermont introduced critical consciousness to its students in sixth grade as part of its "Youth-led Participatory Action Research" programming.
Student actions included "Raising the Black Lives Matter Flag" and "Inspiring the Creation of an Anti-Racist Humanities Curriculum for Sevent and Eighth Grades."
Critical consciousness is a destructive ideology rooted in division and victimization.
If schools want to help foster social change through better citizenship, then they need to prioritize fundamental learning — reading, math, civics, and history — not radical activism.
The real improvement American parents want to see is in their children’s academic progress — currently suffering nationwide — not in how fast they take to the streets in protest.
Rhyen Staley is a researcher for Parents Defending Education. He holds a master's degree in elementary education and has over a decade of classroom experience in both public and private schools.
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