A more inclusive curriculum? Or ad-hoc social engineering?
In its zeal to pave the past, the champions of woke have increasingly focused on the young. I’ve written elsewhere in this space about the Cartoon Network’s advocacy of Critical Race Theory in the form of Public Service Ads urging students to question teachers, textbooks and the ‘veracity’ of the school-accepted version of history. The Cartoon Network PSAs represent one prong of attack. Disrupt Texts is another.
Disrupt Texts, according to its own website, “is a crowdsourced, grass roots effort by teachers for teachers to challenge the traditional canon in order to create a more inclusive, representative, and equitable language arts curriculum.” The guiding lights of Disrupt Texts recognize that we plant the seeds of social change in childhood, and that literature is formative to individual consciousness. Not content to simply broaden the canon of literature to include underrepresented voices, acolytes of Disrupt Texts are taking the further step of engaging in ad-hoc social engineering by developing boutique English curriculum to push a political agenda.
If stories are how we understand and pass along truths about the world to our young, Disrupt Texts teachers are intent on exploiting this process to their own ends. As one self-described ‘antiracist teacher’ noted on Twitter, authors wrote many classics more than 70 years ago: “Think of US society before then & the values that shaped this nation afterwards. THAT is what is in those books.” Heather Levine, an English teacher in Lawrence, Mass., crowed on Twitter about successfully getting The Odyssey removed from the curriculum of Lawrence High School.
Disrupt Texts seeks to “aid and develop teachers committed to anti-racist/anti-bias teaching pedagogy and practices.” Part and parcel of this, it seems, involves “disrupting” the traditional canon by providing a “grass-roots” curriculum. And this is where the effort loses credibility.
Any professional educator will tell you that curriculum is a team effort, whether developed at the institutional or regional level, to design education to meet the needs and concerns of a specific learning population. At least two of Disrupt Text’s guiding lights (Dr. Kimberly Parker and Julia Torres) both have a background in curriculum development. They’re effectively smuggling a curriculum into American schools by bypassing the traditional gatekeepers and engaging classroom teachers as an activist vanguard.
Of course, adherents claim breathlessly, all we’re interested in doing is broadening the variety of books available for students to read! But this apparently involves “making room” by eliminating “problematic” texts (like The Odyssey). Disrupt Texts’ website includes resources on how to “disrupt” everything from To Kill A Mockingbird to the Hero’s Journey. Of “disrupting Shakespeare,’”antiracist educator Lorena German writes:
“Though we enjoy reading some of the plots in his plays and acknowledge the depth and complexity within many of his plot arcs and characters, we also find that educators are often taught to see Shakespearean plays as near perfection, his characters as ‘archetypes’, and to persist in oj [sic.] indoctrinating students into a false notion of the primacy (and superiority) of the English language … We do not see these same problematic approaches in other plays where whiteness and the male voice are not centered.”
Rather than acknowledge the unique place that Shakespeare occupies in the development of English and drama, Disrupt Texts encourages students to view him as a man of his time whose ‘plays harbor problematic depictions and characterizations.’ Problematic, perhaps, to Ms. German but not to the generations of writers, actors and educators who’ve drawn inspiration from one of history’s greatest voices.
Upon examination, the only real problematic element Shakespeare seems to possess is that of being born white and male. It’s a stretch of ludicrous proportions to suggest a connection between Macbeth’s soliloquies and white supremacy. Following this line of thought is apt to tangle one in thickets of identitarianism while wondering exactly just what language, other than English, ought to be “centered” in an English classroom.
Slowly and carefully, the woke establishment is peeling away planks of historical and literary culture from education by the woke. Sugar-coating efforts to erase the past by claiming they are “inclusive” and “anti-racist” does nothing to mitigate the activist ideological agenda at work in Disrupt Texts. Given sufficient time and passive-aggressive tenacity, one wonders what pristine vision of the world they will concoct and try to sell to the youth. And whether that youth will continue to share any common cultural vocabulary whatsoever with their elders.
If you think back to the books you read in high-school, chances are you will find some that function as a kind of short-hand. For example, you should avoid a “Lord of the Flies” situation as well as “Holden Caulfield”-types, but we know it’s difficult to erase a “Scarlet Letter” and so we’re cautious in rushing to judgment (but Heaven forbid we become a “Hamlet”). We recognize conflicts and situations in terms of these stories and use them to communicate ideas to each other. Stories create the cultural vocabulary of a civilization: shared familiarity breeds common understanding. And yet we find that common understanding progressively undermined.
Orwell had something to say about this. So did Mao. And history has proven that erasing the past does not lead to a better but, rather, a bitter harvest. We would do well to face and demand answers of this revisionist wind sweeping our cultural institutions. Because time is running out.