Little-Known Facts: The Vast Teacher Conspiracy

I am currently appearing as Linus in a local production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. In the show, Lucy Van Pelt, my character’s older sister “teaches” him about the world around them in a song called “Little Known Facts.”

What are her facts? You can tell how old a tree is by counting its leaves. Clouds make the wind blow. Sparrows grow into eagles, and on Christmas and Thanksgiving, we eat them. Snow comes up out of the ground, like flowers. My response as Linus is to say things like “Boy, that’s amazing!”

Lucy is obviously just making stuff up, just like the dad in Calvin and Hobbes did years later when he told Calvin amazing facts, like the trees sneezing causing the wind to blow and the world being in black and white until recently. Calvin tended to believe his dad, too. In one strip he says he believes his dad “because the truth is more complicated.”

But what can be amusing on stage or in a comic strip can be truly frightening in real life.

Florida’s war on Critical Race Theory, a graduate-level law-studies subject that has never been taught by name in public schools, has now dragged Social Emotional Learning into the fray. Some activists are saying that “CRT is the theory, SEL is the delivery system.” The Twitter accounts exposing this link also claim that things like Project Based Learning are linked to CRT and to SEL and are all designed to indoctrinate students into left-leaning thinking.

My head is spinning just from looking at the Twitter accounts.

From the way these people spin it, all public school teachers are leftist radicals who are all up on on CRT and SEL and Project Based Learning, and determined to use these evil concepts to turn kids into leftists, but also to make them gay, transgender, and suicidal.

Look: most of us hadn’t even heard about CRT until certain news outlets used their outrage machine to create a non-existent crisis. I honestly hadn’t heard of it. There is no way to teach or indoctrinate students into something you have never heard of.

The way these people present it, we must all go to workshops to be indoctrinated ourselves so that we can use SEL and Project Based Learning as the delivery system for gender re-education and CRT. I assure you, we have never been to such workshops. According to Chris Rufo of the Manhattan Institute (as quoted in the New York Times), “SEL is designed to is to soften children at an emotional level, reinterpret their normative behavior as an expression of ‘repression,’ ‘whiteness,’ or ‘internalized racism,’ and then rewire their behavior according to the dictates of left-wing ideology.” What? If my students wrote something like that, I’d tell them their evidence and reasoning were shoddy at best.

SEL, so far as I can tell, is simply educating students to be aware of and name their own emotions and find positive ways to express and deal with them. It is designed to help students, not “suicide groom” them. I had SEL, not by that name, as a kid when I went to counseling to deal with living with an alcoholic father. I talked about my feelings. I got some ideas about how to deal with them. It may have saved my life. It did not soften me up – it made it possible for me to survive.

Project Based Learning, another educational idea that has been dragged into the fray, is designed to make students more career-ready. It means students think through an idea, find ways to execute it and collaborate on it. Look at the skills asked for by most employers and corporations, and creativity, self-management, and collaboration are high on the list. How is it a delivery system for… I’m not even sure I get what they think it is a delivery system for. What I see is a lot of people making a lot of money revving up the outrage machine.

In the fantasy world these pundits and think-tank prognosticators are creating, all public school teachers are part of a vast collective of leftist, indoctrination-driven instructors. They must picture us gathering somewhere with our mysterious leader, who issues edicts to us. “You shall deliver critical race theory into your classes so that minorities will hate their country and so that white students will feel guilty. Since this may be a hard sell, you must first soften them up with social-emotional learning, which teaches students to feel empathy for other people. Once they feel empathy, they become easier to indoctrinate. You are all part of the hive mind now! You must assimilate your pupils! Resistance is futile!”

(As a side note, I’d like to just point out that these people are now saying empathy is bad. More on this idea in the future, but for now, I’ll just say, “What is wrong with these people?”)

I’d love to know who they think our evil leader is. The unions? They’re just trying to protect teachers’ pay and benefits enough to stop the profession from hemorrhaging teachers. The superintendents, district staff, and school administrators? Generally, they are being kept running in circles, trying desperately to raise test scores that don’t seem to budge.

There is no evil leader telling us to do these things. There is no grand unified conspiracy to indoctrinate students. Quite frankly, the forces of education reform have been trying for years to make teaching into test-prep, to make all teachers teach the same way following a pacing guide. Where they succeed, they drive teachers away from their schools or from the profession. But often they fail. Teachers are supposed to be compliant cogs. Most of us aren’t. Teachers are the least likely people I know to be part of the hive mind our critics think we are. I teach on a ninth grade PLC of English teachers. We are supposed to be following a pacing guide. But we are all over the place, and never in lock step. The idea that teachers are all working in tandem to do the will of their progressive over-lords is laughable.

Quite frankly, teachers are too busy trying to keep up with being overworked and pressured to conform to a test-obsessed culture that views kids as data points. Many teachers are conservative politically – even public school teachers, believe it or not. And even many of the teachers who are not conservative politically are conservative in their pedagogy and discipline attitudes. I suspect many of them aren’t in touch with their own emotions enough to teach SEL. Most of us, if not all of us, were unaware of CRT until the outrage machine made it a thing. We teach SEL because we care about kids. Project Based Learning is really closely tied to Vocational Education: getting kids ready for jobs where they will… you know, work on projects.

Those of us that teach social emotional learning do it not to “soften” students up, but to give them a few tools to help deal with their emotions. Writing instruction should be SEL. One of the simplest ways to feel more in control of your emotions is to write about them. Discussing literature and poetry and even essays should be SEL. Literature study has been about the emotions for centuries: what else are stories for if not to help us deal with the world around us, the world within us, and the emotions that arise from both? To not connect emotionally with texts is to skim over their surfaces.

The story being spun by these conspiracy theorists is that all teachers are the same, all in thrall to the same agenda, all of them receiving marching orders from some mothership or evil leader. They think all teachers are in their chosen profession to destroy children and convert them to some non-traditional sexual identity and drive them to suicide. We are all the same, with the same agenda, and we must all be stopped. Everything we do is evil.

This story would be hysterically, ludicrously funny if it weren’t so chilling. Whenever you take a group of people and say they are all the same and are all evil, things never turn out well.

Teachers are as diverse a group of people as you will ever find. We are conservative. We are progressive. We are middle-of-the-road. We have vastly different teaching styles and discipline styles. Some of us care about getting paid and not much else. Some of us care about students. Some of us feel teaching is a calling. Some of us are atheists. Some of us are religious in a wide variety of ways. We come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures.

In other words, we’re just like America.

The conspiracy-mongers want you to believe in one, monolithic idea of what teachers do, that they are all evil. It is a wildly nonsensical narrative, and yet people are buying it.

But as Calvin admitted to Hobbes, “the truth is more complicated.”

And as Charlie Brown says in the play, after Lucy tells him that bugs tug at blades of grass to make them grown, “Good grief!”