The San Diego Unified School District has been radicalized. In recent months, the district has announced mandatory diversity training for teachers, added a new “ethnic studies” curriculum focused on racial grievance, and even abolished the requirement to turn in homework on time—all in the name of becoming, in the words of school board member Richard Barrera, “an anti-racist school district.”
Last month, I reported on one of these training sessions, focused on “white privilege,” in which white teachers were accused of being colonizers on stolen Native American land and told “you are racist” and “you are upholding racist ideas, structures, and policies.” The trainers demanded that the teachers “confront and examine [their] white privilege,” “acknowledge when [they] feel white fragility,” and “teach others to see their privilege.” After the story caused an uproar, school officials defended the training as a form of “racial healing.”
According to new whistleblower documents, San Diego Unified held an even more radical training program featuring a speaker who believes American schools are guilty of the “spirit murdering of Black children.” The school district hired Bettina Love, a critical race theorist who believes that children learn better from teachers of the same race, for the keynote address at the August Principal Institute and for an additional district-wide training on how to “challenge the oppressive practices that live within the systems and structures of school organizations.”
Though the school district explicitly forbade attendees from recording the session, one whistleblower took detailed notes of the speech and captured screenshots of the presentation. According to these notes, Love began her presentation by claiming that “racism runs deep” in the United States and that blacks alone “know who America really is.” She argued that public schools in particular “don’t see [blacks] as human,” are guilty of systemic “anti-Blackness,” and “spirit murder babies” in the education system.
The concept of “spirit murder” is at the heart of Love’s teachings. In a recent article in Education Week, Love writes that public schools are guilty of “the spirit murdering of Black and Brown children,” which she defines as “a death that is built on racism and intended to reduce, humiliate, and destroy people of color.” During the presentation in San Diego, Love added that supporting Black Lives Matter is a “cheap symbolic” gesture that will not stop the spirit murder of minority children in schools.
At the end of her presentation, Love told the teachers that whites are directly responsible for the plight of “dark children.” In a slide labeled “Teacher Education Gap,” Love argued that “Whiteness reproduces poverty, failing schools, high unemployment, school closings, and trauma for people of color.” She insisted that “white educators must take responsibility” because they created and derive privileges from “white supremacy culture.”
Declaring that “reform will not work,” Love argues for “abolitionist teaching,” a pedagogy designed to “remove oppression from its roots.” Whites, according to Love, must make a special effort. During the presentation in San Diego, as part of a list of “abolitionist teacher’s demands,” Love told white attendees that they must undergo “antiracist therapy for White educators” in order to overcome their racism, ignorance, and history of harm. Once they have proven themselves, they can become “co-conspirators” in the campaign for “abolition.”
According to standardized test scores, only 37 percent of San Diego’s fourth-graders are proficient in reading and only 42 percent are proficient in math. Black and Latino students perform substantially worse. The language of “spirit murder” and “abolition” might make for an emotionally charged Zoom presentation, but it won’t do anything to help struggling students. In fact, as charter school operator Ian Rowe argues, San Diego’s policies are a “modern day version of the soft bigotry of low expectations” that will “dumb down the grading system for all.”
Nonetheless, the “antiracism” narrative has tremendous momentum in modern educational institutions. It reduces complex phenomena to a simple explanation of white racism—and lets teachers of all racial backgrounds shift blame for failing schools to the abstract forces of “systemic oppression.” Eventually, however, there will be a price. School districts such as San Diego Unified can spend millions on trainings, speeches, and diversity audits, but none of these efforts is likely to result in better academic results.
While the leadership of San Diego Unified promotes the antiracist agenda, resentment is growing among teachers and administrators. The whistleblower described the district’s embrace of race trainings as “insidious” and said many employees are reluctant to speak out, for fear that they will be accused of racism. Some evidence also suggests that parents are beginning to mobilize, but they will meet stiff resistance from the radicals at the helm of many school districts. For now, we should expect these ideological campaigns to intensify.
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