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New Education Design Model Spreads Critical Theories into Entire Community
Community Schools are being heavily pushed by the Biden administration and teachers unions as a way to create “safe” and “healthy” environments for children to learn in. However, behind the veneer of seemingly charitable efforts to help students from impoverished communities by providing extra social services at school lies a carefully crafted alignment of policy and practices across the health and education sectors in order to accomplish a targeted political social agenda. In fact, the CDC’s The Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) Model implemented through the Whole Child Design Principles of the Science of Learning and Development (SoLD) Alliance (Figure 1) is actually a backdoor method to ensure that the teaching and learning of critical pedagogy is infused into every entity providing services to the child within the community.
Critical Pedagogy is a philosophy of education that infuses academic learning with political lessons to encourage students to be critical towards their reality. Championed by Marxist Paulo Freire, the underlying purpose of this type of education isn’t imparting knowledge about math, science, reading, and writing, but to use those subjects to get students to believe that society was built to benefit some and disadvantage others (critical consciousness), to know their position in that structure, and to help them understand their role (i.e. becoming an ally/activist) in dismantling those social structures through which people are dominated and oppressed. This philosophy takes on many names—Critical Race Theory (based on race), Marxism (based on class), Queer Theory (based on gender identity), etc.—but the main idea across all of these is that one group has something (property, primacy) that another group doesn’t, and therefore the systems of society causing that imbalance must be overthrown and rebuilt to ensure “equity” (equal outcomes) for those oppressed groups.
In K-12 education, this can show up explicitly through what they call culturally-relevant pedagogy in subjects like Ethnic Studies, but it has also sneaked in implicitly through the embedding of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) standards into nearly every facet of the education system. Social Emotional Learning was originally brought into schools as a mental health support to help students manage their emotions, develop care and concern for others, build healthy relationships and make responsible decisions through the teaching of its 5-core competencies. Previously, it was offered as merely a targeted intervention for just the students who had unstable home lives and therefore didn’t know how to constructively interact with others in social situations. Now it is being used in most districts as a “whole school intervention” that has system-wide reach—with curriculum, standards and assessments, and even college and career readiness standards prioritizing the adoption of social emotional skills, often over academic knowledge.
Lately, it’s become increasingly clear that the “identity,” “empathy,” and “perspective-taking” aspects of SEL are being intentionally manipulated by some educators to have conversations about race, class and gender identity in the classroom that have nothing to do with enhancing those skills in their traditional sense, and everything to do with cultivating a critical consciousness. This new revision into what SEL’s standard-bearer, CASEL, has deemed “Transformative SEL” aids students in pinpointing what parts of their identity (or intersections of them) make them oppressed or an oppressor. If they’re the latter, SEL lessons instruct them to have empathy and show compassion by becoming an activist that “does the work.” “Work” meaning one has to recognize their own supposed power and privilege and use that position to join the oppressed as an ally in tearing down anything that contributes to those power imbalances.
Until recently, many of these ideas were contained within academia, and mostly higher education arenas, but they’ve increasingly made their way into elementary and secondary education, as well as professional development trainings for teachers and administrators to inoculate them into believing the tenets of the social constructionist theories behind Critical Race Theory and Queer Theory. Transformative SEL purveyors want to get these Marxian mindsets into the entire community, though, and they’re planning to use the implementation of the SoLD Alliance’s Whole Child Design Principles by school districts (Figure 1) to do it.
In the 5 planks of the design, the “Environments filled with Safety and Belonging” one claims that, based on the updated findings from the science of learning and development, students need an identity-positive (identity-affirming), safe (culturally-relevant, trauma-informed) environment to learn in. This means that all adults that come into contact with children in all places of learning (which they say is everywhere) need to know how to provide that. (Figure 2)
As school districts incorporate the WSCC/Community Schools model to fulfill the “Integrated Support Systems” plank of the Whole Child Design principles, this will mean that bus drivers, food service providers, social workers, medical practitioners, civic organizations, after school programs, faith leaders, museum and library staff, etc. (basically anyone providing students services) will need to be trained in culturally responsive (cough: critical) pedagogy, most likely under the smokescreen of “adult social emotional learning.”
The (Junk) Science of Learning and Development
A closer look at the “science” behind these assertions deserves utmost scrutiny, considering how the partners of the SoLD Alliance, the Readiness Project—which is comprised of The Forum for Youth Investment, the National Urban League, and the American Institutes for Research—have interpreted its findings. In their joint 2020 paper, Thriving, Robust Equity, and Transformative Learning and Development, they say, “COVID-19 and the murder of George Floyd and many others have thrust the country into long-overdue debates about how (not whether) to dismantle systemic and institutional inequities that are literally taking the lives of Black Americans and other people of color. Systemic changes are needed in every system – not just law enforcement and education. Fundamental changes in beliefs and mindsets are needed in every adult – not just police officers and teachers. Educational equity, however, cannot be achieved without a focus on racial equity.” (Figure 3, emphasis added)
Just as the science and research that supported SEL was used to give credence to Transformative Social Emotional Learning (SEL done with a “racial” and “equity” lens) by social justice activists in education, the Science of Learning and Development has been appropriated by the same political actors to justify a focus on “robust equity.” “Robust equity” takes the already exploited concept of “equity” (equal outcomes vs equality/equal opportunity) and weaponizes it as the “intentional counter to inequality.” (Figure 4)
This new definition of equity, “informed by [SoLD’s] science,” says that in order for students to thrive, it’s not enough that they have equal access to opportunity, but that all the opportunities to learn must address “institutionalized privilege and prejudice, and systemic deficits” and be committed to “long-term complex change.” Translation: teach, talk about and enforce Critical Pedagogy in every place of learning. This is yet another attempted sleight of hand to use the cover of lovely-sounding language like “thriving,” “robust,” and “transformative,” to slip the practices and principles behind Critical Race Theory, Queer Theory and social justice activism into every aspect of the community using the WSCC model and the “science” of learning and development.
It’s appropriate to question if much of their “science” has either been reverse engineered or specifically translated in order to fit the social justice narrative that the SoLD Alliance wants to push, especially considering the same group of players that are involved in that alliance are also involved at the universities doing the studies, and the organizations and institutions that analyze the research and come up with policy models that districts should adopt to help put these theories into practice. In their 2018 Landscape Analysis, the Aspen National Commission on Social Emotional and Academic Development (SEAD), of which many of the SoLD Alliance’s members and organizations are a part of, spoke of the need to create a “shared agenda on the science of human development in the context of education” which could be “co-managed and co-resourced from the U.S. Department of Ed, the National Institutes of Health, the CDC, and the Department of Justice. Each has strands of funding that relate to this topic, which could be even more powerful if they were coordinated around a single agenda.” (Figure 5, emphasis added)
This “single agenda” to transform schools into Paolo Freire’s schools is not limited to the United States, however. The same ideas, policies and models are being pushed worldwide through the larger parent partner of the SoLD Alliance, the Global Science of Learning Education Network (GSoLEN-Figure 6). They have invited specific members into their group to provide an echo chamber of support around these findings, with the aim to advance these concepts as global standards and competencies for schools worldwide.
As this verbiage and policy design has just begun to be offered as solutions to school districts, there is an opportunity right now to get ahead of it and possibly inform leaders of its intentions before they’re adopted. The AASA (superintendent’s association) program, Learning 2025, for example, which is being marketed to superintendents across the country to get them to adopt it, is based upon on the “science” of the SoLD Alliance, combines all 5 elements of SoLD's Whole Child Design Principles and also uses the CDC’s WSCC model for their coordinated school health services. One has to wonder if GSoLEN’s social change agenda comes with it.
Readers of this article shoul share the video above and educate other members in their communities to learn how to recognize these types of programs for what they are: Critical Theory, rebranded and repurposed, in an attempt to infiltrate the entire community and create cultural change. They should publicly call attention to it if and when anything like this is proposed in their school districts, and work together to keep this poison out.
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Lisa Logan is the host of the YouTube Channel Parents of Patriots and author of the Substack Education Manifesto. If you find value in her content, you can support her work here. As a wife, mother and accidental activist, she has made it her mission to expose the sinister agenda behind the changes to education and other captured systems & institutions to save our children and the future of our country.