by Christopher Paslay
The celebration of convicted cop killer Assata Shakur’s life story is indicative of the polarizing identity politics infiltrating Jefferson County Public Schools.
Since the death of George Floyd in May of 2020, the Jefferson County Public Schools have brought a polarizing brand of identity politics into Louisville, Kentucky. In an effort to celebrate women’s history month, the school district’s Diversity, Equity, and Poverty Department posted “11 Must-Read Books About Black Women in History” on the school district blog, the first of which was Assata — the autobiography of convicted cop killer Assata Shakur.
Shakur, whose legal name is Joanne Chesimard, was involved in the murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973, and is currently on the F.B.I.’s Most Wanted List.
Jefferson County Public School children are not encouraged to read Assata to help bring Chesimard to justice, but to celebrate “the depth and richness of Black women’s history in the United States.”
If the celebration of a radical activist and convicted cop killer shocks you, it’s probably because you haven’t looked deep enough into the Diversity, Equity, and Poverty Department of Jefferson County Public Schools. Underneath the well-sounding mission statements and smiling faces on their webpage, the district is pushing a progressive brand of polarizing identity politics rooted in critical race theory. Using a Marxist approach that stereotypes children by race and divides society into “oppressors” and “oppressed,” Jefferson County Public Schools are indoctrinating students to believe that their racial identity is the primary determinant of success in their lives.
Instead of using a values-based approach to achieve equality — one that promotes communication, understanding, and mutual accountability among the races — Jefferson County Public Schools are pushing an identity-based model that believes one group of people must be targeted, disrupted, or dismantled in order for another group to succeed. In August of 2020, an elementary school in the district required its teachers to participate in a Zoom training titled “You Are Going to Have To Talk About Race.”
Slides from the training, leaked by a concerned teacher, reveal just how eager Jefferson County Public Schools are to force staff and students to see the world through the polarizing lens of skin color. The second slide in the presentation stated that “Race . . . is a creation designed to keep Black people (and people of color) serving versus thriving in any system in the United States.”
This statement is concerning because it implies that the whole of the United States is broken, that all of its systems are purposely designed to victimize Blacks and people of color to keep them from succeeding. In other words, students of color are not the captain of their own ship with control over their lives. They are simply a member of an oppressed identity group, not an individual who is personally empowered to shape his or her own future.
Another slide, titled “Keep Trying,” made it clear that when it came to having conversations about race, there were different sets of rules for Whites and people of color. A teacher who attended the training explained that the conversations were not mutual, or aimed at any kind of shared responsibility. Whites were considered the oppressors and Blacks were the oppressed. And as such, the opinions, perceptions, and experiences of Whites were discounted and dismissed, while the opinions and experiences of people of color were praised and considered valid. If you were White, you needed to keep your mouth shut, sit still, and listen to how oppressive you were.
Does this sound like an approach that’s going to increase communication and mutual understanding? An approach that’s going to bring any kind of holistic solution to injustice?
A slide titled “They’re not too young to talk about race!” attempted to racialize toddlers and preschool children, claiming that “silence about race reinforces racism.” But this notion is completely false. Children learn to interact positively with people of other races through principles and values, not through fixating on skin color. The content of character beneath the color of skin is the most important variable in race relations, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so rightly pointed out.
By far the most disturbing slide of the session asked teachers to “shift the historical focus of power from the privileged to the persecuted!” Here there was a picture of a shackled Black man hogtied to a pole, hands bound to his feet with rope. According to a teacher in attendance, educators were told to stare at the picture, no matter how uncomfortable, in order to truly grasp the plight of people of color in America.
Another slide stated that “compliance and neutrality are acts of racism,” communicating to teachers that they’d better get on board with critical race theory or be stigmatized accordingly.
Even more concerning, a slide titled “Authentic Classroom Strategies” asked teachers to “get comfortable using words like whiteness, white supremacy, privilege, people of color, black, racist, racism, and oppression.” Put another way, it suggested teachers should get used to dividing their students into polarizing camps based on skin color, and indoctrinating them in Marxist ideologies that turn Whites and Blacks against each other by stereotyping them as “oppressors” and “oppressed.”
Most of this is cleverly hidden from parents and the public, of course. Proactive words such as “equity” and “diversity” bring to mind positive images of fairness and freedom, as do the bright smiles of the children on the Jefferson County Public Schools webpage. A deeper dive into the resources on their page, however, reveal just how strongly the district believes racial identity is a central determinant of success in the lives of their staff and students.
A document called “Affirming Racial Equity Tool,” which educators are encouraged to use when planning lessons, incorporate so-called “descriptors” into the lessons — guidelines which make race and identity the prominent factor in planning objectives. One equitable lesson descriptor states that the lesson should “provide context to the history of privilege and oppression,” while another states the lesson should “engage students to recognize and critique power relationships.”
Again, the Marxist elements are clear and present: oppressors vs. oppressed. Universal values associated with content of character — such as honesty, tolerance, compassion, and self-reflection — have been hijacked and corrupted by identity politics, and are no longer viewed as absolute, but are now seen as relative to race and culture. Which begs the question: Isn’t love, love, no matter whether it’s Black or White? Isn’t grief, grief, no matter whether it’s brown or yellow?
Not under the tenets of critical race theory in 21st century America. Everything must remain culturally relative and without objective truth, which enables the racial polarization needed to perpetuate identity politics. Even the literal definitions of words describing race and racism are constantly changing, a lexicon of terms created and controlled by progressives obsessed with skin color.
The “Racial Equity Tools Glossary,” linked to Jefferson County Public Schools’ “Affirming Racial Equity Tool,” is quite eye-opening. Here they conveniently define everything from “racist ideas” and “racist policies,” to “whiteness,” “white privilege,” and “white supremacy culture.”
And what is “white supremacy culture”? According to the Racial Equity Tools Glossary: “White Supremacy Culture refers to the dominant, unquestioned standards of behavior and ways of functioning embodied by the vast majority of institutions in the United States. These standards may be seen as mainstream, dominant cultural practices; they have evolved from the United States’ history of white supremacy.”
So there you have it: Jefferson County Public School children are being taught America is a systemically racist country run by a bunch of white supremacists. It’s unclear how this is going to empower students to take responsibility for their lives and education, or give them the values needed to look past the superficial notion of race to the content of character.
Not to worry, however. Children in Jefferson County Public Schools may not be learning the lessons of Martin Luther King, Jr., but they will get to celebrate the life of Assata Shakur, who helped murder New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973, and is currently on the F.B.I.’s Most Wanted List.
If you enjoyed this article, perhaps you’ll be interested in reading my new book, Exploring White Fragility: Debating the Effects of Whiteness Studies on America’s Schools, which takes an honest look at how things like critical race theory and anti-racism are negatively impacting classrooms across America. You can buy the book on Amazon, or purchase it directly from the publisher, Rowman & Littlefield.