The push for “anti-racism” is moving beyond the classroom. School districts are now insisting that parents spark conversations about race and gender at the dinner table, at the movie theatre, and when their child is browsing the internet.
In Montgomery County, Maryland, one of the nation’s most affluent areas, parents of elementary-aged children were encouraged to participate in a “caregiver” training program on “anti-racism.” The program was run through Ashburton Elementary School in the Montgomery County Public School district.
The session lasted about an hour and was run by a “restorative justice” advocate hired by the school district.
Ashburton Elementary is far from the only school to host these programs, be it for teachers or children, or parents. In fact, Ashburton Elementary’s Principal told parents that teachers and children have been engaging in “anti-racism” activities for months now.
I attended the elementary school’s anti-racist training workshop for parents. It was run by Greg Mullenholz, the school’s principal, and Yael Astor, a “restorative justice instructional specialist” who works for the district.
Here’s what I learned from the session.
The training started by defining the most important word of all — “anti-racism.” According to the presentation, being “anti-racist” is not being “not racist,” it’s actively “confronting racial inequalities.” Being simply “not racist” is not enough.
1. Race is a “social construct”
Principal Mullenholz started by acknowledging that conversations about race can be uncomfortable.
“We know fully that conversations about race get people’s hearts pumping, they create anxieties because they can certainly be uncomfortable,” Mullenholz said. “If you’re feeling that as an adult, there’s certainly some of that going on with our students as well.”
The slides proceeded to teach parents that while they may be talking about race, race does not exist because it’s a “social construct.”
This was exemplified by a PowerPoint slide that showed the U.S. Census has changed and adapted its language to include different racial categories over the years. This allegedly makes race adaptable.
During the presentation, a parent asked Mullenholz why kids were being made “hyper-conscious” about race when race is considered a social construct. The principal said that race is used to categorize how people are oppressed and also how we can celebrate people. This gave us no insight into why kids were being forced to talk about race if race does not exist.
2. Don’t question the training, that makes you racist
The alleged intent behind the training is to help cultivate an “anti-racist community” in which all people can live harmoniously. To kickstart our “anti-racist community,” we had to realize, and affirm, that “racism is the norm, not an anomaly.”
The ground rules for the training were that parents must “prioritize impact over intent.” This meant that if my comments had a negative “impact” on someone, regardless of what my intent was, I may be accused of being rude or potentially, racist.
I took this to mean that if I wanted to push back against the teachers, I may be impacting someone else who holds a different perspective than me. Therefore, I should not speak out because my words could impact another person, even if my intentions were to ask a question.
At the bottom of the same slide, there was a quote that told parents they could disagree with the instructors and fellow parents, but only if that disagreement did not challenge the crux of the instructor’s argument.
“We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist,” the quote read.
3. I should be talking about race all the time with my (imaginary) children
The majority of the presentation was centered around having conversations with kids as young as three years old about race and gender.
The presentation cited a study from the American Psychological Association that claims “children are capable of thinking about all sorts of complex topics at a very young age.”
“Even if adults don’t talk to kids about race, children will work to make sense of their world and will come up with their own ideas, which may be inaccurate or detrimental,” the study reads.
It was explained to us shortly after that this study was old data from a different study repurposed to make a point.
The presenters told parents that to combat racist thoughts from creeping into the minds of elementary schoolers, they should use movies, TV shows, videos, and news clips to kickstart conversations about race and gender.
The example that was used detailed a parent watching a movie with their child, and the movie made a generalization about the “Latinx” community. According to the training, an “anti-racist” parent would stop the movie and have a conversation with their child about why this generalization may make them “uncomfortable.”
Other resources for having “organic” conversations with children about race included a list of books and online guides. One of the online guides is called “Raising Race Conscious Children” and claims that their product will help “dismantle the color-blind framework and prepare young people to work toward racial justice.”
Ashburton Elementary is far from the only school in the nation to offer “anti-racism” programming for parents. The Gordon School, a private school in Rhode Island, has an “anti-racism working group” specifically for white parents. The group provides “opportunities for white parents to examine their own racial identities and privilege, to uncover and challenge their own biases, and to develop anti-racism parenting skills.”
Some schools have yet to offer full-blown workshops, instead, they have created working lists of “anti-racism” resources for parents and students. At St. Mary Interparochial School in Philadelphia, the school created a list of books and online resources to become more “anti-racist.”
This is commonplace on college campuses as well. At George Washington University, the school’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion created three separate reading lists. One for books about “race,” one for books about “anti-racism,” and one for books about “systemic racism.”
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