The school district, says the lawsuit, is using a Great Minds and Wit & Wisdom curriculum that runs afoul of the ban on Critical Race Theory in the classroom. One book, “Rap-a-Tap-Tap,” pairs with a kindergarten teacher lesson manual that “puts the focus of discussion on skin color and racial oppression,” the lawsuit says. One lesson plan calls on teachers to use “Equity Sticks.”
The 177-page suit highlights the difficulty that lawmakers may have in reigning in the curriculum when the onus of implementing the details falls on education bureaucrats, who are often liberal even in conservative areas. In the 2020 election, Williamson County voted for Republican Donald Trump nearly 2-1 over Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
Tennessee passed a law in 2021 barring schools from teaching that anyone is inherently privileged or oppressive based on their race or sex, or should feel guilty because of their race or sex; that a meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist; that the state or country is fundamentally or irredeemably racist; or that character traits can be ascribed on the basis of sex. It also barred teaching that the rule of law “is a series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other groups” and doesn’t actually exist.
Some teachers in Tennessee pledged openly to violate the ban — even while others claimed that CRT doesn’t exist in schools. “To be frank, the bill will not make it harder for my personal classroom because I plan to ignore it,” Liz Jarvis, a teacher in Memphis, told the education news outlet Chalkbeat as the bill neared passage. “Who’s going to enforce it?”
Parents Patricia and James Lucente, along with a group called Parents’ Choice Tennessee, allege that in addition to violating that law, education bureaucrats short-circuited a process to get Wit & Wisdom in schools, despite a review panel disapproving of it.
“The program called Great Minds’ Wit & Wisdom received a failing grade for grades K-2. On re-review, this program again failed based on the same multiple deficiencies,” their lawsuit said. “Despite these findings, the Department nonetheless gave the Wit & Wisdom program a passing grade. … Additionally, Commissioner [Penny] Schwinn granted a total of 33 waivers to school systems, like Williamson County, as a financial incentive to adopt at no cost the Wit & Wisdom program. This waiver equated to a potential saving for Williamson County Schools particular, of approximately $565,989.”
The Wit & Wisdom Social Emotional Learning (SEL) framework draws from CASEL, a social-emotional learning group that trains “vulnerable students to become social justice activists,” the lawsuit said.
“Wit & Wisdom has reoccurring emotionally-charged themes which include: suicide ideation, cannibalism, oppressed people of color, oppressive white people, extreme emotion, graphic death, dark imagery, anti-family, anti-American, and anti-church and religion,” said the lawsuit. “Wit & Wisdom also has age-inappropriate topics which include: murder, graphic mating, gender fluidity, anti-authority, torture, rape, adultery, scalping/skinning of humans, stillbirth, excessive gore, excessive violence, drunkenness, and promiscuity.”
Its racial lessons communicate that “the racial injustice of the 1960s exists today,” the lawsuit said.
Williamson County Schools declined to comment. Great Minds did not immediately return a request for comment.
New York City schools have paid Great Minds $13 million since 2016, Baltimore City Schools have paid it $5 million, and Chicago schools have paid it more than $3 million since 2017, a Daily Wire analysis of school spending records found. Other districts such as Montgomery County, Maryland; Duval, Florida; Clark County, Nevada; and Pinellas, Florida have also paid it. Some, like Baltimore; Pasco, Florida; and Jefferson County, Colorado specifically mentioned Wit & Wisdom in invoices.
Dr. James Lindsay, a prominent academic who studies Critical Race Theory, provided a 37-page affidavit in support of the lawsuit tracing Social Emotional Learning to Critical Race Theory to Paulo Friere, a Marxist whose books, including the “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” have become canon in teacher colleges.
“They have abandoned the idea of educating American children to grow toward becoming successful and prosperous adults in American society because they want to undermine, destroy, and replace American society. Rather than teaching literacy, numeracy, or other educational basics, Freirean schools use subject matter like reading, writing, mathematics, history, social studies, and science lessons to teach Marxist consciousness of one or more forms at a time,” Lindsay’s affidavit said.
“As a result of more than a decade of this practice, American schoolchildren are almost universally failing in basic competency in virtually every subject at virtually every grade level. They are more ‘politically literate,’ in the Freirean sense, than ever before, though,” Lindsay continued. “Freirean education is Marxist education, and it has no place in any American public school system.”
“Freirean education doesn’t work, and it is easy to understand why it doesn’t work. It explicitly and intentionally replaces gaining mastery in any subject with using that subject as a proxy for generating ‘political literacy.’ This is wholly inappropriate, completely ineffective at educating students, and a gross violation of the public’s and parents’ trust in these school systems and the teachers and administrators who facilitate their programs,” he wrote.