On March 29th, I published a piece about graphic sexual content being used in high school English classrooms in Leander Independent School District (LISD), just outside of Austin, Texas. In the wake of the story, many readers were left wondering how pornographic literature could possibly find its way into a public school curriculum, and why, once it was discovered, did parents have to fight such a fierce battle to remove it?
Testimony from anonymous teachers during an April 8th school board meeting may provide some clues as to how this happened in Leander, and shed some light on how similar radical changes to curricula are being enforced elsewhere. (Video of the testimonies starts at about minute 16.)
A quick recap of the LISD saga:
In fall of 2020, according to LISD English teachers, a small group of LISD administrators made the nearly-unilateral decision to deemphasize traditional canon literature in favor of more “diverse,” contemporary literature, which featured what many parents complained were “adult themes.” Passages in the books included graphic depictions of gang rape and references to strap-on sex toys, masturbation and ejaculation. Some of the most violent and graphic scenes involved incest and depictions of the abuse of minors, including prepubescent children. One graphic novel included demeaning images of nude women engaged in sex acts, including one on a dog leash and another being coerced at gunpoint.
Upon learning of the content, parents complained vociferously, but were met with protest from a small group of activist teachers. In addition to being called “racists,” “homophobes,” “religious zealots,” and “bigots” for questioning the age appropriateness of the books, some of the parents who voiced their dissent received anonymous cardboard penises at their homes with Christian iconography (ex: “He has risen”). Others received pornography subscriptions to their personal emails featuring beastiality, still others received putrid food items and dead animals on their doorsteps.
The school board responded to parent concerns by initiating a “community review” of the entire list of “book club” books, a process which has been pointedly criticized by participants as “biased” and “lacking in transparency.” According to multiple parents, the same administrators who selected the books are ultimately in charge of all final decisions about the books and are suspected of exerting undue influence to keep the books in the curriculum. Further, participants complain that books with extreme sexual content are still receiving high marks due to biased rubric criteria, and that valid parent concerns are being omitted from the final summary reports. “As a result, books are passing that shouldn’t,” one parent complained. Multiple exasperated parents have described their efforts to remove the books from the hands of children in the district as “like arguing with a brick wall.”
Across the board, sources within LISD have denounced what they describe as a pattern of dishonesty and obfuscation from the district administration regarding the matter.
In response to my March 29th Daily Wire article, the LISD Communications Coordinator released a statement claiming that the books were removed from classrooms “last fall…not in March 2021.” However, according to multiple teachers who contacted The Daily Wire, the books were “never removed.” One teacher stated on April 19th, “the books are still in my room…I got in trouble for having them in a less visible part of the shelf…[The facilitator] said that was ‘soft censorship’ because the kids can’t see them easily.” Multiple teachers have confirmed that “curriculum facilitators” have proactively checked their classrooms to ensure that the books, including In the Dream House and other highly controversial titles, are not just on the shelves, but are “readily visible.”
The whole saga, which remains contentious, begs the question: When and how did public schools become so authoritarian?
According to dozens of fearful teachers, a culture of fear and systematic intimidation of educators all the way up the administrative chain is to blame for the rapid illiberal shift toward entrenched woke hegemony in public education.
A Culture of Fear
“They are always watching us…we have to hide in a classroom to talk about these things, and most won’t even risk doing that.”
One of the most disturbing aspects of the school board video is that the teachers in LISD felt compelled to testify under the condition of anonymity, opting instead to have their letters read aloud by parents and community members. According to at least 10 sources in LISD, including parents and teachers, a significant majority of LISD teachers (across the political spectrum) vehemently oppose the use of graphic sexual content in their classes. However, every teacher I spoke with stated unequivocally that they believe they would lose their job if they publicly dissented from the new curriculum.
According to multiple sources, as well as a leaked audio recording, teachers were told by “two school board members” during a meeting in the fall of 2020 that “there are plenty of districts in central Texas where teachers can work if they don’t want to follow the curriculum units,” and teachers who “can’t get on board” will be “managed out.” Teachers who “have worked here more than 20 years” were singled out as most likely to be non-compliant, and were invited to “show themselves the door.”
“We know they’re watching us, they tell us,” one 54-year-old middle school language arts teacher told The Daily Wire in an interview. “Our jobs used to be defined by how well we teach the TEKS, now it’s how well we follow the district-mandated curriculum. Now if you don’t follow it, you can be fired,” stated another high school teacher.
During the summer of 2020, language arts teachers received “6-12 boxes of books,” prior to the start of the school year. According to one high school teacher, “it was weird, because it felt like they were discouraging us from reading them. [The administrators] kept telling us there was ‘no need’ to review the books, which some of us thought was strange…So some of us started checking them out, just to see. We were shocked…One of my colleagues marched into principal [name redacted]’s office and started reading out loud from Red At The Bone. She was told to ‘book mark’ it, but she kept on reading out loud.” The two men in the room “went bright red and covered their ears.”
The new books weren’t the only big change. Last summer, teachers were informed that they would be receiving “units” one month in advance of when the unit was slated to be taught. Instead of a general “year at-a-glance” curriculum guide, the “units” now included pre-written daily lesson plans, assignments and paired reading material, which teachers were suddenly expected to teach “with fidelity.” One language arts teacher lamented the sudden and drastic abandonment of skills-based instruction. “While our [old] units of study used to be divided into titles such as ‘the essay writing process’ and ‘writing the research paper,’ they are now ‘identity,’ ‘community,’ and ‘activism.’”
Multiple teachers admitted that they are actively looking for work in other districts or other professions altogether, adding that their peers are doing the same. “We are going to lose some of our best teachers over this” cautioned one high school language arts teacher. “I refuse to teach this stuff…I kind of got away with teaching Hamlet this year because of Covid, but I won’t have that excuse next year.”
Teachers are secretly teaching Hamlet? “Yes, and argumentative essays.” However, according to this teacher, students in the “lower income” high schools in the district are, by and large, being taught the new curriculum. For their “product,” sophomores in those schools are “drawing four panel cartoon pictures about themes,” rather than writing essays. “How are they going to jump up to AP Language and Composition? They’re not.”
The image of wealthy students reading Hamlet and low-income students drawing cartoons made my stomach drop, reminding me yet again of who always pays the steepest price for progressive education policies.
Other teachers stated that they are deeply fearful about losing employment on the brink of retirement. With pensions and retirement plans on the line, the price feels too high. “I just need to hold on one more year,” one middle school teacher stated, “three more years for me,” said her colleague, both speaking anonymously on a group call.
In addition to losing their jobs and pension plans, teachers are fearful for their reputations. “They will defame me all over social media,” worried one teacher. Who? I asked. “The activist teachers…they’re watching us all the time…they ask the students to tell them what we say in class, especially the gay kids, they really like to ask the gay kids.”
According to these teachers, the bullying even extends to the administrators who, theoretically, have the power to fire the most problematic teachers and administrators. So why don’t they? “They’re afraid.”
“The smallest thing can be taken the wrong way,” one high school teacher explained. “One teacher at my school has been accusing people of racism left and right. People are afraid of her.” According to one middle school teacher, one of her peers filed a complaint against another teacher for racism after the second teacher told her to stop bullying everyone. The HR complaint stuck, and the charge of racism remains on her record. “People don’t want to confront [the radical teachers] about [their behavior] anymore. If [the activist teacher] accuses her of racism again she could lose their job…My principal is in the same situation with [the same teacher].”
According to two middle school teachers, early in the fall of 2020, superintendent Bruce Gearing publicly “apologized for being white.”
“What kind of precedent does that set?” they asked, indignant. According to multiple teachers, administrators also believe that their jobs are unsafe if they are seen to publicly disagree with the officially endorsed ideology.
Before ending each interview, I asked each teacher what it would take for him or her to speak publicly about their concerns. Over and over again, I received the same response, almost verbatim: “I don’t think it’s worth it.”
What if, I mused, you could count on overwhelming community support? “Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe ask someone who isn’t so close to retirement.”
The best answer came from the rogue Hamlet teacher: “You know, I might. At this point I don’t even care anymore. I don’t even need this job.”
Will quiet heroes begin awakening in LISD and other school districts across the country? Stay tuned.
This article is part of an ongoing series exposing radical ideology in schools and institutions. Contact me at [email protected] to share stories from your community. I’m also now on IG @georgiamaehowe.