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In between speeches from the Republican Partys would-be presidents, attendees at Fridays Moms for Liberty summit heard from a panel of state education leaders but the underlying theme was much the same as that hammered by the political figures: Public schools are too woke.
The radicalism that the left has taken to try to force socialism and Marxism in our classrooms is the most outrageous thing this country has ever seen, said Ryan Walters, Oklahomas superintendent of public instruction. You all are on the frontlines of it.
As hours-long protests continued outside, the 600-plus member crowd inside was energized, including at this lunchtime gathering in the Marriott ballroom the only session outside the presidential speeches to which the Inquirer was granted access Friday, with other workshops closed to media. (Topics included: Comprehensive Sex Education: Sex Ed or Sexualization, Dark Moneys Infiltration in Education and How to Fight It, and Driving the Narrative: If You Arent Telling the Story, Someone Else Is.)
This session, which followed remarks from former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, included a panel of education officials Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr., Arkansas Education Secretary Jacob Oliva, and South Carolina Superintendent Ellen Weaver who touched on some of the big challenges in education, including pandemic learning loss and a reckoning over reading instruction, which
many experts say schools have been teaching improperly.
But discussions about the so-called science of reading movement a body of research calling for more systematic reading instruction and efforts to improve literacy veered back to the idea that education was being undermined by schools devoting too much attention to LGBTQ issues.
Theres a problem when your LGBTQ+ whatever guide is 27 pages, and your reading strategies are three pages, Diaz said. We need to get all this woke stuff out.
Diaz noted Floridas rejection of dozens of textbooks, which the state said contained prohibited topics of social emotional learning and critical race theory. The former is common in school systems and involves lessons aimed at helping children manage their emotions; conservatives have claimed its being used to usher in what they deem critical race theory an academic framework that examines racism as embedded in institutions that has become a catchall for discussions of race and racism.
Among his objections, Diaz cited an example of a math textbook including a mention of having two moms or two dads.
Remember, these are the foundations if we allow that stuff to seep into our kids minds, what happens ten years down the line? Diaz said.
Referring to the latest national standardized test scores showing stark drops compared to before the pandemic, Walters said it wasnt just COVID-19 school closures to blame.
Weve gone from, not doing a good job teaching the science of reading, not driving home the basics of math, to now teaching gender ideology and critical race theory, Walters said.
He blamed teachers unions and the academic elite, claiming that superintendents come out of woke hiring organizations.
But the biggest applause came when Walters proclaimed that we dont need a federal Department of Education, drawing cheers from the crowd filling the ballroom. (Former U.S. education secretary Betsy DeVos issued a similar call at last years Moms for Liberty summit.)
In designating Moms for Liberty as an antigovernment extremist group, the Southern Poverty Law Center pointed to its support for abolishing the federal education department one among a number of positions the civil rights group said Moms for Liberty had adopted threatening the public education system, and opposing student-inclusion efforts.
Some of the education officials were careful to try to draw a distinction between union leaders and rank-and-file teachers. The vast majority of educators in South Carolina do not believe this nonsense that Washington is trying to put on our schools, Weaver said.
She told the mothers: You all are not culture warriors. You are common sense warriors. You are reality warriors.