Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Misguided Compassion of Social Justice Catholics

There are many reasons for the downfall of our urban public schools, but beyond the undeniable corruption of those sucking the system dry for financial gain, the greatest destruction to our schools, and more importantly to the individual children in those schools, is the misguided and dishonest compassion of Social Justice.

Before going further, a distinction must be made between those who honestly believe in the Social Justice movement and those who use the movement for their own agenda, usually an agenda that leads to more power and profit in their hands and less in the hands of those they pretend to champion.

There is no point in addressing the latter group; they know who they are and they know full well what they are doing. No amount of argument will convince them to change their actions short of spiritual conversion. Neither is this essay aimed at those with scowling faces, voices raised in “righteous indignation,” and fists pumped ready to foment “civil unrest” based on false narratives manipulated by a dishonest media as exemplified in Beyonc√©’s 50th Super Bowl half-time show.

No, this essay is aimed at those who believe themselves authentic Catholic Social Justice warriors: the priest lecturing the congregation in his homily, the teacher inculcating in her marginalized students Social Justice values, the voter who believes that one more entitlement program, one more educational paradigm shift, or one last moment of empathy while ignoring the destructive behavior of others, will justly end poverty and crime ushering in a new Eden. Nor can we should not forget those who just wish to assuage their own “guilt” no matter the unintended consequences for those less able to recover from the Social Justice warriors’ so-called benevolent compassion.

As the daughter of an urban public school teacher and as a veteran urban public school teacher myself, I have seen first-hand the destruction caused by the Social Justice ideology in our schools over the past six decades. The following anecdote illustrates but one of many moments in which teachers or administrators, either on their own or forced by the system, do more harm than good to students.

In 2007, I had an exciting opportunity to work for a start-up Catholic high school whose mission was to help college-bound urban students. I had already spent a decade working at my district’s top college prep school, which achieved a 94 percent acceptance rate to 4-year colleges. I had first-rate experience teaching students who often lacked basic skills as freshman, but wanting to learn.

I looked forward to doing the same at a Catholic school where I would also be allowed to relate literature to God and a school where discipline and academics would be held to a higher standard. As good as my previous public school was, it never unlocked the students’ full potential because they were not held accountable to the academic or behavior standards that would allow them to fully blossom. However, just as the first quarter of the first year ended, it was clear that my new Catholic school would perpetuate the same destructive program mislabeled “Social Justice.”

Making Excuses for Bad Behavior
Here is the scenario. The first novel I assigned was Ernest Gaines’s A Lesson before Dying. Each student was given one character to follow. When it was time to write their first high school character analysis essay, I provided graphic organizers and models. Most of these students had never written an essay and they would need lots of assistance.

Only after each step of the writing process was taught, each student had received individual help with their assignment, and most students had completed graphic organizers, I brought 30 brand new laptops into the room for a week. Since this was a college prep high school, all essays had to be typed.

Additionally, the brand new computer lab was open before school, during lunch, and after school. Tutors were available after school if students needed more time or more help. Furthermore, the computer technology teacher allowed students to work on the essay during computer class time that week to help them with formatting and other computer issues. I had written the introductory and concluding paragraphs for them, so the students had almost 10 class hours and plenty of support to type three body paragraphs.

However, Tom and Tony, two cousins who entered ninth grade together, did none of the reading, none of the noting, and none of the planning. While others wrote on their laptops, I frequently found the cousins shopping for tennis shoes or playing solitaire, anything but typing an essay. Throughout the quarter, I repeatedly informed administrators, tutors, and parents these two, along with a few others, were far behind, but there was no change.

The academic dean came to me when the essay was more than three weeks past due, after the last late submission date, and with the quarter about to close. She wanted me to let the cousins submit hand-written essays. I said “No! Absolutely not! I made my expectations clear and I gave them plenty of time and support.” Her reply was, “But this is a matter of Social Justice! They don’t have a computer or the internet at home!”

I reminded her that I had provided the cousins multiple opportunities and that they had access to plenty of generous resources, resources that they had squandered, but she would not be swayed. In her mind, I lacked compassion because I would not allow them to turn in an essay more than three weeks past due and hand-written to boot. I still refused to give in knowing it would set a terrible example for other students.

Students Deliver When More is Expected
The students I teach are like people everywhere. If the door is opened to more excuses and work is easy to avoid, most people will take the easiest path. This is especially true when we no longer instill character, morals, or honor in our children. Push students to achieve and they generally rise to the challenge … shockingly, even urban black students … because it is human nature!

Urban students recognize those determined to fight for Social Justice from a mile away, and they know how to manipulate them. Urban students, like most students, grow to respect a teacher who holds them to higher standards, although at first they will struggle and fight and accuse that teacher of being a racist if she is white or evil if she is black. Eventually most realize that the Social Justice teacher is not really concerned about their education, while the latter is.

These two cousins learned that excuses worked at this school and especially with this dean. They did not grow at all. They spent the rest of the year doing nothing or disrupting class. They failed out of the school that first year. No one knows where they ended up, but it was not in a school that provided as many opportunities as ours.

Other students witnessed such moments and learned that they could run to the dean and others who claimed to have compassion for their lives full of “Social Injustice.” The school enabled them to fail. Many did succeed, but fewer succeeded than might have if standards had been respected. It is not compassionate to tell struggling students that they will not be held accountable on one hand while promising them a pathway to college on the other. Neither is it compassionate to spend time making excuses for failing students while utterly ignoring the needs of students with the potential to excel, as this school often did.

A major fault of the Social Justice movement, especially for Catholics, is that it does not seek justice for individuals, but collectives. The cousins, seen as individuals, might have been held accountable. Then they might have been given the tools to succeed in school. As teachers and parents, we know that children must often be pushed to do what they do not want to do in order to grow and that they must be held accountable. Had that happened in this case, the boys might have grown, or not, but the school should have tried.

However, they were seen as victims of Social Injustice, not as Tom and Tony, two individual young men with hopes and dreams and possibilities. That is how it is possible for Social Justice warriors to neglect individuals while at the same time claiming they are uplifting people. Social Justice cares not about lifting individuals, but about lifting groups of “helpless victims.” The expedient sacrifice of a few individuals along the way is acceptable as long as the agenda is preserved.

False Compassion is Everywhere
This false compassion is not limited to urban systems. It is affecting the suburban world too: the trophy-for-everyone, the best team kicked out of competition to give other teams a chance, the end of honors classes, remedial classes, and vocational classes. The top students in suburbia learn that hard work does not pay. Struggling students do not receive the help they desperately need lest they feel left out of “regular” classes. This is not compassion, but self-serving indifference disguised as compassion.

Catholics are not called to be Social Justice warriors. Jesus says, “Get up and walk,” not “You’re a cripple, so we will give you a ‘best bed sitter’ award to increase your self-esteem,” or, “You’re black. I can’t expect you to behave any better.” This is not to say that we should not feel compassion for the crippled man or the poor single mother or the struggling urban student; but we should expect and help the cripple to be independent, to walk if possible, even if it hurts. We should expect and help the poor mother or the struggling student to push themselves to their highest level of achievement, even if they fail sometimes. And we should be willing to tell them when they are failing, not lie to them to make ourselves feel better.

A better example than “Social Justice” for the truly compassionate Catholic is found in a beautiful short film The Butterfly Circus directed by Joshua Weigel. Set in the dark times of the Depression, this “short” is about Will, a man born with no arms and no legs, found in a sideshow by Mr. Mendez. In the sideshow, Will is taunted by the audience and the sideshow barker who introduces Will as, “…a perversion of nature, a man, if you can even call him that, a man who God himself has turned His back on!” Mr. Mendez tells Will he is “magnificent,” but Will, believing Mendez to be mocking him, spits in his face.

Will later finds out that Mr. Mendez is the ringleader of the famous and respected Butterfly Circus. He finds a way to stow away in the circus’s truck. The somewhat odd troupe of performers welcomes Will, but he is left struggling to find a satisfactory role in a circus that has no sideshow. Mr. Mendez encourages him saying, “The greater the struggle, the more glorious the triumph!”

One day the troupe finds a refreshing river pool and stops for a swim, but Will gets stranded on the rocks on the other side. He calls for help. No one seems to hear. Mr. Mendez walks right past him, saying, “I think you’ll manage” when Will demands his help. In his struggle to get to the others, Will falls into the water, a potentially deadly baptism. Instead of dying, he discovers he can swim. With this discovery, he finds his role in the circus. He becomes a high diver into the classic small pool of water.

Unlike the Social Justice crowd, no one makes excuses for Will, no one rewards him just for being crippled. Rather, they celebrate his triumph, a triumph he would never have experienced if the troupe made excuses for him instead of challenging him. Mr. Mendez, the Christ-like figure, sees Will as “magnificent” just as he is, but also sees the potential for his butterfly-like metamorphosis into something more triumphant, much as our Lord sees us.

The Social Justice movement has been working steadily and stealthily causing destruction in our society for decades, crippling further those already crippled physically or psychologically and those already struggling to find their own triumphs. As Catholics, if we keep our brothers and sisters helpless cripples or turn them into faceless Social Justice projects, we are perpetuating something evil. As Catholics, our job is not to force Social Justice policies into our schools, our churches, or our laws, but to seek justice in our own hearts and beauty in our fellow man, and when possible, to help our fellow man achieve magnificence and triumph on his own, one person at a time.


The Decline and Fall of Common Core?

To the understandable relief of countless children and even more parents, Common Core may not remain so common. The grand scheme of centralized education that hijacked classrooms nationwide to align instruction and ideology with Big Brother isn’t passing the test. And while reports of Common Core’s demise might be premature — government programs are the closest things to eternal life on earth — America’s short-lived love affair with the program is quickly coming to an end.

One year before Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were finalized in 2010, 46 states formally endorsed the effort. Not because they thought the still-unknown national standards would lead to an educational rebirth but because billions in Race to the Top Bottom federal grant money was tied to states' willingness to comply with Washington’s agenda.

Fast forward a few years, and states began to tell Washington bureaucrats exactly where they could put their standards. In 2014, Indiana, one of the earliest to sign on to Common Core, became the first state to ditch the standards. All told, dozens of states have either pulled out completely or scaled back participation. After Massachusetts abandoned the standardized tests late last year, even The New York Times admitted that “what was once bipartisan consensus around national standards has collapsed into acrimony.”

And it’s little wonder. As The Federalist’s Joy Pullman notes, “Common Core has by now not only failed academically, it has failed operationally.” For one thing, it seems ObamaCare isn’t the only government fiasco plagued by computer glitches. Last year, major glitches across states wreaked havoc on CCSS testing.

Then there’s academic achievement — or the lack thereof. The federal government promised CCSS would improve educational outcomes. Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in 2010, “millions of U.S. schoolchildren, parents, and teachers will know, for the first time, if students truly are on-track for colleges and careers.”

Then, again, if you want to keep your doctor…

Well, as Pullman writes, a recent report from the Brookings Institution found “American children are receiving objectively worse academic instruction because of Common Core,” and “Common Core has done nothing to help children learn more overall.” Specifically, the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), which is widely accepted as the measurement of student achievement over time, has not shown any significant impact from Common Core over the past six years.

Imagine that. Another government program failing. Unthinkable.

Furthermore, Ze'ev Wurman, former U.S. Department of Education Senior Policy Advisor under George W. Bush, notes, “[A]ll the data we have — from ACT/SAT, through AP course taking, through early enrollment in algebra that was the hallmark of U.S. improvement in the last two decades, and to the NAEP scores — all point one way: down. I couldn’t find a single piece of objective educational data that looks improved or at least hopeful.”

Any teacher who has tried to tell a child why 7+7=14 but only by way of 10 would agree.

Maybe that’s why this year, just 20 states plus Washington, DC, plan to use Common Core standardized tests — a far cry from the 46 that signed on with such enthusiasm.

And even in states still drinking the CCSS Kool-Aid, not all parents and students are on board. In New York, for example, last year approximately 20% of students opted out of the standardized tests. This year, the number may be even higher. In Allendale Elementary School outside of Buffalo, a whopping 87% opted out. On Long Island, nearly 50% of students said no to the tests.

Parents and students aren’t the only ones fed up with Common Core. Teachers have also had enough. One teacher even posted an apology to students for the harm Common Core inflicts.

If there is one bright spot, it’s that Common Core is so disastrous that it’s inspired many parents to reclaim control over their children’s education. More and more parents are turning to homeschooling, and many cite Common Core as the reason.

To borrow a phrase from the 1987 classic “Princess Bride,” Common Core may still only be “mostly dead,” but in this case, there’s no true love around to revive it.


Do Parents Want Their Children on Uncle Shrink’s Couch?

Uncle Sam is becoming “Uncle Shrink” to millions of schoolchildren, including many preschoolers, who are now subject to various psychology-focused educational components that have been implanted in federal education legislation over the past decade.

One of the most influential ways the federal government is molding young minds is through “social and emotional learning” (SEL) programs, a prominent feature of the omnibus Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2015.

SEL has no clear definition in federal law, but many education sites tout SEL as instilling in students the necessary attitudes and skills that will supposedly enable them to manage their emotions, which in turn theoretically helps them do good things, such as showing empathy for others.

Very much in the same vein is the Strengthening Research Through Education Act (SETRA), which is currently being considered by Congress and will likely be passed soon. SETRA is a reauthorization of a George W. Bush-era law that extended the U.S. Education Department’s research arm into the collection of personal data about students and also authorized the use of linked state longitudinal databases.

Proceeding so far with minimal debate in Washington, DC, SETRA would expand federal education research to pupils’ “social and emotional learning, and the acquisition of competencies and skills, including the ability to think critically, solve complex problems, evaluate evidence, and communicate effectively.”

This kind of subjective probing of children’s attitudes, beliefs, and behavior amounts to psychological profiling that (thanks to electronic dossiers) could haunt an individual throughout a lifetime.

Dr. Karen Effrem, a pediatrician who has tracked this trend for years as the president of Education Liberty Watch, laments, “Parents are expected to submit their children to this kind of government profiling and psychological experimentation with no explanation, no way to express concern, [and no way to] opt their children out.”

Effrem also says SETRA is incredibly problematic because parents are afforded “no way to see the federally mandated assessments or to find out what private, sensitive psychological data was collected on their children as part of some online assessment and shared with some third-party vendor without their consent.”

Starting with the 2016–17 school year, the exploration of what education theorists call “the affective domain”—meaning feelings and emotions, as opposed to actual thought—will spread to the fairly well-respected National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also called the Nation’s Report Card. A background survey accompanying NAEP will attempt to assess a child’s grit and motivation, among other qualities.

If the late John Wayne showed “true grit” in his Western movies—grit being perseverance in pursuit of a goal—how in tarnation does a student exhibit that trait by filling out a federal form? The kid may be tired, he may be sick, or he might just be sick and tired of being psychoanalyzed by proxy, but his facetious answers will rank him low on the Grit-o-Meter, and if that nugget pops up some day from a database, it might cost him a job.

Parents and educators concerned about ESSA, the successor to No Child Left Behind and the latest version of the mammoth Elementary and Secondary Education Act, should watch carefully for a big push by some to advance federal preschool programs now that a $250 million program of competitive grants for state pre-K initiatives has been made permanent in federal law. This will bolster the Obama administration’s latest version of Race to the Top, the Early Learning Challenge—also known as “Baby Common Core”—which encourages the socio-emotional assessment of preschoolers.

The proposals made by two states that are eagerly seeking their cuts of the loot indicate where all this is heading: “California will offer additional provider training in assessing social-emotional learning and ensure greater access to developmental and behavioral screenings. … [Minnesota’s] existing birth-to-five child development standards will be aligned with K–12 standards, which will [be] expanded to include non-academic developmental domains for children ages five to 12,” according to a summary by the federally supported Early Learning Challenge Collaborative.

ESSA also calls for an extensive “family engagement policy,” which, according to a recent policy draft by the U.S. Departments of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services, will begin prenatally and continue “throughout a child’s developmental and educational experiences.”

Along the way, say the bureaucratic behemoths, the government must “prioritize engagement around children’s social-emotional and behavioral health.”

In plain language, this means the government will assess children every single step (or crawl) of the way, from cradle to career, to be certain they acquire all the attitudes, beliefs, and dispositions the omniscient, omnipotent government deems they must have. SEL, baby, SEL.

Uncle Shrink approves, but what about U.S. parents? Are they ready to let the government assume their child-rearing responsibilities?


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