Free Speech

The Exploitation of Young Minds

How indoctrination shortchanges K-12 students.


At the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), our longstanding concerns about the deteriorating free speech culture in higher education led to the suspicion that many of these pernicious problems originate before students ever set foot on campus. This spurred us to expand our organizational aims to include high school outreach, in order to teach younger students the value and importance of their — and their peers' — precious First Amendment rights.

From coast to coast, we're seeing documented cases of heavy-handed thought reform efforts in K-12 education that substantiate our long held concerns. A situation that has been festering for decades at a level of low-grade chronicity reached acute levels this past school year, as demonstrated by levels of school board engagement and vituperation that we haven't seen before in our lifetimes.

Paying attention to the K-12 landscape uncovers problematic patterns ranging from activist educators rebelling against traditional ethical restraints to a willingness to denigrate anyone — including children — who dares to verbalize doubt, disagreement, or even lack of sufficiently enthusiastic proactive agreement. Some assertive teachers are hanging uncomfortably presumptive "We Believe" posters in their classrooms while some schools — mainly private — have adopted highly prescriptive collective belief statements or commitments with insufficient discussion or buy-in from the school community.

It certainly doesn't help that the training new teachers receive is so precipitously one-sided, as we discussed in a recent podcast episode with English professor Lyell Asher, writer of an important article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the steepening tilt of American Education Schools.

Then, there's the impact of the teacher unions, who can make it very difficult for conflicted teachers to dissent when they take official, unilateral stands on charged political issues, such as supporting Black Lives Matter at school or resolving that educators "must acknowledge" the existence of white supremacy culture as a primary root cause of racism and white privilege.

Already, this school year, we've seen the Tik Tok teacher who giggled about removing the American flag from her classroom because it made her "uncomfortable" and suggested that students could instead face a gay pride flag she had hung in her classroom while saying the pledge. Then there was the chemistry teacher who defiantly dared her students to report her to her supervisors after she went on a tangential rant about the former president, the unvaccinated, and climate change while informing her class that they don't have to do what their parents say because "most of y'all parents are dumber than you." She also took care to warn students who disagree with her opinions to "keep it quiet" or risk open ridicule. Students accepted her challenge to "tattle" on her, and she was relieved of her teaching duties.

And then there's the high school history teacher caught on tape explaining how he uses his access to children to radicalize them: "I have 180 days to turn them into revolutionaries," he said, directing attention to the Antifa flag on his classroom wall. Instead of a picture of the current or former presidents of the United States, he also used a portrait of Mao to decorate his room. He boasts of using the lure of extra credit and intimidation ("scare the f*ck out of them") to recruit students to events promoting causes he supports.

And while these teachers openly shared what they are up to in their classes (although some apparently were filmed without their knowledge); in other cases, teachers and even districts have been caught concealing their ideological commitments and curricular aims from parents in a tremendous breach of fiduciary trust, and in complete abandonment of the principle of acting in loco parentis. It's hard to imagine a more effective way to pit parents against teachers and schools and to corrode the trust upon which support for K-12 education depends.

As FIRE's Director of High School Outreach, I have the opportunity to speak with students, parents, and concerned educators throughout the country, at disciplinary and other events where teachers gather. From this vantage point, I've collected an amazing array of stories and assembled moral, legal, philosophical, pedagogical, emotional and developmental arguments explaining why current teaching enthusiasms often fall short of exemplary practices and undermine the goal of cultivating critical thinkers capable of self-government in a democratic society.

While it will always be tempting for some educators and school authorities to exploit their access to other citizens' children to attempt to enact cherished partisan ends, we must restore the Golden Rule to our pedagogical practices: Do not do to your neighbors' children what you would not have them do to yours. This means respecting your neighbors' rights to impart their own values and ethics to their own children, the same way that you would expect them to respect your right to do the same, even when you may profoundly disagree with those parents' politics or outlook.

In the next installment, we'll take a look at some K-12 lawsuits that have recently been filed and at legislative efforts to rein in so-called "divisive concepts" (also known as "anti-CRT" bills) in American schools.

NEXT: Revelation of Plaintiff's Gambling Addiction Doesn't Justify Pseudonymity or Sealing

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  1. "From coast to coast, we're seeing documented cases of heavy-handed thought reform efforts in K-12 education that substantiate our long held concerns."


    "Georgia Teacher Pulled from Classroom for Anti-Obama Rant."
    Murphy, Doyle. (April 28, 2015.) New York Daily News.

    "GA Teacher Allegedly Tells Students their Parents are Evil if they Voted for Obama."
    Eromosele, Diana. (April 29, 2015.) The Root.

    "Anti-Obama Teacher is Placed on Leave in Alabama."
    Shuler, Roger. (May 19, 2010.) Daily Kos.

    "Teacher Suspended for President Obama Assassination Lesson."
    (May 19, 2010.) The Guardian.

    Hmmmm....maybe FIRE is on to something here.

    1. Yeah, lots of self-focused people who think the students are there to serve them instead of them being there to serve the students and the community they work for.

      That attitude seems endemic to people on government payrolls in the US.

    2. All this began after some diverses burned down the cities. Zero tolerance for this Chinese Commie Party attempt to destroy our country from within. I oppose violence, but it seems to be persuasive to the elite lawyers running this country. If the courts and legislatures refuse to stop this attack on our country, start kicking educator ass. Sorry, but corporal punishment is effective at persuasion.

    3. Where is your list of teachers removed for Trump hate? You are making the point.

    4. Any teacher who spends non-trivial amounts of classroom time on anything -- anything -- not germane to the class in question can be told to STFU or face discipline. (A bit of discretion is appropriate. An administrator who cracks down on a teacher who spends 30 seconds on "can you believe how [local sports team] blew the game last night?" is technically within his or her rights but ought to lighten up.) Of course, you have to be even-handed about it. Does anyone really disagree?

  2. Get government out of education.

    1. Public schools have been one of the great drivers of American success and progress for centuries. Some antisocial, disaffected misfits apparently can't stand it.

      1. Artie, where do you work, and when are you going to be replaced by an illegal diverse, Boomer? Diversity is the strength of our country.

        Why can't you answer this question of personal contribution to diversity? Shove your elite education and resume, it is just white supremacy.

      2. There is nothing successful about it. It is the greatest failure in American history. Americans are painfully stupid; you're a walking, talking example of that phenomena. Ironic, huh?

        1. Don't mix up wisdom and intelligence.

          Public education has been amazing, if you compare to the illiterate innumerate days before.

          Unwise people will always be with us.

          1. You are referring to the 1800's. We are now in the 2000's. Time to improve our education.

        2. You are a defeated, deplorable, bigoted right-wing loser, I Callahan.

          You seethe against modern America, with all of its damnable progress, education, tolerance, science, modernity, freedom, inclusiveness, and reason. You pine for illusory good old days. You resent the degree to which ugly, bigoted, stale thinking has been rejected by the modern American mainstream and removed from our public affairs by better people.

          You come to this polemical, low-grade conservative blog -- with its scant, receding academic veneer, misappropriated from strong mainstream institutions that reject right-wing preferences and delusions -- to huddle for warmth with many like-minded misfits.

          You seethe anew when any reality-based content -- Prof. Somin's libertarianism, commenters' mainstream views -- interferes with this safe space for disffected clingers.

          Public education is a pillar of American greatness. Failure to embrace it is a reliable indicator of a lousy person who will become increasingly alienated as our nation progresses.

          Then, replacement. By your betters.

          No wonder you are so cranky.

        3. Remember Muphry's Law? The word you're trying to use is "phenomenon." Though there's a good argument for not using it at all.

          1. Backwater religious schooling has consequences . . . or "phenonema," apparently.

            Smacking these yahoos around is becoming too easy. It's barely sporting.

      3. Artie, the average student in Korea outperforms our Honor Students. American education is in failure. Why? Thanks to the lawyer profession. They destroyed school discipline with ruinous litigation, supported by scumbag judges. They destroyed standards as racist in the 1980's. Now they want to destroy our country as servants of the Chinese Commie Party.

        1. re; Korea
          My daughter has a good friend that taught there for 10 years.
          As a private tutor.
          Most parents spent about $10k per year on tutors...on top of the public schools. Education was the key to the next level. Parents knew that. The parents also took responsibility for their childs education, and did much more than 'drop them off at the school house door'. That's the reason Asians do so much better academically. It's cultural, and hard work is not unusual, it is as common as breathing. I haven't heard of Asians taking a gap year because the "earned" it.

          1. The Korean high school grad can probably be admitted into the 3rd year of college.

            That is what I propose in my book, Adult at 14. Move school up 2 years. Leave school for a vocation at 14. That means entering law school at 15, not going to another scam waste of time, liberal college.

    2. The Failure of American Public Education

      Government is wholly unsuited to teach America’s students.

      Many American critics believe that the major problem with public education today is a lack of focus on results. Students aren’t expected to meet high standards, the argument goes, and the process of education takes precedence over analyzing education results in policy-making circles.

      This is a valid argument (as far as it goes). Indeed, it can be taken one important step further. We not only fail to hold individual students accountable for poor performance, we have also failed to hold the entire government-controlled school system accountable for its performance since at least World War II. Public education is itself a failure. Why shouldn’t individual students follow its example?

      The history of reform efforts in American public education is replete with half-hearted measures, with almost comical misdiagnoses of education problems, with blame-shifting, and with humbug. Everyone is an expert (most have, of course, suffered through the very system they want to reform). At any one time during the course of school reform, an illusion of debate often obscures a surprising consensus on the heralded “magic bullet” of the decade—be it school centralization or progressive education or preschool education or computerizing the classroom—that will solve America’s education problems. These magic bullets always misfire. But instead of changing their weapon, policy-makers simply put another round in the chamber, foolishly believing that the newest fad will succeed despite the failures of its predecessors.

  3. Dr. Snyder,

    How can you insist that you’re trying to undoctrinate students when your own website is filled with a one-sided approach to education? How can we take you seriously as an open-minded educator when your entire program is based around praising capitalism and (your) Christian values (I won’t use the ridiculous made up concept of our “Judeo-Christian” heritage since, well, Jews were sidelined and persecuted by Christian society up until very recently) and denigrating other systems? How is making sure students understand that socialism violates the 10th commandment and is a sin not indoctrination? How is trashing Marx and socialist thinkers and only suggesting people read Rand Hayek and the Bible and not the actual thinkers you oppose yourself? I mean I didn’t see anything in their that seemed to countenance criticism of capitalism or the values you like, even though such a thing might be considered important in an open society.

    Also, not for nothing, but have you ever read anything by Martin Luther King Jr., or are you even aware that he said a lot of things besides that one quote you use to justify why you think he wouldn’t like Critical Race Theory? Like he wrote and said a lot of stuff that basically gets at similar points CRT does.

    1. Maybe kindergarten students should focus on the alphabet and on counting, you Commie traitor.

    2. Jews were sidelined and persecuted by Christian society up until very recently

      Not by this Christian society!

      The Founders would not have scoffed at the notion of "our Judeo-Christian heritage."

      1. Did the Founders scoff at the notion of slavery, or at the use of leeches as medicine, or at the thought of the Kraken?

  4. This kind of anecdotal partisan hyperbole does FIRE no service to lend their name to.

    1. FFS this links to a Project Veritas sting.

        1. The Volokh Conspiracy: The best conservative academia can be.


          Very ouch.

          1. Hi, Boomer. Time to be replaced at your job by an illegal diverse.

    2. Right. As a long time fan of FIRE it greatly concerns me that this individual has some apparently major role in their organization. I mean this kind of anti-CRT paranoia leads to actual book-bannings, as shown here:

      The board relented after local back-lash and national
      scrutiny, but the “freeze” lasted over the year; only related to authors of color or books about people of color and included things like a children’s book telling the story of Rosa Parks and Malala’s autobiography. The school board President said this fact was “just a coincidence.”

      And then there is the push to get rid of a black principal with a white wife in Texas under the guise of being anti-CRT.

      You’d think someone associated with FIRE would be concerned with the actual book-banning and firings the anti-CRT movement is leading to.

  5. NEWSFLASH: Highly biased person thinks anyone who disagrees with her is highly biased and - goddammit! - the government should do something to shut those people up.

  6. My local school district has gone full "antiracism" (etc.) but a student I talked to didn't even notice. It's hard for me to tell if the politics is aimed at the parents rather than the children, or if the teachers are really bad at indoctrination.

    What parents heard on January 7: The students got a lesson on how we all inherit the sin of what our predecessors did to the Wampanoag.
    What students heard on January 7: Here are some pictures of things that happened in Washington yesterday.

    Maybe it wasn't the Wampanoag. Some tribe that 400 years ago lived in or passed through what later became Massachusetts.

  7. This foolishness must strain the very concept of public education. Parents will rebel and take their children out of public schools. If they amass enough political power, they can vote down taxpayer finance of public schools.

    1. This foolishness are anecdotes, and not really indicative of what's actually going on.

      That's why pushes to actually end public schools aren't really on the rise. Because this is not real; it's another manufactured outrage.

  8. And the (attempted) indoctrination continues!

    Two Students Arrested and Suspended After Refusing to Stand for National Anthem, Says Mother

  9. We had a viable solution to this problem a generation ago - universal school vouchers.

    Public schools were fine back in the day when there was no private educational infrastructure in this new country and education up to what we call grade 12 was far from a societal norm. Now there is no reason to maintain a government monopoly over the entire sector, especially one beholden to a union.

    If you want your kid go to a hippie school where they talk about white guilt and CRT, go right ahead. Use your voucher. If you want your kid to go to a science based school because that seems to be their interest - great use your voucher. If a school sucks and no one wants to go there, well the people voted with their pocketbook. School closes and everyone moves on to another one including the teachers that were good at their job.

    The only people who oppose vouchers are Dems, the teacher unions, school administrators that would otherwise have no job in the private sector, and bad teachers.

    1. Open wider, Jimmy.

  10. I'm sorry, but in the country that gave us pledging allegiance to the flag, nobody gets to complain about other indoctrination of high school students.

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