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K-12 instruction warped by Critical Race Theory (CRT) and related social-justice radicalism has become such a flashpoint that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland threatens federal retaliation against parent dissidents. Educrats are trying to quell the rebellion by changing definitions, such as the claim, “We’re not teaching CRT, we’re using culturally responsive teaching,” which is the same thing under a different label. Another tactic is to install anodyne-sounding curricular programs that accomplish subversive social-justice goals without alerting parents to the scam.
One of the stealth programs designed to hoodwink parents is labeled “media literacy” or “information literacy.” Curricula under these banners supposedly develop students’ “ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms.” This sounds harmless enough, and perhaps even arguably useful in an age when students are chained to social media. But in practice, media literacy is actually critical media literacy, indoctrinating students to adopt only progressive principles offered by progressive media outlets.
‘The Lens of Power and Identity Groups’
As John Sailer of the National Association of Scholars has detailed, the identity politics of critical media literacy now dominates the field. The 2021 conference of the National Association for Media Literacy Education was suffused with CRT and social justice, even suggesting in its introductory documents that “media literacy is social justice.”
The workshops at the conference proved the point. Seventeen sessions followed the general theme that media literacy “should be taught through the lens of power and identity groups”—the essence of social-justice theory. According to Sailer, one workshop featured experts in “[Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion], Critical Race Theory, [and] critical media literacy” who discussed a “framework for systems change, embedding social justice and anti-racism work into media literacy education.” Another laid out a plan for “disrupting” traditional social studies practices.
For further illumination, Sailer cites the influential “The Critical Media Literacy Guide,” written by University of California at Los Angeles professors Douglas Kellner and Jeff Shares (and praised at the conference). The “Guide” argues that media must be deconstructed to undermine Western capitalist society. Like all CRT and other social-justice propaganda, the key lies in labeling individuals and institutions as either oppressor or oppressed depending on “identities.”
The “concept of intersectionality,” Kellner and Shares intone, “provides a powerful lens to uncover the intersections of oppression and domination across lines of class, race, gender, and other forms of oppression.” And of course, students must be taught to identify racism and other forms of hegemonic oppression in every media text. Neutral or, God forbid, conservative media content must be unmasked “as ideological tools that reinforce existing power structures.”
Sailer points out that in the view of critical media theorists, no area of education is off-limits to woke scrutiny. Physical education (too many boys playing sports) and music (an energizer for social protest movements) are both ripe for deconstruction with a social-justice hammer. Math, of course, hides behind the faux objectivity of numbers but actually reeks of power and oppression: “students can analyze how numbers are used to support or undermine issues with graphs and statistics, thereby demonstrating that all media, numbers, words, images, or sounds are social constructions.”
The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) maintains a webpage offering a vast array of resources from a social-justice perspective. Whether the desired indoctrination concerns issues of race, or LGBTQQ++, or climate change, or police brutality, NAMLE has just the right tool. Sailer also summarizes products of multiple media-literacy companies that are cashing in on schools’ frantic woker-than-thou sweepstakes.
Education Bureaucrats Love This Idea
One way to assess the political nature of an education program is to see how willing the federal government is to fund it. The more money, the more radically left the idea. In the case of media literacy, the Biden administration has joined the parade under the banner of “information literacy.”
In April 2021, the Biden Department of Education proposed a rule that would govern federal grants in American history and civics, giving priority to schools that teach “information literacy.” This rule also expressly endorses CRT and the CRT-saturated 1619 Project. Only after pushback from watchful commentators did Education Secretary Miguel Cardona offer assurances that the grant priorities “will not dictate or recommend specific curriculum be introduced or taught in classrooms.” This means Biden educrats will proceed to do exactly what they intended to do before the backtrack but will be more devious about it.
The information-literacy priority encourages schools to, teach students how to “[understand] their own biases when reviewing information,” “[uncover] and [recognize] bias” in media, and “recognize accurate and inaccurate information.” What could be wrong with that? Unfortunately, the patina of even-handedness obscures the reality that—as proven by Sailer’s review of instructional resources—lessons will be slanted in one direction. “Bias” will be found, but not in The New York Times or CNN. “Misinformation” will be detected, but not in the statements of Biden media flacks.
Federal Money for Leftist Ed Organizations
Media literacy is also promoted by the inexplicably bipartisan Civics Secures Democracy Act, currently pending in Congress. This bill would shower taxpayer money on outfits like the ones already producing woke media-literacy curricula, via a grant program overseen by Cardona and his radical minions at the Department of Education. Why Republicans John Cornyn in the Senate and Tom Cole in the House persist in sponsoring this Trojan horse remains a mystery.
Cornyn’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Cole offered this defense of the bill: “Since joining with my colleagues to introduce the bipartisan Civics Secures Democracy Act earlier this year, I have fought to protect the original intention of the legislation, including from Biden Administration efforts promoting critical race theory in existing programs. At its core, the legislation is designed to combat the alarming decline in knowledge of U.S. history and civics and fading American pride of our youngest citizens. As introduced, this legislation would strengthen and expand access to civics and history education through federal grants to support teaching of these subjects without mandating a national curriculum. I will continue to closely monitor any future attempts by the Administration to undermine the goals of this legislation and protect the worthwhile efforts to expand civics education and knowledge.”
Given the department’s expressed preference for radical leftism in civics education, the idea that “monitoring” Cardona and comrades will prevent them from using these new billions to implement their agenda may be a bit optimistic.
The unhappy truth is that the progressive-education establishment is devoted to its leftist ideology and will go to extreme ends to implement it. If that requires lying to parents or to Congress, then parents and Congress will be lied to. Parents must examine every course of instruction, every program, to ensure it isn’t another means of sucking children into the toxic World of Woke.
Jane Robbins is an attorney and a retired senior fellow with the American Principles Project in Washington DC. She is a graduate of Clemson University and the Harvard Law School.Copyright © 2021 The Federalist, a wholly independent division of FDRLST Media, All Rights Reserved.
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