by Bonnie Pritchett
Southern Baptist Texan
AUSTIN—An Austin Independent School District anti-bullying curriculum celebrates diversity and requires inclusivity by abolishing children’s and teachers’ “biased” notions of family and gender norms. “Welcoming Schools: Creating Safe and Supportive Environments for All Students,” which is taught to students as young as 4 years old, affirms same-sex marriage and parenting, gay and lesbian relationships, and transgenderism.
A national LGBT advocacy organization, Human Rights Campaign, drafted “Welcoming Schools” as a means of getting sexually and politically sensitive and controversial material into the nation’s classrooms. Billed as an “anti-bullying” program, school districts across the nation, including AISD, have incorporated it into their curriculum. Critics say the curriculum—and the broader initiative of social and emotional learning (SEL) in which it is embedded—ignores the conflict foisted upon teachers required to teach it and students whose understanding of family and human sexuality are grounded in religious or familial convictions.
“It is not the school’s job to teach or find out what a child feels about sexuality or religion, and especially to usurp parental obligation and authority in order to teach a child what they see as right and proper,” said Cindy Asmussen, advisor to the Texas Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee.
Former AISD preschool teacher Caryl Ayala said the curriculum crosses a line. During her elementary school campus’s in-service training before the start of the 2015-16 school year, Ayala’s team of pre-school teachers was told to “come up with a definition of homosexual love” that a 4-year-old child could understand. The request was made of all grade level instructors.
Ayala said many of the teachers considered the program a burden on their already overloaded plates; there would be little if any time to implement yet another lesson into their weekly plans. Still others, like Ayala, considered the
LGBT-affirming messages an affront to their consciences and, most likely, to their students’ families as well.
Parents and faith leaders, not classroom teachers, should address issues of human sexuality, gay marriage, and transgenderism with the children, she said.
Who gets bullied?
According to stopbullying.gov, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, students are most likely bullied because of their looks. The research cited in the AISD “Welcoming Schools” lesson plans corroborated the government statistics: the majority of bullied students are targeted for their “looks” (55 percent), “body shape” (37 percent), or race (16 percent). By comparison other students were targeted for being LGBT (14 percent); for family income (13 percent); for religion (12 percent); and disability (8 percent).
The TEXAN questioned AISD about the curriculum’s content and the need for an additional anti-bullying program that assists only LGBT students. In response, the district stated, “Austin ISD’s philosophy is to educate the whole child. That includes helping students understand and express their emotions in constructive ways. Through a variety of innovative programs such as social and emotional learning, anti-bullying programs and a restorative justice approach to discipline, students are taught to be inclusive of people different from them and to treat them with respect.”
The TEXAN obtained lesson plans used for introducing “Welcoming Schools” to teachers and, ultimately, their students. Module 1, “What is a Family?” begins with the deconstruction of the traditional family as the societal norm. It cites statistics on how many children are raised outside of the two-parent (Mom and Dad) home and features a film narrated by 6-12-year-old children talking about their same-sex parents or their parents’ gay friends.
In module 4, “What is Gender? Examining the Continuum of Gender Identification, Gender Expression, and Stereotypes,” teachers are asked to answer questions about their preconceived ideas about gender (i.e. gender bias). The lesson states, “By embracing the richness of the gender spectrum, teachers and other adults can help broaden children’s understandings of gender in order to help every child feel seen and recognized.”
By Module 5 children are told they can choose their gender identity even if that identity conflicts with biological reality. Questioning the child’s choice of gender is not an option for teachers or students.
The possibility that the lessons might conflict with the consciences and faith convictions of AISD teachers, students and families is never acknowledged in the modules.
Asmussen said “Welcoming Schools” curriculum highlights a bigger problem of progressive educational overreach. Promoted as a means of helping students achieve academic success through character development, an initiative known as social and emotional learning (SEL) is being introduced nationwide.
The Collaborative for Academic, Emotional, and Social Learning (CASEL) is one purveyor of the ideologically driven program and in 2011 tapped Austin ISD to pilot the program. Today the SEL initiative is on all 129 campuses and is being introduced in El Paso, Houston and Dallas school districts.
Asmussen said the SEL educational model is another iteration of the 1990’s Outcome Based Education that required educators to teach and test students’ attainment of subjective character traits. She has presented her findings to lawmakers and special interest groups warning them against the “social engineering” of SEL programs marketed as educational tools for building character and enhancing learning.
“That’s how they sell it,” Jane Robbins, an attorney and senior fellow with the American Principles Project, told the TEXAN. “You can say that to a very conservative and a very liberal legislator, and they would agree.”
Asmussen said CASEL “competency goals” are laudable: developing self-awareness, social awareness, interpersonal relationships, and decision-making skills. But Texas educators and legislators must ask whose character development standards are being taught as normative and what will be done with a student’s test results?
A review of the organizations that supply CASEL’s curriculum and that fund the non-profit organization reveal a consortium of social and political progressives. Robbins said CASEL “partners with organizations that openly seek to change the world in areas such as health care, climate regulation, and sexual politics.”
Asmussen encouraged parents and teachers to proactively stave off the introduction of “Welcoming Schools” and social and emotional learning initiatives in their districts.
“There are already good character education programs to be found that stay clear of social and political agendas,” Asmussen said. “We must demand more transparency in our schools and focus on academics; provide clear, parent-approved guidelines for character education; and protect against over-sexualization in the classrooms.”
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