Earlier this month, a parents' advocacy group in Tennessee filed suit in Franklin to challenge their school board's adoption of a language arts curriculum known as "Wit & Wisdom." Parents' Choice Tennessee says the curriculum, created and published by Great Minds (see sidebar), violates the Volunteer State's laws against the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) and Common Core.
A Statement from Great Minds Leadership Team:
"In this moment and always, Great Minds® remains focused on one of the most powerful ways to dismantle racism: challenging educational inequities with knowledge-rich solutions for every student, every day. We are educators on a mission to flood classrooms with powerful antidotes to racism: knowledge and intellectual curiosity. That includes examining not only fractions, functions, and phenomena, but also the struggle for equity.
"Great Minds confronts injustice by standing with fellow educators who insist that every child in America be taught to the highest standards. We know that all children deserve to go into the world fortified with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to chart their own course to change the world. And our curricula are specifically designed to achieve that end.
"Yet we realize that a knowledge curriculum is just the beginning. Great Minds does not tolerate racism in any form. We commit to our Black coworkers and partners to continue a thoughtful, challenging dialogue about race. We commit to engaging as a team to continuously increase the equity and inclusiveness of our work together. We commit to fighting, every day, for what we know is true: Every child is capable of greatness."
The parents' complaint alleges the language arts curriculum is "replete with age-inappropriate materials which promote a skewed and racist view of history and portrays one race as inherently superior to another, or inherently privileged and oppressive." Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the Williamson County Board of Education, its superintendent and assistant superintendent, and the Tennessee state education commissioner.
When parents associated with Parents' Choice Tennessee began seeing things in the school they considered race-focused and divisive, they reached out to Jennifer McWilliams – a leading expert on how Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is infiltrating schools. The Wit & Wisdom program had her full attention because she recognized it is an SEL program.
"Wit & Wisdom is a social emotional program that uses a framework from CASEL – the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning," she explains to AFN.
"The framework from CASEL attempts to transform the minds of children, getting them to think of their role as privileged or oppressed," she continues. "The goal is to get them to start making decisions based on that role, and activate them to become advocates for this ideology in American society."
According to McWilliams' affidavit in the lawsuit, Wit & Wisdom teaches CRT to students "through purposeful, psychological manipulation with a focus on empathy towards systemic racism/oppression and personal stories of racism/oppression."
The parental rights advocate argues that school districts across the U.S. are being transformed by CRT and SEL.
"This program violates the Tennessee law [against CRT] because it's essentially teaching children to believe and adopt the viewpoint of a critical race theorist," she continues. "And while teachers may not be teaching children CRT by name, it often represents the same program."
She adds: "The silver lining of the CRT ban [in Tennessee] is that CRT and SEL are one in the same."
McWilliams hopes the class-action lawsuit will have a "domino effect" and "lead the way for other states that have banned CRT to duplicate it because it doesn't matter what SEL program a school uses." There are hundreds of such programs, she warns: "[And] 99% of them use the same framework from CASEL."
Such programs are dangerous, she says, because they're dividing people into groups.
"They pit people against each other based on status in society or identity," she explains. "[But] like CRT, the whole idea behind them is to dismantle all of the inequitable systems."
To parents who think it won't affect their children, McWilliams ends with a warning: "SEL is in over 90% of public schools in America."
Editor's note: A little more than two years ago, Jennifer McWilliams was fired from her teaching position in Indiana after publicly questioning the motives of her school's SEL program.