The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The worst-governed state now turns to indoctrination

The Illinois state Capitol in Springfield in April 2020.
The Illinois state Capitol in Springfield in April 2020. (Daniel Acker/For The Washington Post)

An earlier version of this column stated the State Board of Education’s “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading” program was reworded Feb. 1. The wording was approved in December. This version has been updated.

The worst-governed state — Illinois had triple the population loss of the state with the second-highest out-migration between 2010 and 2020 — is contemplating another incentive for flight. On Feb. 16, a joint committee of the state legislature will decide whether to turn into a legal requirement the State Board of Education’s recommendation that — until a slight rewording — would mandate that all public-school teachers “embrace and encourage progressive viewpoints and perspectives.” If the board’s policy is ratified, Illinois will become a place congenial only for parents who are comfortable consigning their children to “education” that is political indoctrination, audaciously announced and comprehensively enforced.

Imposing uniformity of thought is the board of education’s agenda for “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading” (CRTL). This builds upon Illinois’ 2015 law requiring teachers to implement “action civics,” which means leading their pupils in activism on behalf of various causes. CRTL would make explicit that only woke causes are worthy causes.

Fortunately, a member of the state legislature’s joint committee, Rep. Steve Reick (R), is resisting CRTL. He notes that it will further burden teachers with mandates, and diminish teachers’ autonomy and hence job satisfaction, during the state’s teacher shortage: At the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, Illinois schools were short 2,000 teachers. Already mandated teaching subjects include Black history, women’s history, the “history, roles, and contributions of the LGBT community,” anti-bias and anti-bullying, “disability history and awareness,” “social and emotional learning,” “violence prevention and conflict resolution,” and “contributions of a number of defined ethnic groups made to Illinois and the U.S.” Literature, science, writing, arithmetic? Presumably, if there is any spare time.

Chicago’s public schools are already implementing the curriculum of the 1619 Project, the malevolently conceived and incompetently executed New York Times lens for seeing U.S. history as all about racism. After the project won a Pulitzer Prize with the splashy contention that the nation’s true founding was the arrival of enslaved people in Virginia 402 years ago, the Times revised its demonstrably absurd contention that protecting slavery was a “primary reason” for the American Revolution. Instead, the Times said “some” colonists rebelled to defend slavery, and termed this a “small” revision.

Regarding CRTL, the state board of education has flinched. Sort of. It has made a cosmetic change in the CRTL, substituting “inclusive” for “progressive.” So, if the joint legislative committee affirms CRTL, Illinois law will demand that teachers adhere to “viewpoints and perspectives” that are “inclusive” rather than “progressive.” This semantic sleight-of-hand reflects the board’s belief that people are too dimwitted to recognize a distinction without a difference: “Inclusive” is obviously a synonym for “progressive,” given the high-octane progressivism that saturates CRTL.

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CRTL would require teachers to (the following jargon salad is standard progressive patois) “assess how their biases . . . affect . . . how they access tools to mitigate their own behavior (racism, sexism, homophobia, unearned privilege, Eurocentrism, etc.)” Stanley Kurtz of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center notes that CRTL promises that its ideology will infuse the licensing and certification processes for aspiring teachers. This will be a coercive incentive to adhere to the progressive catechism, including the principle that systemic oppression and racism can always be detected in nonprogressive policies.

The national activists behind CRTL are determined that if it happens in Illinois, it will not be confined to Illinois. Although Justice Louis Brandeis called states laboratories of democracy, they can also be laboratories of government-mandated conformity. Trickling down from graduate schools to kindergartens, a common academic culture has oozed evenly across the country, and into CRTL, which would tell teachers to “intentionally embrace,” among much else, “the wide spectrum and fluidity of identities.” Teachers who doubt that there are many genders would not be welcome in Illinois, or in other states where educators, gripped by academic fads, emulate Illinois. So, the resistance of Reick and others to CRTL, which will culminate Feb. 16, in Springfield, Ill., might be of more long-term importance than anything that will come from Congress this year. It certainly matters more to one state.

While the Midwest was gaining 1.3 million residents between 2010 and 2020, Illinois was losing 253,015 — more than double the population of the capital, Springfield. The out-migration has been accelerating: From July 2019 to July 2020, almost 80,000 Illinoisans departed.

It is normal for families, when making their largest investment, the purchase of a house, to be strongly influenced by the quality of nearby schools. Where will many families choose to reside if Illinois effectively outlaws schools that deviate from monotone, monochrome progressivism? Elsewhere.

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