briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Tuesday, August 6, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

“Worse than You Imagine” — California Introduces New ‘Ethnic Studies’ Model Curriculum for High Schools

As millions of American students get ready to go back into the classroom, as both students and teachers are preparing for a new school year, it’s important for us to understand why education is not only so important, but why it is so controversial. It’s because if you control the curriculum, if you control the educational system, if you control the schools, you eventually control the direction of the culture.

That just reminds us what’s at stake. First, we’re going to turn to the state of California where that state is now considering an ethnic studies curriculum for the public schools, particularly for the high schools in that state. It’s one of those stories that catches you by surprise, but upon reflection, probably shouldn’t. California is one of the most liberal areas of the United States. It is, of course, the nation’s most populous state.

What’s important for us to understand is that what happens in California schools doesn’t stay there. California, for decades, has had an outsize influence on such things as curriculum and textbooks because if a textbook is adopted in California, it is going to produce a great deal of revenue. It’s likely also to be adopted elsewhere.

Similarly, curricular changes that take place in California are very often copied at least in other progressive school districts. The story in California has to do with the fact that the government there, the state government, has mandated a new ethnic studies curriculum for the high schools in the state, and now the authorities have released a model curriculum, and it’s a model alright. It’s a model of what happens when people want to take the public schools and turn them even more into engines of social and moral transformation.

The Wall Street Journal recently drew attention to this curriculum in an article by Williamson M. Evers. The headline: “California Wants to Teach Your Kids That Capitalism Is Racist.” It does, by the way, but that turns out to be only one of the problems represented in this model curriculum.

Evers writes, “California’s Education Department has issued an ethnic studies model curriculum and is soliciting public comments on it until August 15. The legislatively mandated guide,” he writes, “is a resource for teachers who want to instruct their students in the field of ethnic studies and was written by an advisory board of teachers, academics, and bureaucrats.” His next line, “It’s as bad as you imagine.” Well, actually, I’m going to argue it’s probably worse than you can imagine.

Evers continues, “Ethnic studies is described in the document as ‘the interdisciplinary study of race, ethnicity, and indigeneity with an emphasis upon experiences of people of color in the United States.’” But Evers goes on to say that’s not all it is. “It is the study of intersectional and ancestral roots, coloniality, hegemony, and a dignified world where many worlds fit for present and future generations.”

The document from the State Board goes on to say that ethnic studies is also the “x-disciplinary, loving, and critical praxis of holistic humanity.” What it is, is an agenda for absolute social transformation in the United States. Evers goes on to say, “The document is filled with fashionable academic jargon like ‘positionalities,’ ‘hybridities,’ ‘nepantlas,’ and ‘misogynoir.’ It includes faddish social-science lingo like ‘cisheteropatriarchy’ that may make sense to radical university professors and activists, but doesn’t mean much to the regular folks,” he writes, “who send their children to California’s public schools.” He concludes, “It is difficult to comprehend the depth and breadth of the ideological bias and misrepresentations without reading the whole curriculum, something few will want to do.”

Well, I didn’t want to do it, but I did it, and what I found is what I said, an absolute agenda for transforming the United States of America into a very different country, a very different culture. It is actually virtually impossible to read even the opening sentences allowed for reasons I’m going to explain. I’m going to do my best.

The text says, “As early as the 1970’s, some California public high schools began offering ethnic studies, positing that courses in the field would provide an opportunity to engage the hxrstory, cultures, contributions, perspectives, and experiences of groups that have been overlooked, historically marginalized, and often subjected to invisibility within mainstream courses.”

Now, I read it, but it’s not really readable, and it’s because the word that you have to pronounce something like history is actually spelled in this text H-X-R-S-T-O-R-Y, and that word, which is supposed to mean interdisciplinary, which shows ex-disciplinary. It’s explained by a footnote on page one of the model curriculum. “Throughout this model, curriculum language is used that deliberately offers an alternative to traditional wording that could have a particular context within the dominant culture.” It goes on to say, “More information about these terms can be found in the glossary.”

We’ll turn to the glossary indeed in a moment, but first I want to turn to page two of the curriculum where the ethnic studies field—remember, we’re talking about the public schools, the high schools in California—the document states, “The field critically grapples with the various power structures and forms of oppression, including but not limited to white supremacy, race and racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia that continue to impact the social, emotional, cultural, economic, and political experiences of native peoples and people of color.”

You’ll note that right here on page two, it basically says that the agenda is the transformation of the culture. The background is the claim that the culture primarily represents forms of oppression. It goes on, again, to use that word ‘ex’ in front of disciplinary saying the ethnic studies is that “in that it variously takes the forms of being interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, transdisciplinary, undisciplinary, and intradisciplinary.”

That’s the kind of language of someone who just wants to use big words in order to indicate that what they mean is this is about whatever the dominant educational authorities in those schools want it to mean. It means turning all the disciplines upside-down and inside-out. One of the things you come to understand in this is that what you are looking at is the rewriting of history, the redefining of reality. “As such, it can grow its original language to serve these needs with purposeful re-spellings of terms.” That’s “purposeful re-spellings” that would be in any previous generation known as a wrong spelling, “including history as ‘herstory’ and women as W-O-M-X-N”— I’m not going to pronounce that the way they want it pronounced. I’m just going to spell it—”connecting with a gender and sexuality lens along with a socioeconomic class lens at three of its intersections. Terms utilized about this document which may be unfamiliar to new practitioners of the field are,” again, it states, “defined in the glossary.”

Let’s just interject here a footnote. If you have to provide a massive glossary just to define the terms you are using for a model curriculum for high school students, then you have a big problem, but of course, the worldview behind this assumes that even the English language itself is just thoroughly corrupted by patriarchy, and oppression, and colonialism, and has to be transformed.

But as we’ve seen even in the last few days, within the transformation of these terms, they now don’t even mean what perhaps any more than one individual means them to mean. We’re living in a post-modern world in which people can come up with their own truth and demand that that truth be respected in almost any circumstance, now even including spelling. The State Board there in California is coming up with its new spellings requiring its new glossary. Why would students not be able to do the very same thing?

The model curriculum actually dates the emergence of ethnic studies back to the radical movements of the 1960’s, including the emergence of the Third World Liberation Front, known in the document as TWLF. Also, in the 1960’s and the 1970’s, very liberal educational theorists emerged very much identified with the cultural and with the revolutionary left. They were mostly influential in the periphery of the schools back then, but they’re now cited as the central authorities in this new model curriculum.

By the time you get to page 15 of 26, so the first section of the model curriculum, parents emerge, but only in the context of being a problem. The text states, “Beyond content, it is important that ethnic studies educators are knowledgeable of the context in which the course is being taught. Here are some dynamics an ethnic studies educator might consider. Is the course being taught in a district where parents or community members are hostile to the field?” Well, you’ll notice what the setup is there. If parents are opposed to the field, if they have any complaints about the curriculum, they’re just mired in the patriarchy and oppressive structures that the course is supposed to oppose and reveal anyway.

Now, you might think, in this kind of model curriculum, what you would see would be high school students taught and encouraged to develop a spirit of critical inquiry, critical thinking, to come to their own understandings of these issues, but as we should note, the model curriculum presents only one side. The entire purpose of the curriculum is to serve an agenda of overcoming oppression.

For example, in the section of the model curriculum affirming intersectionality, that concept, which we’ve covered thoroughly on The Briefing, is defined as “capturing how multiple identities, race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, etc. overlap or intersect, creating unique experiences, especially for those navigating multiple marginalized or oppressed identities. Intersectionality,” it states, “helps students better understand the nuances around identity and provides them with skills to be able to engage and advocate for and with communities on the margins of the margins. Finally, further, it helps those with privilege at different intersections recognize their societal advantages in these areas and build solidarity with oppressed groups.”

Rather than a serious engagement with what are undeniably serious moral issues of history and society, what you have here is just a total immersion in critical theory and the most radical ideologies of the left, and what comes with it, of course, are the learning experiences or opportunities. One of the learning tools identified in the document on page 22 is what’s known as the privilege walk defined as, “An activity that allows students to confront aspects of potential personal privilege and learn about the challenges that others face that they may not have considered.”

Now, again, some of these questions could be taken in serious moral terms, but that’s not the case in the privilege walk. I went online to get a copy of the actual exercise, and it looks almost like a parody of what you would think a privilege walk might be. Students are invited to stand together and to start out in the same place, but they’d take steps forward or steps backward depending on whether they supposedly are representing a gain of privilege or a loss of privilege. But when you consider things like this, recognize this statement in its importance. “If you were told that you were beautiful, smart, and capable by your parents, take one step forward.”

Now, there is no doubt that students are encouraged by their parents, or for that matter, students that have parents are at an advantage over students that do not, but defining this as privilege indicates that it is somehow undeserved, unearned, and something that should be overcome. Now, again, there could be a serious moral consideration of what this means for children and young people in a classroom together, but this kind of exercise is really just about bringing guilt upon those who come from a two-parent family, had parents that encouraged them, and for example, had parents that took them to an art museum or something. Are they now supposed to apologize that their parents loved them, and took care of them, and raised them, and disciplined them, and clothed them?

Having concern for children who do not have these things would be a serious moral consideration, but that’s not what’s going on here, but I’m going to leave the curriculum per se for a moment and go to that infamous glossary. It’s massive. It’s 22 pages long. It includes words and definitions such as this, ‘anthropocentrism’—that’s a real word, by the way in academic discourse—it is defined as “the belief that human beings are the most important entity or species in the universe or human centeredness.” The issue here is to recognize not that ‘anthropocentrism’ is a word we shouldn’t use, but that the worldview behind it in this definition is that human beings aren’t the most important entity or species in the universe and that it is a form of oppression to think so.

Now, remember that that headline in the Wall Street Journal was this: “California Wants to Teach Your Kids That Capitalism is Racist.” That sounds extreme. Well, it’s actually extremely accurate. Here’s from the glossary. The word ‘capitalism’ is defined. Here’s the definition: “An economic and political system in which industry and trade are based on a free market and largely controlled by private companies instead of the government. Within ethnic studies,” says the definition, “scholars are often very critical, the system of capitalism, as research has shown that native people and people of color are disproportionately exploited within the system.” The next sentence, “In a capitalist economy, surplus value (as profit) is generated from human labor and everything is commodified.”

Now, of course, one of the ironies in this that is losing its irony in California is the fact that it’s a state that has a massive budget that is funded after all by capitalism, but in this model curriculum, the state’s educational system proposes to define capitalism as the problem. Remember that statement where it says that capitalism is a system in which industry and trade are based on a free market controlled by private companies “instead of the government?” That’s presented as the problem as if the obvious right answer is for the government to be in total control of the economy, including the means of production. That final sentence and the definition implying that human labor is being exploited and that everything is commodified is just classical Marxism showing up, of all things, in a model curriculum for California’s public schools.

Part II

‘Hxrstory’ and ‘Cisheteropatriarchy’? A Look at the Jargon Too Ridiculous for Even the LA Times

Now, the Wall Street Journal is understandably as the Wall Street Journal, perhaps primarily concerned with that economic and political agenda, but Christians and especially Christian parents are likely to have even greater concern about some of the other terms that are in this glossary and the ideologies that are embedded within the curriculum. For example, page three. ‘Cisgender’ is the word. You’ve seen that before. It’s defined here as “a person who’s chosen gender identity corresponds with their sex assigned at birth.” So if you are not transgender or if you don’t identify by some other newly identified so-called sexual minority, then you are cisgender. Deal with it.

The next word, however, is something that most of you have probably not heard before. It is ‘cisheteropatriarchy.’ That’s right. C-I-S plus “hetero” plus “patriarchy.” Defined as “a system of power that is based on the dominance of cisheterosexual men.” So again here, you see critical theory demonstrated in a vocabulary that continues to expand and as we’ve seen, continues also to be spelled in entirely new ways because after all, you don’t want to spell ‘women’ with ‘men’ in it, so you have to take the M-E-N out, but ‘cisheteropatriarchy’ is one of those terms that is basically just sensical within the ideology of intersectionality, cisheteropatriarchy. Understand that even as LGBTQ won’t stop there, neither will the expansion of words like ‘cisheteropatriarchy.’ This kind of ideology doesn’t take a serious engagement of history as its goal. Rather, it uses a radical revisionist approach to history to try to push an ideological agenda.

On page eight of the glossary, the word ‘hxrstory’ is included. It is not spelled however H-E-R-S-T-O-R-Y. It is spelled H-X-R-S-T-O-R-Y. We’re told it’s to be pronounced the same as “herstory,” and then we are told that ‘hxrstory’ “is used to describe history written from a more gender-inclusive perspective.” Now, let’s just point out that when you put it that way, a more gender-inclusive perspective, you’re saying, “This is the way it’s supposed to be.” And then the definition concludes, “The X is used to disrupt the often rigid gender binarist approach to telling history.” In other words, that old trap of speaking about, for example, kings and queens, men and women—yes, that’s now dismissed as a rigid gender binarist approach to telling history.

The next word is another one you probably haven’t heard of, but at least in the California public schools, you’re about to is that word ‘hybridities,’ and it’s defined as “a term used to describe the crossing intersection and mixing of two or more distinct cultures often to form new identities.”

Another word, ‘nepantla’ is defined here as “the recognition of confusion, chaos, and messiness in one’s understanding of self in the world.” “Nepantla,” says the definition, “also provides room for self-reflection to better understand and work through this liminal space.”

Now, only if you’ve been reading modern leftist educational and political theory does that even make any form of sense, but it does make sense within this, but is it supposed to make sense to teenagers in California that they’re supposed to work through liminal space with self-reflection that includes confusion, chaos, and messiness of one’s understanding?

It is really interesting that the term ‘social justice’ is defined in the glossary as “the equitable distribution of resources (rights, money, food, housing, education, etc.) to every individual regardless of ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, language, or nationality.” You’ll notice there that it is the equity of outcome. It is equitable distribution of resources.

‘Transphobia,’ you knew it would be in here, is defined as “discrimination, dislike, prejudice, hatred, and a range of other negative feelings and/or actions expressed towards people that identify or are perceived as transgender.” So any negative judgment, including of course the historic Christian worldview is a form of oppression that this state-organized and now proposed model curriculum is supposed to confront, expose, and overcome.

Now, as we step back for a moment, we recognize the massive worldview implications here. This is an ideological agenda coming from the far left that is now being mainstreamed in the nation’s largest public school system. It is coming with legislative authority in which there is a mandate for an ethnic studies course before a student can graduate, and the new model curriculum as we see in this case as we have already recently seen in the model curriculum for sex education in the state is nothing more and nothing less than a recipe and agenda for total revolution and a confrontation and denial of the historic Christian worldview. It’s no longer implicit. It’s no longer on the periphery. It’s now central.

Yes, again, we come back to the fact that there could be an honest and straightforward, serious consideration of the moral issues that are addressed, even the historical questions that are addressed in this curriculum, but in this curriculum, everything comes from one side, and it’s simply a fact in which the cake is already baked.

This has offended even the Editorial Board of a liberal newspaper, that is the most influential newspaper in California, the Los Angeles Times. The headline in the editorial: “California’s Proposed New Ethnic Studies Curriculum is Jargon-Filled and All-too-PC.” Let’s just state the obvious: if it’s too jargon-filled and all-too-PC for the Editorial Board of the Los Angeles Times, we have a big problem here.

The Editorial Board stated, “A current draft of the model curriculum drawn up by a committee of teachers and academics and headed to the State Board of Education is an impenetrable mélange of academic jargon and politically correct pronouncements.”

In a really interesting section of the editorial, the Editorial Board draws attention to these words in the model curriculum: “If students decide they want to advocate for voting rights for undocumented immigrant residents at the school district and city elections, they can develop arguments in favor of such a city ordinance and then plan a meeting with their city council person or school board member.”

Now, what you should note there is not just the idea that students should be advocating for voting rights for undocumented immigrant residents, but the fact that only that argument and no contrary argument is allowable, even as an example exercise. The editors of the Los Angeles Times then responded with this, “No problem with that per se, and community engagement is a fine way to involve students in politics and civic life, but there is no mention here or just about anywhere in the curriculum of students who might dare to disagree with the party line.”

“In this case, for instance,” wrote the Editorial Board, “some students might think that the right to vote in mayoral and city council elections is the prerogative of citizens, not non-citizens.” But then, in a parenthesis actually in the text of the editorial, the Editorial Board asked the question, “That’s not a right wing idea, is it?” Well, here’s the truth: according to this curriculum, it is a right wing idea that citizens should be allowed to vote. That’s blamed on oppression and well, some term like “cisheteropatriarchy.”

The Editorial Board also points with concern to the fact that the BDS Movement, the movement to divest economically from Israel, is also presented as just a form of overcoming oppression. There’s no serious engagement here. There is simply a political agenda, a political agenda we should note that at least at this point in public affirmation is too radical even for the very liberal candidates running for the 2020 Democratic Presidential Nomination. This shows us where ideologically this movement is coming from, but again, the big issue is that this is already a model curriculum for the state schools in California.

Conservatives sometimes look at the culture and wonder, “How could this have happened? How is it that moral revolutionaries and progressives have made so much headway in the culture at large?” We sometimes look, especially at the political elites, at the intellectual elites, at the cultural creatives, but here, we have to be reminded that the educational authorities are central to the equation of a culture, and those authorities have been in so many places, especially like the State Board of California, in very leftward hands now for a long time, and we have now arrived at this point, or at least California has.

Part III

Wokeness: The Literary Criteria for Making the Summer Reading List of an Elite University

In coming editions of The Briefing, we’re going to be looking at the options for Christian parents and thinking about the schools, but we also have to turn finally to the fact that the same issue is going on in an even bigger way on America’s college and university campuses where this kind of agenda has been a major form of the curriculum and an almost explicit criterion for tenure for a long time now.

Andy Kessler, writing again for the Wall Street Journal, offers an article entitled “Great Books for a Brainwashing.” The subhead: “Summer reading lists designed to get college freshmen on board with social justice.” That’s exactly what they are. Without going into the details of Kessler’s argument, he’s pointing to the fact that so many colleges and universities require what’s called a great books program that assigns summer reading, especially for freshmen, first year students who are going to be coming in.

Remember we’ve been told we’re not to use the word “freshmen” because it is itself a form of oppression. But as Kessler writes, “I’m all for reading, but when I dug around to see what books were assigned to this year, I was thunderstruck. The selections are clearly intended to make new students woke, a push toward political awareness and initiation into the cool social justice league.”

The background to Kessler’s argument is that so many colleges and universities are even signaling by the book or the books that they require incoming students to read the kind of worldview those students should expect to find on the campus, a new orthodoxy that is clearly indicated even by the books that are assigned.

One of the interesting things that I note is that these educational institutions advertise to each other the books that they require, and so in effect, you’ve got the educational establishment signaling institution to institution, “Here’s what we’re doing. Try to top that.” The problem is they do try to top that. It’s even evident in the curriculum and in the reading list.

Christians, parents, and students, and others, understand that education is so vital that the Bible speaks of it again and again, assigning first responsibility to the parents and then responsibility to the church. But now, when you look at America’s dominant academic educational culture and the authority shaping that culture, we’re looking at open antipathy to the very principles that gave this nation birth. We’re not talking about a critical engagement with American ideals. We’re talking about a rejection of the very American idea. And beyond that, and more importantly, what we see is an open refutation of the classical biblical Christian worldview now with tools that indicate that the basic understanding of that worldview, even based in creation and the so-called binary in which God made us as male and female, that’s now nothing more than a form of oppression that simply in the name of human liberation must be overcome.

There’s a new sin identified by the new revolutionaries. Well, there are actually many new sins, but one of them, well, you heard it maybe for the first time in this curriculum and on this broadcast, that term is ‘cisheteropatriarchy.’ All you need to know we have a big problem is just to consider those syllables put together.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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