Coloradans agree that schools should be no place for hate. We should foster bravery and respect and reject bullying and racism. Cultivating such a school climate helps children reach their full potential—a goal we all recognize has life-long benefits.
There are certainly some things to like about the program, such as condemning bullying and bias and promoting empathy. But below the surface, parents and our community should be aware of causes for concern—reasons to question whether this program is accomplishing what we think it is.
The NPFH Program
The concerns begin with the program’s requirements. At least 75 percent of students must sign a “pledge” for a school to get the NPFH designation. We’re told it’s voluntary, but some teachers are directed to repeatedly ask students who haven’t signed the pledge to do so.
The pledge itself is good, extolling shared virtues. But is it necessary for kids to sign the pledge to be seen as kind, respectful, and rejecting hate?
Second, a school that implements the program must cede significant power over its day-to-day operations to an outside national activist group, called the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
Schools “are expected to notify ADL when any incident of bias, bullying, discrimination or harassment occurs” and work with ADL to address them, or risk revocation of their NPFH designation, according to the NPFH Handbook. While schools shouldn’t tolerate these behaviors, do they need to hand over authority to an outside organization in order to resolve them?
Schools must also re-apply every year so that ADL can keep a watchful eye on them as we “move toward universal consciousness.”
To accomplish that, schools are strongly encouraged to use ADL-supplied curriculum and students must complete three approved activities throughout the year. For example:
- K-2 students learn about the “Cycle of Inequality” and that racism means “the disrespect, harm and mistreatment of people of color based on ideas that white people deserve to be in charge and treated better.”
- Middle-schoolers “consider the extent to which dress codes unfairly target certain identity groups” and analyze their differences in the “Identity Iceberg.”
- High-schoolers explore how micro-aggressions are “pervasive in everyday life.” They delve into “The Pyramid of Hate” which states that oppression is prevalent in our society and seems to imply that not being “aware of privilege” can lead, on a continuum, to genocide.
Our differences define us?
The NPFH program is right to strive for harmony and respect for all. But is the best way to achieve those goals to keep our kids hyper-focused on their differences, tell them those differences determine their identity, and suggest that their identity dictates if they’re a member of either a dominant or victim group?
That message, which NPFH delivers to our kids, is directly contrary to judging someone by “the content of their character.” Do we believe, as many of our kids are being taught, that Martin Luther King’s empowering vision—a cornerstone of our nation’s civil rights movement–was wrong?
Ian Rowe, a prominent Black educator and entrepreneur, agrees with King and encourages us to embrace: “A philosophy of humanism that celebrates and uplifts the inherent dignity in each individual…a belief in each person’s capacity for upward mobility, no matter their race, ethnicity, or skin color.”
Sadly, it appears the Douglas County school board, which supports the NPFH program, thinks this vision of the American dream is a myth.
Yes, bias and prejudice do still exist and it’s important we work to eradicate them. But are they as prominent and defining features of our local communities and country as NPFH teaches? As kids rightfully learn about our country’s past sins, what impact does it have on them to ignore the significant progress we’ve made?
Kids need to be activists?
The NPFH program teaches students to “move on from kindness.” It claims that being kind isn’t enough, and that kids need to “understand how to engage in changing systems and society.” Really?
According to NPFH, we should expect our children to be activists. Volunteering at a soup kitchen isn’t enough—they must also advocate for affordable housing. Tutoring others isn’t sufficient—they must also affect “systemic change” by challenging school funding inequities. Is it K-12 schools’ role to impose this view on our children?
Furthermore, important social issues like these are often complex and controversial, and experts disagree on the root causes and most effective ways to address them. If we now expect our impressionable seventh-graders to be social activists, it’s only right we present them with diversity of thought on these matters.
Using the right pronouns
NPFH teaches that kids need to be careful not to “misgender” their peers. It encourages teachers to ask students what their gender pronouns are, to present articles and videos on this topic, and to correct students when they don’t use their peers’ chosen pronoun.
Our kids should treat everyone with respect, empathy, and dignity. But is it the state’s, or parents’, role to delve into this controversial issue and teach children how fluid their gender options are?
Do these programs work?
It’s important for young people to strive for social harmony and to understand the impact of their words. But are we forming courageous, self-confident kids when we teach them to spot “microaggressions” wherever they look, and that their identities define their place on the “power” continuum?
Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at New York University, explains that this approach is more likely to produce anger, anxiety, and hopelessness—traits that are rapidly rising among today’s youth. Conversely, if we teach kids resiliency and self-determination, research shows this “leads to greater health, happiness, success in school, and success at work.”
Is this a school’s purpose?
The core question here is “what is the purpose of publicly financed education?” Is it to make our kids hyper-aware of their differences and turn them into political activists? Or is it to teach them how to think, not what to think? Apparently, NPFH views the former as a primary purpose of education, and wants it to permeate Colorado schools’ curriculum. Is this how we want our tax dollars used?
We Coloradans can agree with many of the NPFH program’s goals—harmony, bravery, and eradicating racism, for example. But are its means—including defining one another by our differences and jumping into political activism–the way we want our kids to achieve these ends? We should consider these questions, understand what’s in this program, and voice our concerns to school officials for the sake of our kids, community, and country.
Will Johnson writes frequently on Colorado issues. He lives in Highlands Ranch.
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