The district failed to fund the curriculum and the teachers, but some MPS believers are pressing on
By DONOVAN NEWKIRK | October 2020
After criticism from parents and other taxpayers, the Milwaukee Public School District will not be moving forward with its plan to incorporate the controversial Black Lives Matter at School curriculum district-wide this academic year.
But some individual MPS schools will be implementing at least some aspects of the curriculum as BLM supporters around the country continue to argue it should be used to formally shape the minds and views of young students.
MPS initially embraced the controversial organization.
Just three days after the death of George Floyd on May 28 in Minneapolis, the MPS School Board passed a resolution to spend nearly $190,000 to develop and implement a curriculum centered around the Black Lives Matter movement. The resolution also called for hundreds of thousands of dollars more annually for the salaries and benefits for 12 ethnic studies teaching positions, five of them new.
At the same meeting, the board unanimously passed a resolution urging the district to “reduce the funding of contracts with the Milwaukee Police Department.”
“I certainly have received pushback from parents,” said Angela Harris, a first-grade teacher at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School in Milwaukee and chair of the Black Educator Caucus. “We received a lot of criticism during the Black Lives Matter Week of Action back in February.”
Black Lives Matter at School, with its Marxist ideological roots, got its start in the fall of 2016 with a rally of Seattle public school teachers all wearing “Black Lives Matter: We Stand Together” shirts on the same day.
Teachers in two dozen major city school districts, including Milwaukee, Seattle, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C, organized a week of classes decrying structural racism and promoting Black pride under the Black Lives Matter banner during Black History Month in February 2018.
In New York, the City Department of Education announced its plan to fight systemic racism, white privilege and police brutality in its classrooms. The department calls it Revolutionary Love in the Classroom.
In Buffalo this fall, Black Lives Matter lessons were added to the curriculum.
In Wake County, North Carolina, a “racial equity resources” webpage for teachers and staff features quotes from Patrisse Cullors, who has described herself and her BLM co-founders as “trained Marxists.”
It’s an overtly political message directed at children — that the United States has always been, and still is, a racist and oppressive nation. The U.S. is currently fighting two “deadly viruses,” the BLM website says, COVID-19 and white supremacy.
Almost a year before the death of George Floyd, Peter Myers, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, warned parents to be very concerned about Black Lives Matter in School.
In a piece for City Journal, Myers reveals doctrinaire preaching determined to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure,” and replace it with socialist values.
“On its own, [BLM curriculum] is not good history and tends to poison students’ minds toward their country, especially students who need to be encouraged by the idea that the country does provide opportunities for people like them,” Myers said in a phone interview.
Myers wasn’t familiar with MPS’ resolution, but he said he believes that school programs such as BLM at School and the notorious New York Times 1619 Project, which managed simultaneously to win a Pulitzer Prize and be disemboweled by respected historians, do more harm than good.
Instead of systemic oppression, Myers wrote that educators ought to be teaching the successes and achievements of Black people, “rather than beglooming students’ imaginations with oppression stories — as though the main object of their education should be to swell the ranks of street protesters, classroom agitators, community organizers, diversity consultants, and the like.
“Shouldn’t a genuinely antiracist education inspire them with stories of positive accomplishment,” he wrote, “drawn from authors ranging from William Wells Brown to W. E. B. Du Bois to Carter Woodson to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? Throughout U.S. history, African-Americans have been inventors and discoverers, producers of great works of art, leaders in industry and commerce, and founders and sustainers of schools and churches and businesses and other institutions of social uplift.”
The Badger Institute contacted the Black Lives Matter at School director of curriculum, Christopher Rogers, for comment, but did not receive a reply.
Milwaukee Lutheran responds
In recent months, ardor for Black Lives Matter has cooled. In a Marquette University poll, favorable views of BLM dropped from 59% to 49% from mid-June to early August, while unfavorable views rose to 37% by early August from 27 percent in June.
In early August, Milwaukee Lutheran High School, condemned the Black Lives Matter organization and isolated itself from the movement. The rebuke echoed concerns of MPS parents and neighbors who objected to some of the principles undergirding the Black Lives Matter movement, in particular that it be transgender affirming.
After Milwaukee Lutheran High School Art teacher Jason Crayton and more than 20 former students unveiled a Black Lives Matter mural Aug. 2 on a building in West Allis, the school issued a statement on Facebook disavowing the founding principles of the Black Lives Matter organization.
“Milwaukee Lutheran High School serves, educates, and invests in over 800 black students and their families each year,” the statement read. “We have supported black lives long before the BLM foundation started in 2013.”
Later in the statement, the authors differentiated the goal of the protesters in Milwaukee with the political goals of the national BLM group.
“We do not endorse the beliefs of the Organization called Black Lives Matter (blacklivesmatter.com) as the founding principles and their beliefs, as outlined in the “About Us” section of their web site, do not align with biblical views,” according to the statement.
Badger Institute contacted a representative from the Wisconsin Education Association Council to determine whether teachers expressed misgivings about BLM at School but did not receive a response.
Won't give up
In an interview this summer, Harris said there has been “no conversation” about the district’s plan to go ahead with a BLM curriculum after the MPS resolution passed.
A supporter who said she intends to promulgate “inclusivity and awareness” in her classroom, Harris said she has had to defend the school program from criticism. “While I am always willing to listen to their concerns, I try to emphasize that Black Lives Matter didn’t start out as a political movement,” Harris said. “I just try to teach my students that they matter and that they are important, even if the world that they are living in leads them to believe otherwise.”
No matter how it got its start, Harris said its importance has increased “given the heightened state-sanctioned violence.” When asked to clarify what she meant by state-sanctioned violence, Harris responded, “You know, the police hunting down innocent black men. The people whose salaries are paid by our tax dollars are hurting and killing us. It isn’t right.”
Earl Arms, the district’s media relations manager, said the district would continue to try to fill the five teaching positions in the future. “It is my understanding that the district has had an extremely challenging time filling the [ethnic studies] positions.” Arms could not say why the district could not find the teachers for the BLM program.
While a district-wide plan has stalled, Nuntiata Buck, a district curriculum specialist, said five high schools will be adding elements of Black Lives Matter at School curriculum to their ethnic studies programs. They are: The Barack Obama School of Career and Technical Education; James Madison Academic Campus; Washington High School of Information Technology; Casimir Pulaski High School; and Milwaukee School of Languages.
“Topics include, but aren’t limited to, racism, disinvestment, police brutality, political action and civil disobedience,” Buck said.
Donovan Newkirk is an intern at RealClearPolitics and a contributor to The College Fix. Permission to reprint is granted as long as the author and Badger Institute are properly cited.