The race issues which have swept school districts across the country have made their way to the Clarkstown Central School District. As the 2020-2021 school year wound down, controversy erupted when a “student-led” presentation on Black Lives Matter (BLM) and “racial justice” was to be given by 8th-grade students at Felix Festa Middle School to their younger cohorts in 6th and 7th grade. The presentation was leaked to parents, and the result was a heated Board of Education meeting on May 20, 2021, that featured concerned parents on both sides of the issue.
As a parent that attended the May 20th meeting (I am the second parent to speak), I can say that there were passionate people on both sides. Unfortunately, each speaker was only limited to 3 minutes, so the objectionable details of the presentation itself went largely undiscussed, and the issues raised by pro-BLM parents went unrebutted. Further, the NAACP has joined the fray on the side of the presentation organizers, and local media are largely non-objective in their reports on those who oppose the presentation.
Enter our website, which is concerned with educating the public about the menace of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and opposing its expansion into public schools. In this article, we will discuss the content and intent behind the presentation that caused so much of a stir and how it is indicative of the critical theorists’ attempts to radicalize and program our children.
A final point before we dive into the content: there has been some controversy as to what the true, i.e. original version of this presentation was like. The presentation organizers, similar to the BLM organizers themselves, have a tendency to obscure, alter, and restrict access to those materials that may expose their actual positions in order to appease concerned onlookers. A link to the presentation can be found here, so you as the viewer can see for yourself what it consists of as you follow these comments. Where appropriate, screenshots are provided.
The Lack of Definitions, and Why Definitions Are Important
The first error that we encounter in this presentation is a lack of adequate definitions for important political, social, and philosophical concepts. It is important to remember that the audience for this material consists of middle school students, some of whom may be hearing about these terms for the first time in their short lives. The second slide in the presentation fails utterly by simply stating that “racism hurts everyone” without any explanation as to what racism is or why it is bad.
The vast majority of adults would agree with this statement and find it unobjectionable, but even they may not have a clear idea as to what is meant by the term “racism.” This is because, unfortunately, the meaning of this term has rarely been given an explicit definition in today’s media landscape. It has been used to describe: the KKK, neo-Nazis, segregation in the Jim Crow South, opponents of Affirmative Action, those who use the phrase “all lives matter,” climate change “deniers,” followers of President Trump, those who use the term “Chinese virus” to refer to COVID-19, the Aunt Jemima syrup label, American law enforcement, American public infrastructure, sheet music, etc. In short, racism has become shorthand for a hodge-podge of things, from “a bad person that I disagree with on some contemporary socio-political issue” to “something that may offend some people on racial grounds” to “people or institutions that believe in racial discrimination.”
Adding to the confusion is that there have been instances where the term “racism” has been used to refer not to the intentions of individual people in committing certain acts of discrimination, but to the mere existence of disparate outcomes across demographics. If there are more white programmers than black programmers, for instance, this is assumed to be the result of racial discrimination. If the credit scores of whites or Asians are on the whole larger than that of blacks, this is considered to be a covert, nefarious act of bigotry, and so forth. It is also worth mentioning that critical race theorists and BLM activists have argued that racism should be defined in a way that only those “identity groups” that have “power” should be considered racist and that since blacks “lack power” or are “oppressed,” it is impossible for a black person to be racist.
Because no definition is provided, we are left in the dark as to what the presentation organizers had in mind with this slide. Nor is it clear that they even have an explicit, articulated definition of “racism” from which to proceed. The definition of “racism” is crucial to interpreting the remainder of the presentation. My suspicion is that they intended to let it go unstated because if they gave it an explicit definition, it would lay bare their premises, which are likely to be objectionable. It should be crystal clear and uncontroversial that much depends on the definition of “racism” that is operative here.
As bad as this is so far, subsequent slides compound the error. Check out the fourth slide, below.
This slide is entitled “Important Vocabulary,” and it further illuminates the smuggling in of some premises and concepts, and the deliberate omission of others. I have already pointed out that the omission of a clear, explicit definition of “racism” is troubling and problematic. Let’s take the terms that are presented here in order, and note that an undefined term that is crucial to the subject under discussion is a recipe for every individual listener (child and adult, alike) to impute their own meaning for the words, and this is a pedagogical disaster.
First up is an attempt at definition “human rights.” The definition provided reads: “A right that is believed to belong justifiably to every person.” Forgiving the grammatical error of defining a plural term with a singular definition, we should still be able to see this is a circular definition. A circular definition uses the term that it is attempting to define in the definition, rendering it meaningless. The definition provided defines “human right” in terms of “right,” and then proceeds from there. The reader is left with the question: what is a “right”? Further, the use of several weasel words raises thornier issues; A “human right” is believed (by whom? God? The government? The majority of voters?) to belong justifiably (according to what standard?) to every person (every person? What about convicts? Non-citizens? Children?).
A proper definition should have a clear genus, or category that the phenomenon in question belongs to. The issues above notwithstanding, we are left with an even bigger problem: what are rights? What is their genus? What category do they belong to? Are they laws? Title deeds to property? Principles? There is no clarity in this definition. The reader should understand that the issue of rights is a philosophical issue that is complex and has deep roots in Western history; this issue alone has filled volumes, and there is no indication whatsoever as to its complexity in this simplistic formulation.
To recap: our “definition” takes the idea of “right” as an unexplained phenomenon that accrues to every person, regardless of who they are or what they have done, on the basis of some unspecified standard believed in by some unspecified authority. With “definitions” like this, it is no wonder our society’s schools are floundering.
Next up is “injustice,” which is defined as a “lack of fairness or justice.” This definition is attempting to define “injustice” at least partially in terms of “justice,” but the presenters never offer a definition of “justice.” Justice, of course, is a central concept in ethics that is quite complex and warrants its own conversation, but since there is not even an attempt to grapple with this in the presentation, we can simply ignore it and move to the other term that is used: “fairness.”
“Justice as fairness” is a relatively recent phenomenon in philosophy. It was first coined by philosopher John Rawls, a leading egalitarian from Harvard University who should be considered the intellectual forebear of modern “identity politics.” Rawls believed that equality was the standard of justice and that the mere existence of inequality, regardless of its origin, was grounds to conclude that a system was corrupt. Compare this with the Greek view of justice, which dates back to Plato and Aristotle. These thinkers held that “justice” amounts to giving a person what they deserve: good people deserve praise and bad people deserve blame, according to this view. There is quite a divergence here and the implications for which school of thought that we are referring to has momentous implications for the rest of the presentation. Since the presentation organizers explicitly refer to “fairness” in their definition, we can safely conclude that they intend to divorce justice from dessert and focus squarely on the egalitarian theory of justice.
A final definition that is attempted is “equality.” In the presentation, we are given “equality” as “The state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities.” This definition, of the three, is actually the best, though that is not saying much. It does commit the sin of circularity, but we can avoid it by substituting “having the same measure or value” in place of “equal.”
This is the best of the attempted definitions because it does correctly name the three essential schools of thought when it comes to political equality. These are equality of outcome, equality of rights, and equality of opportunity. These three radically different views, it should be noted, are exclusive. That is, it is not possible to simultaneously hold all three at the same time in a given society as a primary principle.
Equality of outcome holds that everyone should be materially equal and equality of rights holds that people should be treated equally before the law. If we endorse the former, we must treat people unequally before the law, because people are, metaphysically, different. Everyone has different skills, abilities, family connections, etc., and to ensure that the “high fliers” are equal to the lowest earners, we would need to redistribute from the wealthy to the less wealthy. On the other hand, equality before the law is the view that despite metaphysical differences, people have an equal title to their own property and equal rights before the courts; even if it means making a poor person and a rich person equal, it is immoral and illegal to redistribute the richer person’s wealth. As to equality of opportunity, it is a thinly-veiled version of equality of outcome, and does not need to be elaborated on here.
The big problem with this last “definition” is that because the organizer lists all three views and does not elaborate, we are led to believe that they somehow champion all three equally, and this is impossible. We are then left to guess as to which is primary, and given the commitment to egalitarianism, we should conclude that it equality of outcome that is being endorsed here. The political manifestation of such a thing is socialism.
We continue our survey of the presentation and its faults by noting another issue: a lack of evidence for the claims that are made. Check out Slide 5 below:
There is a lot of text on this slide. I will point out a few essential points. First, there is no context provided that illustrates the justification for such an organization as BLM. We can illustrate this with a few questions we could ask the presenters.
What if we were to ask them what happened in 2013 to prompt the creation of BLM? Advocates for BLM would claim that a white racist named George Zimmerman shot and killed an unarmed black child named Trayvon Martin because the boy was black in a privileged white neighborhood one night.
The jury for the case thought otherwise. After a trial, they acquitted Zimmerman, a member of the neighborhood watch, when it was found that Martin, the 5’11’’, 17-year old, fit, muscular “child” victim, tackled him to the ground, proceeded to bash his head into the concrete, and attempted to shoot him with his own weapon. Furthermore, Zimmerman, who was himself Hispanic, had no history of racial animus towards blacks.
Prior to his trial and subsequent acquittal, BLM portrayed Zimmerman as guilty on the grounds that he was white (a “white Hispanic” as some media outlets claimed) and Martin was black. And this was not an isolated incident: BLM has, throughout its history, leaped to conclusions regarding “police brutality” against blacks in spite of evidence to the contrary. A similar pattern can be observed in the incidents involving Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Jacob Blake, and (arguably) George Floyd. In every case, BLM assumed at the outset that the incident was racially motivated — with little to no evidence. In every case, BLM traded the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” for mob justice.
The presentation assumes that racism against blacks is still a problem, that “society” does not value black people, and yet it provides no evidence for this. Further, it subtly endorses racism in the way it is written. Notice that it capitalizes the word “Black” as a proper noun, indicating that the author thinks that the collective of black people is some super-entity over and above the individual men and women that make it up. There is no basis for capitalizing the letter there, just as there is no basis for referring to “White” people (no doubt this latter would be referred to as racist by the presentation organizers).
The next slide continues the discussion as to what BLM is, and is intended to be a foil for Slide #5.
In the first bullet point, the presentation states that “black lives matter does not mean that other people’s lives don’t matter,” and yet BLM activists have said on many occasions that users of the phrase “all lives matter” are racists. Further, the first point says, without citing any evidence, that black people are “primarily in danger.” In danger of what? Committed by whom, exactly?
The second bullet point is simply a reiteration of the first point, but with the added clarification that BLM is concerned with people who have been victimized based on their race…but how do they know this? No evidence is provided that demonstrates an upswing in racially motivated violence against blacks.
The third bullet point is false and downright misleading. The truth is that there has been violence committed by BLM activists, even if it comprises a minority of the protests. The slide even acknowledges that 7% of BLM protests are not peaceful. This figure is touted by propaganda outlets like CNN, and is misleading on its terms: for instance, it counts every BLM protest, regardless of size, as a single activity and then classifies those protests where property damage or injury was reported to the authorities as “not peaceful.” What this means is that a 6 person protest in a one-horse, Oklahoma town would have the same weight as a 300,000 person riot in Minneapolis: one peaceful, one clearly not. In fact, it is estimated that BLM “protests” last summer caused upwards of $2 billion in property damage and led to the deaths of no fewer than 19 people. Another angle on this is that 7% of a large number (keep in mind that there were thousands of protests last summer across the country) is still a spectacularly large number.
Slide #7 is where we get the first mention of the George Floyd incident, again with no context or explanation as to what actually happened.
A reference is made to the “amount of time George Floyd’s neck was compressed,” and yet no mention is made of the event, the circumstances surrounding it, who the police officer was, what became of the case, etc. If this were an educational presentation and not propaganda, trying to cash in on the preconceived biases of the audience, it would at least introduce and explain the facts of the case, including the arguments raised by the defense attorneys for Derek Chauvin who claimed that Floyd actually perished due to a Fentanyl overdose.
Appeals to Authority, Peer Pressure and the Political Use of Children
Slide #7 also enforces many of the negative trends associated with “social media culture,” such as the idea that because something is widely “liked” and disseminated on social media by large corporations and aggregates of the population, it must be good and true. So much for teaching children about the negative consequences of peer pressure! We can observe a doubling-down on this “argument from intimidation” in Slide #8:
Notice the appeal to celebrities: why should a grade school student care about what Billie Eilish or Beyonce have to say about issues concerning “justice,” “human rights,” and the US criminal justice system? No answer is given, it is just taken for granted.
Perhaps the most loathsome slide in the whole presentation is Slide #10, which has an embedded video.
The video that is embedded in the presentation here makes use of a logical fallacy that we can call the “appeal to the mouths of babes.” This is a favorite tactic of BLM, as well as the climate activists (here’s looking at you, Greta Thunberg), and was deployed at the May 20th meeting described above. Eighth-grade students were trotted up to the mic by their pro-BLM parents in order to “enlighten” the audience about the virtues of BLM and “anti-racism.”
The gist of the tactic is this: “policy/view/conclusion X is so clear, even children can understand it….adults are too caught up in their own affairs that their vision is clouded, but the children, who are pure, can see the truth.” The problem is that children are inexperienced and immature. There is a reason they are the ones that go to school and adults teach them. To tell a child that they are “smart”, that “they get it and the adults don’t”, is a manipulation of the child’s innate need to be accepted and praised by the authority figures in their lives. This is about a series of complex moral, political, historical, and philosophic issues that most adults find difficult to understand, let alone someone who has a fraction of their experience and knowledge. I find this vile and abusive of the child and an insult to the adults in the room that disagree.
I would forbid my adolescent son or daughter from participating in an adult conversation between parents and educators as to what is proper for them to learn in school, and I think it is bad parenting to drag them into a discussion that they simply cannot have a mature opinion on.
As adults, we have a responsibility to our children to prevent them from being programmed or indoctrinated. It is crucial, apart from the myriad flaws addressed above, that this presentation was being taught to young children by other young children. I have my doubts as to how “student-led” this truly was, and believe that there are more sinister forces at play. I would not be surprised if BLM activists employed as teachers or parents embroiled in their movement were involved in making this happen. If we do not oppose this indoctrination vocally now, I fear that they will try this again when people are not paying as much attention.
Don’t let them: share this far and wide with other parents in the district.