Friday, November 26, 2021


City Journal 

eye on the news

Units of Indoctrination 

A Language Arts curriculum widely used in U.S. schools ignores academic fundamentals in favor of radical pedagogy.

November 24, 2021

Few parents of school-age children would recognize the name Lucy Calkins, but her English Language Arts curriculum, Units of Study, is used in thousands of classrooms across the United States. Calkins’s curriculum is “built on critical theories,” including critical race theory (CRT), which Democrats and the media have repeatedly denied is taught in K-12 schools.

Those denials are true in a narrow sense: K-12 students aren’t reading the primary documents of CRT any more than they’re reading the works of John Dewey or Jean-Jacques Rousseau. But the works of writers like KimberlĂ© Crenshaw, bell hooks, Angela Davis, and others directly inform Calkins’s Units of Study, which focuses on identity-based power dynamics, victimhood, white supremacy, microaggressions, and the like.

It’s hard to determine precisely how many schools use Calkins’s Units of Study. One professor of education acknowledged that publishers “aren’t very forthcoming” with this “very basic data.” The curriculum’s publisher claims that it is used in “tens of thousands of schools around the world,” and a poll from EducationWeek estimates that 16 percent of U.S. elementary school teachers use it, including, one education journalist estimates, at least 55 districts in Massachusetts. It isn’t a stretch to say that thousands of teachers rely on its lesson plans, assessments, and other materials.

One unit in particular stands out for its embrace of principles inspired by critical race theory. The opening pages of Critical Literacy: Unlocking Contemporary Fiction, meant for students in seventh through ninth grade, explain that the unit will engage with “the politics of race, class, and gender.” One activity asks students to break down “hegemonic masculinity” in the books they’re reading. Another builds “identity lenses”’ through which students can analyze various texts, including “critical race theories” and “gender theories.” References to identity pervade nearly every page of the unit. Accompanying materials declare that the curriculum is “dedicated” to teaching “critical literacies” that will “help readers investigate power.”

This unit underscores a problem far larger than a few lesson plans. It exposes a radical approach to education that pervades our schools and upends all of our former notions of what education should be, replacing the goal of fostering inquisitive, capable minds with ideologically trained readers, who already know what a text has to say. Headline-making stories of racialized “affinity groups” and “privilege walks” are only the most visible elements of this pedagogy. Other seemingly innocuous practices are also rooted in a philosophy that treats the immutable characteristics of students as their most central attributes.

Critical race theory flows from the more general philosophy of education called “critical pedagogy,” which, in brief, seeks to leverage every math class, English lesson, history unit, elective, and scientific concept as a means to inculcate a political goal: the overthrow of Enlightenment-based, classically liberal principles—including the scientific method, objective reasoning, evidence-based argument, and so on.

“Critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order,” writes Richard Delgado, an early scholar of CRT, “including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.” Though its proponents defend CRT as merely teaching “accurate” racial history, the discipline’s aim is to use race and history as a lens through which to judge—to condemn—Western values. Each branch of critical pedagogy proceeds accordingly, using gender, say, in the same way.

Graduate schools of education often encourage their teachers to adopt a similar approach. Calkin’s Units of Study also employs this method, analyzing the same poem through various “lenses”—critical race, radical feminist, deconstructionist, Marxist, postcolonial, and others. Reading in this way amounts to little more than radical proselytization through literature.

This approach to instruction extends far beyond the confines of English language arts in the K-12 classroom. For example, Seattle Public Schools has implemented a new curriculum that seeks to “humanize” mathematics, centering study on questions of power, identity, oppression, and liberation. Its thematic questions ask students not how to solve algebraic equations, but to answer questions like “how can we use math to measure the effects of our activism?”

While oppression and liberation may be topics worth learning about in a sociology class, primary students need mathematical skills, wisdom derived from struggling with great books on their own terms, and a treasury of historical facts if they are to go into the world and do anything about the injustices they find there. Placards, criticism, and demonstrations are easy; the building of a just society requires hard-won insight, knowledge, wisdom, and skill.

An experience common to many early-career teachers is the realization that they never actually learned how to do their job in teacher prep. Time spent learning critical pedagogy instead of the nuts and bolts of running a classroom represents a giant opportunity cost. Having gone through these programs ourselves, we can attest to the lack of training in areas like writing instruction, the science of reading, basic grammar, rhetoric, and argument—subjects once at the heart of teacher training.

The results of the pedagogy exemplified by curricula like Units of Study are damning. In a 2018 study, education nonprofit found that Units of Study did not “meet the expectations for text quality and complexity and alignment to the expectations of standards.” Pulling no punches, the report said that “unit materials are devoid of a consistent, systematic, and explicit plan for instruction in and practice of grade-level foundational skills.” Education professor Timothy Shanahan suggests that “there’s not a single study that supports the use of the above methods,” and in one comprehensive review, concluded that they are “unlikely to lead to literacy success for all of America’s public school children.”

Considering that the focus of curricula like Units of Study is on indoctrination rather than reading, these findings are not surprising. In a nation where a mere 35 percent of fourth-graders and 34 percent of eighth-graders performed at or above proficiency in reading, young people are suffering the consequences of these methods. In place of foundational academic skills, we’re giving them radical messages about identity. And rather than training students to love what is beautiful and true, our modern progressive theorists are training them only to deconstruct it.

[Daniel Buck is a teacher and senior visiting fellow at the Fordham Institute. He writes regularly for publications like City Journal, Quillette, and National Review. James Furey is a high-school English teacher from Wisconsin and contributor to Chalkboard Review. You can follow them on Twitter at @MrDanielBuck and @jamesafurey, respectively.]

Friday, November 12, 2021


 Martin Chuzzlewit, by Charles Dickens [1843]
London: The New Oxford Illustrated Dickens, 1959, 1-2

Introductory, concerning the pedigree of the Chuzzlewit family

As no lady or gentleman, with any claims to polite breeding, can possibly sympathise with the Chuzzlewit Family without first being assured of the extreme antiquity of the race, it is a great satisfaction to know that it undoubtedly descended in a direct line from Adam and Eve; and was, in the very earliest times, closely connected with the agricultural interest. If it should ever be urged by grudging and malicious persons, that a Chuzzlewit, in any period of the family history, displayed an overweening amount of family pride, surely the weakness will be considered not only pardonable but laudable, when the immense superiority of the house to the rest of mankind, in respect of this its ancient origin, is taken into account.

It is remarkable that as there was, in the oldest family of which we have any record, a murderer and a vagabond, so we never fail to meet, in the records of all old families, with innumerable repetitions of the same phase of character. Indeed, it may be laid down as a general principle, that the more extended the ancestry, the greater the amount of violence and vagabondism; for in ancient days those two amusements, combining a wholesome excitement with a promising means of repairing shattered fortunes, were at once the ennobling pursuit and the healthful recreation of the Quality of this land.

Consequently, it is a source of inexpressible comfort and happiness to find, that in various periods of our history, the Chuzzlewits were actively connected with diverse slaughterous conspiracies and bloody frays. It is further recorded of them, that being clad from head to heel in steel of proof, they did on many occasions lead their leather-jerkined soldiers to the death with invincible courage, and afterwards returned home gracefully to their relations and friends.

There can be no doubt that at least one Chuzzlewit came over with William the Conqueror. It does not appear that this illustrious ancestor ‘came over’ that monarch, to employ the vulgar phrase, at any subsequent period; inasmuch as the Family do not seem to have been ever greatly distinguished by the possession of landed estate. And it is well known that for the bestowal of that kind of property upon his favourites, the liberality and gratitude of the Norman were as remarkable as those virtues are usually found to be in great men when they give away what belongs to other people.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021


 Kubla Khan

Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
   Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
   The shadow of the dome of pleasure
   Floated midway on the waves;
   Where was heard the mingled measure
   From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

   A damsel with a dulcimer
   In a vision once I saw:
   It was an Abyssinian maid
   And on her dulcimer she played,
   Singing of Mount Abora.
   Could I revive within me
   Her symphony and song,
   To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021


The military purge developed a momentum that took it far beyond the handful of commanders seized in May [1937].

Stalin was in a hurry to complete the process. On June 9 the indictment was complete. Eight marshals and generals were chosen to sit on the tribunal to try the eight military defendants, all of whom they knew well. The night before the trial, set for June 11, the interrogators extracted a flurry of further confessions which incriminated the very men who would sit in judgment on the morrow. Five of the soldiers sitting on the tribunal bench were executed over the following months. (Marshal Budyenny, who was to be among them, was saved from death when he resisted arrest by force and telephoned Stalin directly.) The trial lasted a day. Tukhachevsky and his codefendants, once free of their torturers, refused to ratify their confessions until they were bullied by the prosecutor to confess again that some of it was true. Just after midnight sentence was pronounced. All eight were shot that day. Tukhachevsky and Jonah Yakir, commander of the Kiev Military District, died expressing their continued loyalty to Stalin, the man who only a few hours before had given his personal approval for their death.

After the death of its chief victims, the purge rolled on over the rest of the senior officer corps. Marshal Yegerov was liquidated in March 1938, after his wife was forced to confess her part as a Polish spy; Marshal Blyukher, the son of a peasant, and the most famous of the civil war generals, who was a judge in the Tukhachevsky case, was arrested in October 1938. Alone of the top military commanders he refused to confess anything. He was beaten to a pulp, and one eye was torn out. On November 9, the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, he was killed in an office of the Lubyanka as he attacked his torturers. During the purge, 45 per cent of the senior officers and political officials of the army and navy were executed or sacked, including 720 out of the 837 commanders, from colonel to marshal, appointed under the new table of ranks established in 1935. Out of eighty-five senior officers on the Military Council, seventy-one were dead by 1941; only nine avoided the purges entirely, including no fewer than seven who served in the 1st Cavalry Army, which Stalin helped to direct in the civil war. Surprisingly untouched was the former Tsarist General Staff officer, the only one to survive into the 1930s, Boris Shaposhnikov. He was one of the three judges in the Tukhachevsky trial not murdered. Stalin was said to show a genuine respect, even awe, in his presence. His Tsarist roots were not enough to condemn him and he lived on, in poor health, until the end of the Second World War.

The lower ranks of the officer corps suffered less severely. The extent of the manpower losses was lower than most outside observers supposed at the time, though the effect on a military organization in which morale was not high should not be underestimated. The true figures are now available from Russian sources. From 1936 to 1938 a total of 41,218 were purged, but most were dismissed rather than arrested or executed. Of the 34,000 officers sacked in 1937 and 1938 the NKVD arrested 9,500. By May 1940 11,596 officers had been reinstated. As a proportion of the total number of officers these figures are relatively small. Of the 179,000 officers employed in 1938 only 3.7 per cent were still formally discharged by 1940. The net loss in 1937 and 1938, after taking into account new recruits into the officer corps, was approximately 10,000.

Richard Overy, Russia's War: A History of the Soviet Effort: 1941-1945 (28-30).
Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Monday, November 1, 2021


 Jeff Jacoby
The Boston Globe
August 16, 2021

William Gladstone, four times Prime Minister of Great Britain, had a library of 32,000 books. We know—because he make a note in his diary every time he finished reading a book—that he read 22,000 of them. Assuming he did so over the course of eighty years (he lived to be 88), this meant that he read on average 275 books a year, or more than five books each week for a lifetime. He also wrote many books, on a wide variety of topics, from politics to religion to Greek literature, and his scholarship was often impressive.