Critical race theory enters with tilted treatment of “funds of knowledge.”

A controversial teacher training that the Highlander Institute prepared for the Westerly school district exposed two tricks that smuggle racist critical race theory (CRT) into Rhode Island schools: assuming “marginalized students” have greater affinity for a left-wing ideology, and brushing aside established systems that, presumably, have been serving non-marginalized students well.

To understand how these tricks are played, it’s helpful to review the material of another prominent government contractor, WestEd.  This company received over $2,000,000 from the State of Rhode Island over the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years to, among other things, develop curricula to help students “catch up” from the harm done by the government’s COVID shutdown.

In brief, the method is to introduce theories and techniques that are reasonable on their face, but that are joined with ideological preferences that are communicated in hidden assumptions.  As suggested in the above-linked post about Westerly, favored (minority) groups have their heritage, experiences, and cultures reinforced as positive and defining, while disfavored (majority) groups have their own heritage, experiences, and cultures deconstructed and maligned.

The instruction to do this is not included in PowerPoint presentations or official documents.  Instead, it’s simply understood from indoctrination in teacher education and the cult-like expectation that the truth is radical.  The bias does slip through, though, in explanations and examples.

One of the reasonable-sounding concepts that WestEd promotes is “funds of knowledge.”  Basically, teachers are told to find anchors in their students’ lives to make lessons more tangible for them.  WestEd’s source documentation encourages teachers to create a Funds of Knowledge Inventory Matrix for each student, capturing their experiences and noting how the subjects being taught might apply in a special way to that student.

The fundamental premise here is that most school-based practices, curricula, and behaviors are based on mainstream, middle class norms and perspectives.

This might even seem like an obvious thing to do, but an assumed priority slips in to make the matrix a tool to manipulate:

By integrating patterns of learning, knowing, and doing that are familiar to culturally and economically diverse students, academic content becomes easier to connect to their lives and is understood on a deeper level.

In the example, the teacher visits the home of one student, Ruby, whose family is from El Salvador.  The teacher (creepily) takes note of the contents of Ruby’s house (including her parents’ keychains) and brainstorms ways in which they might have educational application.  Mostly, it’s dry and obvious, but here’s the brainstormed “classroom application” from the teacher’s note that Ruby’s house has many images of Jesus Christ and angels:

For social studies, we could compare Christianity with other prominent religions around the world and research different religions and places of worship in our city.

For math, we could compare numbers of practicing members of the different religions around the world.

The teacher tends to see other details from the student’s life as values to bring into the classroom for the purpose of reinforcing them and introducing experiences to the other children.  In language arts, for example, the teacher considers having “Ruby’s mom to talk about El Salvador and her experiences with Spanish in the U.S.”

When it comes to a traditionalist religion, however, the impulse is to minimize its uniqueness.  Ruby is Catholic, so the teacher leverages this “fund of knowledge” to introduce her to other religions.  The goal isn’t to celebrate something unique, but to wash her religion out as nothing special.

Absent the unspoken ideological assumptions, we could easily imagine ways in which knowledge of a student’s Catholicism could be helpful to teach concepts.  The Bible, obviously, is full of stories and lessons that apply not only to life but to every academic subject.  So is the theology generally.  Ruby’s family believes God is a Trinity, right?  So, what shape has three sides?  How about an art project drawing a Catholic icon?

To the contrary, as in the blockquote above, the very objective of the “funds of knowledge” approach is to find “patterns of learning, knowing, and doing that are familiar to culturally and economically diverse students.”  In this framing, Catholicism has the feel of the “mainstream, middle class norms and perspectives” that teachers are being trained to avoid.

The question returns:  What if most of the students are “mainstream, middle class” students?  Shouldn’t the goal be “to connect to their lives,” too?

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