The bully is the scourge of the elementary school playground. So who could object to a new anti-bullying curriculum scheduled to be tested in three Minneapolis elementary schools -- Hale, Jefferson and Park View -- and adopted districtwide if successful?
But what if that curriculum is really a disguise for a very different agenda brought to Minneapolis by the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C.-based gay and transgender advocacy group? What if its lessons have little to do with bullying, and much to do with ensuring that kids as young as age 5 submit to HRC's orthodoxy on family structure, even if it differs from their own parents' view?
What if students who dissent are subjected to teacher-directed peer pressure and negative evaluations?
In other words, what if anti-bullying advocates themselves turn out to be the bullies?
Welcome to the "Welcoming Schools" curriculum.
In March, Minneapolis Superintendent Bill Green praised "Welcoming Schools" as "a tool to combat bullying, by focusing on diversity, gender stereotyping and name-calling." But the curriculum's underlying social/political agenda leaps from every page.
"Welcoming Schools" has three sections. The first, on "family diversity," drums into kids the idea that "traditional families" are outdated. To emphasize this point, kids in grades 3-5 "act out" being members of nontraditional families, including same-gender-headed families.
K-3 students study words like "lesbian" and "gay," while fourth- and fifth-graders learn "bisexual," "dyke" and "transgender."
In the curriculum's second section -- "Looking at Gender Roles and Stereotyping" -- children learn to "expand their notions of gender-appropriate behavior." They read books such as "Sissy Duckling," which deals with "characters challenging gender norms," and "King and King," in which a prince proposes to and marries another prince.
"Welcoming Schools" does not address bullying until its third and final section. It says relatively little about bullies' traditional targets -- kids who are overweight, short or the wrong skin color, for example -- and places heavy emphasis on anti-gay name-calling.
To promote its agenda, "Welcoming Schools" employs classic indoctrination techniques.
Teachers begin lessons by questioning students to identify their current beliefs. Then they use group exercises, films and books to convince the kids that any traditional attitudes they harbor about family structure and homosexuality are harmful "stereotypes." At the end of a lesson, teachers "evaluate" students to ensure that their views now pass official muster.
One fill-in-the-blank phrase that students are to complete during evaluation says it all: "I used to think, but now I know ..."
The "Family Diversity Photo Puzzle," a typical lesson for grades 1-3, exemplifies this approach.
In the exercise, the teacher instructs students to arrange photos of adults and children to create seven families. But the exercise is rigged, though children don't know it.
"The packets of photographs selected make it impossible to create seven 'traditional' families: that is, families that include a mother, a father and children," says the curriculum guide. "Students will find that they must create some families with adults of the same gender. ..." and then decide how to label the members.
The guide advises teachers to use their authority to encourage the right answer: "[I]t is helpful for students if you use your own set of photos to create a family with two moms and/or two dads."
When the lesson is over, the teacher exhorts students to examine their beliefs, confess their errors and commit to reform.
"Were there types of families you didn't create?" asks the teacher. "Why do you think you didn't create those families?" (In other words, what's wrong with you?) "If you did this activity again, would you do anything differently?" (Hmm, I wonder what the right answer is to that one?)
"Welcoming Schools" uses the same strategy in its section on expanding "gender norms." (The guide advises teachers to avoid referring to their class as "boys and girls." "For some children," it explains, "identifying as a boy or girl in order to participate in an activity creates internal dissonance.") Students are evaluated on "whether or not [they] feel comfortable making choices outside gender expectations."
At Hale School, some parents are up in arms. While they oppose bullying, they say, this is not the way to address it. They have been explaining their concerns since February, when Principal Bob Brancale announced in an e-mail that "Welcoming Schools" "will be piloted ... regardless of the personal issues or concerns of parents or staff."
"It's a direct slap at parents' face," said Hale parent Arbuc Flomo of the newly formed Coalition for Parents' Rights. " 'I used to think, but now I know ...'? It's like a teacher saying to your first-grader, 'what you learned in your seven years before coming to first grade here -- what you learned from your parents -- is wrong.' "
Dan Loewenson of the Minneapolis School District says that parents are free to opt their children out of the program.
After Hale parents filed formal objections to "Welcoming Schools" in March, district leaders referred the matter to the district's Curriculum and Instruction Committee. On May 28, the committee will deliberate about next steps after hearing from parents and staff.