How Schools Officials Avoid ‘Red Flag Words’ that Will Upset Parents

How School Officials Avoid ‘Red Flag Words’ that Will Upset Parents
How School Officials Avoid ‘Red Flag Words’ that Will Upset Parents

The North Carolina Department of Education is afraid of concerned parents.

This inevitable conclusion comes from a recently-released report from the watchdog group “No Left Turn in Education.” The report is substantial, running to 216 pages. Like many documents related to education, it is not easy reading.

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However, page 28 offers a tidbit that provides an insight into the workings of the liberal education establishment. It is in the form of an e-mail exchange between two bemused North Carolina educationists.

New Rules, New Words

On July 1, 2021, Janet Stockwell, Associate Director of the North Carolina Early Learning Network, sent the following e-mail to Dr. Paula Grubbs, a Technical Assistance Specialist at the University of North Carolina, asking for help with a delicate problem.

Ms. Stockwell asked Dr. Grubbs to help eliminate any “red flag words” in a document she was preparing. For those unfamiliar with the Byzantine world of educational bureaucracy, red flag words are those that are likely to provoke an undesirable reaction after a document becomes public.

Bureaucrats want to avoid these unfortunate terms. However, the world of “woke” finds it hard to convey its message without them. The problem is complicated by the general public, who has become more adept at spotting their true meanings.

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Eliminating Critical Race Theory Language

Ms. Stockwell’s e-mail contained many terms she was trying to avoid. Her biggest concerns were “whiteness, white supremacy, white-centered,” which she thought “may raise a flag.” However, even in this inter-office communication, she was uncertain. “I may be going too far in my comments,” she added.

The term “equity,” especially “racial equity,” caused concern. Ms. Stockwell wonders if “educational equity” or “cultural equity” might be less provocative. She also worries about the “woke” favorite, “people of color.” Apparently, Dr. Grubbs had once suggested “narrow societal norms” as a substitute for “whiteness,” but Ms. Stockwell fears “that might not fly.”

Dr. Grubbs sympathizes. She responds, “It is very difficult not to generalize so much that the intent is lost. I don’t know how to be ‘safe’ and yet say what needs to be said.”

For bureaucrats remaining “safe” is the best way to protect their jobs, especially when taxpayer money underwrites the paychecks.

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The Rise of Radicalism

Once, it was easy to burrow safely into a Department of Education position. The decisions were relatively routine. Documents usually reflected the opinions of “experts” in university schools of education. Most experts drew their views from the work of John Dewey, the Columbia University professor regarded as the “father of progressive education.”

Then two groups came along to upset the applecart: Dewey progressives and educational radicals.

Mired in the Achievement Gap

The first group of “Deweyites” saw a comfortable and gradually developing system based on early-twentieth-century progressivism.

The “progressives” fell into a trap of their own making. They confided in their methods and secured public money to create programs to address the problems of needy students. The state legislatures complied with their requests. Schools with high numbers of “at-risk students” got more teachers and extra funds to meet those children’s educational needs.

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The problem was that the progressive methods didn’t work. The government programs proved to be black holes swallowing talent and money that yielded ever worse results.

Enter the New Radicals

From the sixties onward, a new generation of radicals entered the picture. They did not share the progressives’ allegiance to universities and school districts. The radicals scorned the progressives, seeing the educational establishment as part of an inherently racist society.

Sensing a threat to their existence, the establishment educationists sprang into action. They read the newly-required “anti-racist” books. They invited the authors to be the keynote speakers at their conventions. The professors injected postmodern thought and critical theory into their lectures.

The “curriculum specialists” infused the new “buzz words” into school system course guides. Principals and other school site administrators supported the “bright young teachers” and their “ground-breaking” methods.

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Covid and Involved Parents

Gradually parents became aware of the liberal agenda introduced into the schools. They would oppose and defeat programs like Common Core and other programs. However, many parents still stayed outside the educational dialogue.

The real game-changer in the fight over American schools was the post-Covid action of parents.

Covid scrambled the settled academic world and its “woke” activists. Schools and teachers had to move the classroom from the school building to the child’s home.

One problem existed that none of the bureaucrats foresaw. Some parents reacted vigorously when they saw the radical ideas that the schools were teaching their children enter their living rooms. And, in an even more troublesome vein, they started paying attention to the words and acts of their school districts and state education departments. Red flag words raised the alarm, and administrators needed to take cover. Suddenly, the school board meetings became ground zero in the culture war.

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Reclaiming Education

Thus, hundreds of bureaucrats like the hapless Janet Stockwell faced a new dilemma. How do they appease the “woke” activists without drawing the wrath of more conservative parents? How could they spread radical ideas without sounding radical?

The educationists may figure out the formula, but it will involve another round of disguised programs that take a long time to develop.

In the meantime, parents have a powerful tool—the question. When the administrators try to pass off phrases like “narrow societal norms,” stop them. Ask what that phrase means. Some people fear that they will sound like there are uninformed. That fear is a parent’s worst enemy. The people who devise these terms often hope to confuse the public. Do not let them.

Photo Credit:  © Natalia —