Far-right activists push changes to Louisiana’s early childhood education • Louisiana Illuminator – Louisana Illuminator

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An ultra-conservative movement is close to adding Louisiana to its list of states where early childhood education standards have been updated to remove what it views as policy that further indoctrinates children in viewpoints it opposes.

A Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) committee approved the early childhood policy revisions Tuesday without discussion after hearing from supporters and opponents of the changes. The update, which has the backing of an organization some consider extreme, is likely to gain approval at BESE’s meeting Wednesday.

BESE has eight new members who took their seats in January. Republicans now dominate the 11-member body, which includes three members chosen by the governor and eight district representatives who are elected. 

Their anticipated vote to adopt far-right childhood education standards will likely be the first of many, and it has the blessing of GOP Gov. Jeff Landry, who has touted parental rights, school choice and other conservative stances in his education platform. 

The changes target an emphasis on social and emotional learning, or SEL, in early childhood education, which covers children from birth through age 4. Its elements cover how children learn about themselves and relate with others, which critics say serve as a gateway for topics such as racial justice, social justice and equity.

Paige Lowry, education advocate for the Baton Rouge chapter of Moms for Liberty, spoke to BESE members in support of removing SEL standards from state early education policy. The following of such standards “fuses politics” with education and results in young children being “psychologically programmed to be agents of change,” she said.

Moms for Liberty members have converged on school board meetings throughout the country in recent years to move public education policy to the far right. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, considers Moms for Liberty an “extremist” group for its support of book bans and opposition to LGBTQ+ and racially inclusive education.    

To support her case, Lowry read a letter to the board from education policy analyst Carole Haynes, which referenced white children being made to feel guilty through SEL and lessons that embrace radical LGBTQ+ philosophy. 

Haynes has referred to SEL as “the vehicle being used to implement critical race theory into schools.”

A frequent target of conservatives, critical race theory (CRT) views racism and racial bias in terms of their impact on society, laws and other institutions. Critical race theory is not a subject taught in early education or K-12 classes, but its critics have fought to keep it from being applied to topics such as history. Without taking race into consideration, CRT proponents have said American history is being white-washed to gloss over unsavory aspects such as slavery and its vestigial Jim Crow laws.          

BESE members approved replacing SEL references in the state’s early education standards with “interpersonal skills,” which opponents of the changes said is too vague of a term. In general, such skills include verbal communication, active listening and problem-solving.    

Derrick Toups teaches childhood development at Louisiana community colleges and served on the panel that recommended the standards to BESE. In a letter to board members, he said the research-based SEL guidelines are not “‘bad for children’ as fomented by Moms for Liberty and other opponents of the standards…”

In an email exchange with the Illuminator, Toups said social and emotional development in the classroom might involve “a teacher reading a book such as ‘My Many Colored Days’ by Dr. Seuss to help children learn the names of different emotions such as anger, happiness, frustration or excitement. Teachers will also help children resolve disagreements by modeling conflict resolution language or help a child calm down after getting angry by giving them space to take deep breaths, stomp their feet or explain why they are upset,” he added.

“Removing or weakening social and emotional development from these standards would be akin to removing a leg from your dining room table, and Louisiana’s children deserve to be nourished at the table, not from the floor,” Toups said.

Belinda Davis was an appointee of former Gov. John Bel Edwards when BESE adopted the social and emotional learning components as part of its early childhood education principles. She appeared before the board Tuesday to oppose the changes, noting the standards put in place just last fall were developed by a group of experts based on nationally recognized best practices. 

The far-right has a skewed take on SEL, Davis said, and it is “now some boogeyman attempting to indoctrinate our kids.” 


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