The Farmington Public School District in Michigan is under fire this week for a direct call for students to join a Black Lives Matter political protest and declaring that calling America “the land of opportunity” is a microaggression.
The controversial statements were made as part of the school’s “21 Day Equity Challenge.” The district declared that “we, together with you, hope to deepen our understanding about the members of our community and to use this knowledge to confront bigotry, hatred, and discrimination against any individual or group.”
There is nothing wrong with that statement or the purpose of such a challenge. However, there is a “personal action plan sheet” for students to track their progress in becoming antiracist. Directives include “join a Black Lives Matter or an affiliated protest” and “donate to bail efforts supporting people arrested for protesting against injustice.”
While the movement to address racism and affirming that black lives matter has widespread support, BLM as an organization remains highly controversial from involvement in past violent protests to anti-police rhetoric to calling for people not to buy products from white-owned businesses. Reasonable people can disagree on those objections but the point is BLM is an organization that comes with pronounced political viewpoints. The direct solicitation for parents and students to join BLM runs counter to the political neutrality expected from a public school system.
On the microaggression controversy, we have previously discussed such lists on the college level that specify issues ranging from seating choices to eye contact. Terms are flagged from “melting pot” to phrases like “pulling oneself up by your own bootstraps.” Such terms like “postracial” and “personal responsibility” have been added to lists. Even the word “triggering” has been declared “triggering.”
The district warned that saying that America is “the land of opportunity” is another microaggression to be avoided. Why? This country has a record number of people crossing our borders because of the opportunities that it affords to them. That does not mean that we do not have serious problems to address on social or racial equity. You can be supportive of such movements while recognizing that this country also remains a great magnet for those seeking greater opportunities.
The question is how the district choses between political causes. We discussed previously how New York gave students the day off to join climate change protests. I happen to support combatting climate change and have always favored robust environmental protections. However, would students be given the same support for joining protests in support of other causes like a pro-police or pro-life demonstration?
The problem is that these debates are often driven from the extremes. There are many parents who support students discussing racial equity but also do not support school districts engaging in direct political solicitations or associations. As on so many issues, that reasonable middle seems entirely ignored by officials pushing agendas from the extremes. The result is that many families are questioning whether they can send their kids to public schools if they are going to be subjected to political agendas or indoctrination. That will only increase the flight to private schools or support for voucher programs.