Updated: Jan 8
Keeping the right people accountable
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Chelsea Boyle, the Orange County mother of a first grader who recently hired the Lex Rex Institute after discovering that her daughter had been punished for including the phrase “any life” matters on a drawing she’d made for a friend, is not an isolated case. Like a canary in a coal mine, her situation, while egregious, is indicative of a broader problem. So, what can we learn from it?
I’m sure there are more, but I’d like to suggest three lessons:
First, we learn that, for school administrators at least, it’s not enough just to parrot progressive buzzwords. One must parrot only progressive buzzwords and nothing but progressive buzzwords. Any independent thought, even when coupled with state-approved buzzwords, is punishable – no matter if you’re a young child with no knowledge of contemporary politics.
Second, we learn that school administrators have gotten very, very used to being unaccountable to their bosses – the parents of the students they’ve been entrusted with. I don’t want to get into this issue at great length, as the reasons for it could fill a book (a book we may be writing in the near future). But at least part of the problem comes from misplaced blame and shameless passing of the buck. When we blame the wrong people for things gone awry and fail to call those in power to account, we let those responsible off easy.
Sometimes misplaced blame is due to conscious misdirection from the real culprits – in LRI’s cases, we’ve found that school administrators are among the worst culprits of the “blame game.” No matter what you ask about, or whom you ask, it was always someone else’s fault and someone else’s decision. I’m sure I’ll win the lottery before I find a bureaucrat who takes responsibility for his own actions, and I’ve never bought a lottery ticket.
But just as often, we ourselves are at fault for the misplaced blame. It’s easier to blame someone close to what happens, rather than someone responsible for it, even when those close were, in fact, helping. In the past few days, we’ve seen a lot. Chelsea and her daughter’s situation is shocking. It’s understandable when the response is outrage. However, outrage is worse than useless when it is misdirected. In the eyes of some, proponents of the “Black Lives Matter” movement are rightly outraged. Whether or not that’s true, it ought to be incredibly obvious that a seven-year-old girl is not the appropriate target of that outrage. Similarly, parents across the country who are rightly outraged about what happened to Chelsea’s daughter risk committing the very same mistake. The teachers are not to blame. Chelsea has been very clear with my office that every teacher at her daughter’s school with whom she has interacted has been nothing short of wonderful. These are talented, caring educators who are actively looking out for the wellbeing of their students. The school district’s transgression is not their fault. They took no part in it. Fault lies with the school board and with the school’s principal. If we get distracted, we let them off easy.
Don’t let that happen.
(On a related note, we have seen a huge number of responses to Chelsea’s story expressing the same – understandable – sentiment, that the only way to avoid this sort of situation is to homeschool. While LRI fully supports any parents interested in homeschooling, the fact is that many parents are not able to homeschool, or simply prefer not to. This should not and does not mean that these parents have to simply accept injustice and impropriety in the public school systems. Public officials are not less beholden to the rights of Americans, they are more so.)
You don’t know what is happening at your child’s school
Lastly, and most importantly, we learn that you (yes, you) do not know what is happening at your child’s school.
Chelsea is an extremely involved parent. Far more so than most. Prior to this incident, parents of other children in the Capistrano School District might easily have mistaken Chelsea for a full-time employee. Spending hundreds of hours volunteering with her daughter’s school, Chelsea was as close to a permanent fixture on campus as anyone could be.
No one could accuse Chelsea of being uninvolved in her daughter’s education. So it may be shocking to learn that Chelsea had no knowledge whatsoever of the fact that the school’s administration had forced her daughter to apologize in front of hundreds of students, deprived her of her right to draw for her friends, and even excluded her from recess – all for creating an artwork that most sane people would regard as totally innocuous – until nearly a year after the incident took place. When she did learn about it, it was not from school employees, but from another parent, who mentioned it in passing.
This is not for lack of interest in race-related issues. Months prior to learning of what happened, Chelsea had explicitly asked her school’s principal whether her daughter was being taught about the “Black Lives Matter” movement, requesting to be notified if the school ever did teach about it. She calmly explained that, while she thought it was appropriate to teach about racism, she would prefer to know if the school was teaching about these matters from a politically-charged angle. She was met with a jovial reply that the school would happily inform her if that ever happened, but was reassured that she had nothing to worry about for now.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Chelsea, the school’s website included a page full of photos of Black Lives Matters protestors, which Chelsea’s daughter was confronted with on a near-daily basis shortly after logging on to the computer system. When she inferred something from those images that differed from what the school would prefer she believe, she was punished for it. This might not be a “part of the curriculum,” but it’s hard to argue it wasn’t taught. This issue is not limited to Orange County, California. Across the country, it always follows the same pattern: when parents are concerned about what their children are taught, responses focus on the use (or misuse) of terminology. Whether it is appropriate to use specific terms, like “Critical Race Theory,” is far from the point. The fact of the matter is that we do not care what the school calls it. Parents are concerned that their children are being taught that American history – or even history in general – is nothing but the story of intractable racial conflict. Or, at the very least, they’d like to be informed when it happens! Answers like, “that’s not Critical Race Theory, that’s race-critical theory” accomplish nothing but to show us that we are being played for fools. They know full well what parents mean. Excuses like this show that they are trying to hide what they are teaching – because they know we wouldn’t like it.
What are they teaching at your children’s school? The answer is clear: you don’t know.
The situation with Chelsea Boyle’s daughter may well be a mistake. But we suspect it isn’t. And we owe it to her and to other similarly situated students and parents to investigate. To that end, we’ve filed a Public Records Act request with the district asking for the books and authors used in the history curriculum. LRI will be compiling similar information on as many school districts as we can. We are currently in the process of developing a program on filing requests for public records and combing through what the school hands out. It’s a monumental task, and there will be plenty of opportunities to volunteer and get involved. In the meantime, we encourage you to file requests for public records in your local school district. You may be surprised what’s being taught.
 The truth is that this issue is far, far less complicated than you’re led to believe. The Board of Trustees bears ultimate responsibility for any decision of a school district – even decisions whether or not to follow directives from the state. They’re called “trustees” for a reason, and they answer directly to the people, no matter what they’d have you believe. Principals also bear direct responsibility over everything that happens at their schools, but they, too, answer to the board.