Daze of diversity

National | Some California parents say school assemblies have become forums for liberal indoctrination

Issue: "Power struggle," May 26, 2001

in San Diego
(Warning: Contains graphic material.)

By the time "Days of Diversity," a week-long extracurricular program, concluded last month at Santa Rosa High School in Santa Rosa, Calif., students had learned in 17 different workshops that socialism trumps capitalism, animal rights trump human rights, and American free enterprise is rooted in greed. In five classes, facilitators condemned police brutality, coached schoolchildren to recognize "oppressive," authoritarian tactics of local cops, and encouraged them to support the police-monitoring efforts of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In 11 classes, presenters supported Cuban-style state control. And in 14 sessions, instructors urged students to embrace homosexual "civil rights," and the notion that homosexual sex is a natural form of sexual expression. In all, about 1,000 Santa Rosa students, ages 14 to 18, heard 82 presentations on worldview-73 from the cultural left, and just 9 from conservatives, according to Orlean Koehle of the grassroots local group Parents and Friends for Positive Change. Now, parents and at least one teacher are using terms like "indoctrination" and "raping of the mind" to describe left-wing bias in assemblies and workshops at two California public schools. At Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, Calif., students last year were required to attend politically charged assemblies organized by "progressive" groups such as the Black Student Union and the National Organization for Women (NOW). At one NOW assembly, veteran teacher Dave Lapp watched as a teenage girl stood up and said she was a feminist because she thought it was important to protect a woman's right to choose abortion. Mr. Lapp looked around the auditorium at 900 silent students, some as young as 14, and realized a startling imbalance. "The message was overtly pro-choice," he told WORLD. "But there was no one there to defend a child's right to life. They weren't hearing both sides." Liberal and left-wing bias in public-school workshops and assemblies may be proliferating in California as state-mandated "tolerance" training takes hold. Some conservative and Christian groups in the state see such bias as one battlefront in the larger culture war. But Myron Lieberman, a senior research scholar at the Education Policy Institute, believes liberal bias in public schools is also the logical result of the agenda of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers: They support higher taxes and bigger government because such policies send more money flowing to public-education coffers. "When you support higher taxes and bigger government, where do you get your allies?" Mr. Lieberman said: "From trial lawyer groups, gay and lesbian groups, and other liberal activists who also support higher taxes and bigger government. And you can't get their support unless you support what they want." What such groups seem to want are the hearts and minds of American youth. The National Organization for Women, for example, is reaching out increasingly to "young feminists," particularly since so many "old" feminists have become disenchanted with NOW's gender-centricity. The ACLU publishes a "Campus Organizing Manual" to help students establish groups on college and high-school campuses. The manual suggests that students import speakers such as "a local author whose work has been censored or the executive director of a local ACLU affiliate" to generate enthusiasm among students. From its genesis, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has had youth as its primary constituency. The group pushes for gay-touting curricula, facilitates the formation of school clubs called "Gay-Straight Alliances," and offers on-campus speakers and workshops. GLSEN's influence may have had an impact at Santa Rosa High in April. During a "Days of Diversity" assembly called "Sex and Stuff," peer counselors from another school performed a series of skits and talks on topics ranging from molestation to rape to alternative sex acts. During one skit, a girl sat in a chair while two boys flirted with her, according to Leticia Smith, a parent who attended the assembly. The girl performer rejected the boys, saying they were "sexually harassing" her. After the boys walked off stage, another girl walked up to the girl in the chair. The two then embraced, suggestively caressed each other, and walked off arm in arm. Kids in the audience hooted and cheered. In another skit, a teenage boy and girl decided they were going to "go all the way." While other performers held up a sheet to screen the couple from view, bras, underwear, stockings, and suggestive moaning flew up from behind the sheet as the pair simulated undressing and performing intercourse. Another skit starred "Condom Man," a five-foot-five talking prophylactic who shared explicit information about condom colors, flavors, and use. A fourth skit featured an abstinence "rap" with the rhyming directive, "Sex can wait! Masturbate!" After school administrators sent parents a letter detailing "Days of Diversity" topics, Leticia Smith signed an "opt-out" form so that her son Jordan would not have to participate. But the letter did not mention "Sex and Stuff"; Mrs. Smith heard from other parents about the event, and decided to attend. Later, she learned that, despite the opt-out form, teachers did not provide Jordan with an alternate activity during the assembly. Trying to talk with her son about what he saw and heard "has been very difficult," she said: "He's very embarrassed and tells me, 'I don't want to talk about it.'" But some Santa Rosa parents did talk to school administrators about "Days of Diversity" before it began. Because of a similar event at the school last year that largely excluded conservative viewpoints, parents, including Mrs. Koehle, asked administrators to ensure that "Days of Diversity" would exhibit more ideological balance. Mrs. Koehle and others submitted conservative topics-such as the U.S. Bill of Rights, abstinence, and "Truth or Consequences," a class on homosexuality taught by ex-gays-for the administration's approval. In the end, "balance" meant that 9 of 82 sessions conveyed conservative views on social issues. Santa Rosa principal Bill Waxman said the conservative parents were late in submitting their suggestions for speakers. But Mrs. Koehle said the administration gave parents "the runaround," and told them that "Days of Diversity" might not even occur. When concerned parents finally learned the event was a go, student organizers initially accepted only two of their suggested speakers. When other speakers dropped out, conservatives gained seven more time slots. Asked about concerns over imbalance voiced by conservative parents, Mr. Waxman told WORLD he wasn't sure such complaints were "germane" since they came from only a few parents: "Tolerance is a more germane issue" than balance, he said. Creating it in students "has to be one of our primary goals." Mrs. Koehle disagrees. "What would be so wrong with having a truly balanced format in each classroom, even a debate with both sides presented?" she asked. "Someone who actually has lived in Cuba could tell us what life is really like there. A police officer could tell [his] side of the story, after other speakers have bashed the police. But this is obviously not the format those planning these events want. They like having total access to the hearts and minds of our children without any opposition." Following "Days of Diversity," several Santa Rosa parents contacted the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), a conservative legal-assistance group in Citrus Heights, Calif. Because the school did not notify parents 10 to 15 days in advance of the "Sex and Stuff" assembly, a violation of California's education code, PJI is now helping the parents submit formal administrative complaints. If school administrators refuse to act on the complaints, PJI will take the school to court. "No school district can expect to directly undermine the rights of parents without being held accountable," explained PJI president Brad Dacus. At Tamalpais High School, teacher Dave Lapp is holding administrators accountable for one-sided viewpoints presented at his school. In March, he wrote an opinion piece for the school newspaper called "The Tyranny of the Politically Correct." In it, Mr. Lapp charged that Tamalpais forced students to attend assemblies that were politically motivated and biased toward the left. After the editorial appeared, members of the Tamalpais High Black Student Union marched in front of the school, holding signs that accused Mr. Lapp of racism. Local media covered the protest, and Santa Rosa's daily newspaper published numerous letters denouncing the teacher. Tamalpais High leadership advisor Rachel Schneider told Fox News that the school has not attempted to censor any views, but Mr. Lapp said there have been no conservative presenters at assemblies at Tamalpais since he started teaching there 11 years ago. Meanwhile, scores of students and at least a dozen teachers quietly thanked Mr. Lapp. "A lot of conservative students in this high school feel like they need to keep their mouths shut because their views are out of the mainstream," he said. "If students only go to assemblies that come from the political left, they start to see that as truth," and that's wrong: Mr. Lapp wants assemblies to be optional, and to present views from all sides. But if mandatory left-leaning assemblies continue, he says he will continue to fight bias by challenging the Tamalpais administration and encouraging conservative students to speak up: "We have a popular slogan around here: 'Celebrate diversity.' But the ideas presented here are very narrow. Students are being indoctrinated."

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