This week, Benny Johnson on Twitter and Turning Point USA’s website claimed that Iowa is mandating Critical Race Theory based on documents leaked from a diversity training this spring held in southeastern Iowa. Dennis Prager on Thursday made Johnson’s report the leading subject of his “fireside chat.”
The focus of his report is a slide presentation given at the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency, which, yes, is offensive. (See example below.)
Statements like “Make America Great Again” is not a covert racist statement. That is an individual opinion of a political phrase the trainer (obviously) did not like. While I was not a fan of President Donald Trump, I don’t believe and never heard any of his supporters advocate a return to things like segregation. That is a lazy, bad faith argument. To be sure, it is disturbing that this particular training was held at Mississippi Bend AEA.
“Euro-centric curriculum,” I’m not sure what that means or what a non-Euro-centric curriculum would entail. In Iowa, the curriculum is expected to align with Iowa’s academic standards. I have issues with Iowa’s academic standards, particularly the math and ELA standards that were essentially carbon copied from the Common Core State Standards and science adopted from the Next Generation Science Standards. However, covert white supremacy is not one of my complaints about those standards because it doesn’t exist in those standards. And I’m going to go out on a limb and say it doesn’t exist in the curriculum used in Iowa’s public and accredited non-public schools.
But I digress.
Anyway, I agree that this kind of “diversity training” is horrible and inappropriate.
Where I take issue with Johnson is what he implies.
He said, “This training was MANDATED to ALL educators and employees of the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency, one of the largest school districts in Iowa. The training is stamped with the approval of the school district, which operates under the Iowa Department of Education.”
First, the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency is NOT a school district, it is an area education agency. They provide consulting and special education services for school districts in Clinton, Scott, and Muscatine counties and parts of Cedar, Jackson, and Louisa counties. They provide very little direct instruction within public school or non-public school settings outside of special education services.
Second, he writes, “the training is stamped with the approval of the school district (again, not a school district), which operates under the Iowa Department of Education.”
EVERY school district and accredited non-public school in Iowa operates under the Iowa Department of Education. To imply that this training somehow has the approval of the Iowa Department of Education is ridiculous.
Until recently, the state did not provide any guidance related to what could or could not be part of diversity training, nor did it mandate diversity training at all.
Mississippi Bend AEA probably mandated it for their direct staff. I don’t know that for sure from a leaked document, but still, the TPUSA headline also states it is “Mandated For Iowa School System.”
Johnson claims to have the sign-in sheet for the training and said hundreds of teachers had to participate. One sign-in sheet for hundreds of teachers? I guess I have difficulty believing the staff responsible for providing this training, who would have possession of this sign-in sheet, would leak it to Johnson.
Let me give you a little background about Johnson – he was fired for plagiarism and then accused of plagiarism again and was suspended by Independent Journalism Review for an unsubstantiated report on former President Barack Obama.
So do I trust that he actually has a sign-in sheet? No, I do not. It’s unclear how widespread this training actually was. I agree with Johnson that it should not be part of a mandated employee diversity training. Still, in typical Johnson fashion, he’s getting his platform riled up about something that is now banned, not mandated, in Iowa.
He is a master at clickbait, which is not journalism, it’s hackery.
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed HF 802 into law. If nothing else, Johnson provided an excellent example of something that is now prohibited under the new law. (He didn’t mention this law until much later in his tweet thread and didn’t mention it at all on the TPUSA website. As a result, Prager also didn’t mention it either during his “fireside chat.” An important piece of information, no?)
In a statement upon signing the bill, Reynolds said, “Critical Race Theory is about labels and stereotypes, not education. It teaches kids that we should judge others based on race, gender or sexual identity, rather than the content of someone’s character. I am proud to have worked with the legislature to promote learning, not discriminatory indoctrination.”
I don’t think she could have been any clearer about where Iowa stands on the subject. She certainly didn’t need to provide Johnson a statement in response to his Tweet thread (which, again, was not included in the TPUSA website).
No, Iowa is not mandating critical race theory. It was never mandated even before the bill. One AEA including it in their employee diversity training does not equal a statewide mandate.
Update: Mississippi Bend AEA released a statement that I saw after publishing this op/ed, as I suspected, this was shared internally and it wasn’t approved:
“The presentation in question was put together by a volunteer committee of staff members and was not properly vetted through the necessary channels. The presentation was then shared internally only as a part of departmental meetings.
“As an organization, we deeply regret that some of the content was not properly sourced and was unnecessarily political. We sincerely apologize for this misstep. This presentation was not approved, would never be approved, and will never be used in the future. The Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency Board of Directors and Agency Administrative Leadership emphatically disavow the political nature of the presentation and will make appropriate corrections to processes and communication expectations.
“As a trusted resource for educators, parents, and students, the Mississippi Bend AEA’s mission is to improve teaching and learning for all students through active partnerships and assertive leadership in a climate of mutual respect. We are proud of the impactful work we do on a daily basis to assist the districts and educators who are supported through our agency.”