On April 15, thousands of middle and high school students converged on the Augusta Civic Center for the fifth annual Statewide Civil Rights Team Conference. This daylong conference was a gathering of school civil rights teams from across the state. Numerous workshops, presentations and discussions were the order of the day.
The Maine Civil Rights Team Project, sponsored by the Maine Attorney General’s Office and funded by taxpayers, began five years ago as an effort to make schools safe and comfortable environments for all Maine students. There are now more than 100 civil rights teams operating in schools throughout Maine. Thousands of students and educators are directly involved with these teams.
Certainly, the conference would provide a platform for these young people to explore bright and constructive ideas on important issues such as freedoms, rights and civic responsibilities in a constitutional and historic perspective. With “tolerance and diversity” as the common theme, it seems reasonable that all manner of groups and individuals with all manner of opinion and perspective would be offered. What became immediately clear to attendees was that the “tolerance and diversity” slogan bandied around was simply a feel-good phrase used to provide cover for the organizers’ and presenters’ ultimate objective: the inculcation of young minds to a specific political agenda.
Ideology reigned supreme.
A young person attending this conference was guaranteed to be subjected to endless symbols and words portraying non-whites, gays and females as helpless victims and white, heterosexual, male Christians as the ultimate victimizers. There was no diversity of thought and no tolerance for differing opinions. Exclusion and divisiveness ruled the day – victim groups and their grievances vs. the “evil” of traditional Western values. Gay rights groups demonizing white males and pushing for more hate crime laws. Native Americans using the “racist card” to abolish school mascots not of their liking. The sexual harassment industry doing what it does best, spreading fear and resentment in schools and the workplace. It seems every culture was celebrated, except, of course, American.
There was zero mention of the epidemic of gay-on-gay violence and the very real medical risks of a gay lifestyle. Zero mention of the chilling effect of “speech codes” on the freedom of speech. Zero mention of how hate crime laws are really laws governing thought. Zero mention of the oppression, brutality and, yes, slavery practiced by many of the cultures held up as models of multiculturalism. Zero mention of the fact that Western values are responsible for producing unprecedented health, wealth and freedoms for more people of every ethnic, racial and religious background than at any time in the history of civilization.
The blatant bias presented at this conference was breathtaking. The evidence of “groupthink” was thoroughly pervasive and very unsettling. Maybe innocuous to a suspecting adult, but infinitely damaging to impressionable young minds.
Groupthink manifests itself in many ways. It reinforces the inherent morality of the group by sending the message that what the group is doing is in everybody’s best interests. This creates the illusion among members that they are right no matter what the evidence says. Self-criticism takes a back seat to the ideological goals of the group. Groupthink creates “out group” stereotypes. Racist! Homophobe! Sexist! Religious nut! These labels are employed against “outsiders” who would dare question the prevailing orthodoxy. They also serve as a tool of intimidation for any dissenters within the group. Sadly, these were all on display in Augusta in the name of civil rights.
I can remember when the civil rights movement represented the epitome of the struggle for dignity and freedom for all Americans. The costs in lives and suffering in attaining these fundamental rights were a testament to the righteousness of the movement and to the strengthening of our national character. Unfortunately, there are those among us who would shamelessly exploit the virtues of the movement to further their personal and political agendas.
As a 20-year veteran of high school teaching, I find it disturbing, to say the least, that so many fine young people should be subjected to such bias by adults in education.
Ike Morgan is a mathematics and physics teacher at Nokomis High School in Newport and resides in Exeter.