At This Manhattan Middle School School, Sixth-Graders Are Asked to Surveil Friends and Family for ‘Microaggressions’
By Aaron Sibarium | July 27, 2022
A New York City public school encouraged students as young as 10 years old to keep a list of all the “microaggressions” they witnessed, both at school and in their own families, according to materials from the school’s curriculum reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon. The same students were also asked to list their gender identity—”cisgender,” “nonbinary,” or “trans”—as well as their sexual orientation on a graded worksheet.
The sixth-grade humanities curriculum from Lower Manhattan Community Middle School, where just 31 percent of students are white, required students to read Tiffany Jewell’s This Book Is Anti-Racist, one of only five books assigned for the 2021-2022 year. The book contains 20 lessons on “how to wake up, take action, and do the work”—including the work of confronting the police, which Jewell suggests white students can do without ending up “in jail or harmed.”
“If you are a Black, Brown, or Indigenous Person of the Global Majority, you will need to decide how each outcome could end for you,” Jewell writes in a chapter called “Choosing My Path.” “White people, this is not something you need to do because you are at the center of the system.”
From Tiffany Jewell’s ‘This Book Is Anti-Racist’
The book also asks students to surveil their friends and family for racist behavior. “Grab your notebook,” one “activity” instructs readers. “Look and listen for the microaggressions around you. Write them down and note your observations.” Another activity asks students how “folx” in their families “resisted” or “contributed to racism,” defined as the “systemic misuse and abuse of power by institutions.”
The curriculum, which went into effect August 2021, came as parents across New York City were mobilizing against critical race theory in public schools—and as education officials across the country were denying that there was any such thing.
“Critical race theory is not taught in elementary schools,” Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, asserted in July 2021. Parents “are bullying teachers and trying to stop us from teaching students accurate history.”
One month earlier, New York Regents chancellor Lester Young stated that critical race theory “is not our theory of action” and assured parents that “we are not preparing young people to be activists.”
Jewell’s book belies that assurance. “We will work together, in solidarity, to disrupt racism and become anti-racist accomplices,” the preface reads. “There are many moments to pause in this book so you can check in with yourself and grow into your activism.”
The curriculum could spell legal trouble for the school, which is already under investigation for separating seventh and eight-graders into racial affinity groups. That practice prompted a civil rights complaint in December from the watchdog group Parents Defending Education; on July 13, the Department of Education announced it would investigate the middle school over the complaint.
“It’s astonishing that administrators at Lower Manhattan Community seem determined to create a racially hostile educational environment on top of the civil rights investigation that was just opened,” said Nicole Neily, the president of Parents Defending Education. “Parents who were once proud of the school’s academic performance compared to other New York City public schools are now concerned—justifiably so—about the school’s increasing fixation on race.”
Those concerns come amid steep enrollment declines—and budget cuts—in New York City’s public schools. With enrollment down 8 percent since 2020, schools have lost $215 million in funding this year alone, forcing widespread layoffs and larger class sizes.
Divisive curricula like the one at Lower Manhattan Community School have exacerbated that exodus. One parent told the Free Beacon that their child would not be returning to the middle school this fall on account of an assignment that required sixth-graders to disclose their “social identities”—including their sexual orientation—on a worksheet. Though students did not have to “write something for every category,” instructors collected the worksheet for a grade.
Such lessons aren’t the product of a few school administrators run amok but reflect the race-conscious worldview of the New York City Department of Education. In June 2020, then-executive superintendent of Manhattan public schools Marisol Rosales hosted a panel on dismantling “systemic racism in our schools,” which held up Lower Manhattan Community School’s “mission statement on race” as a model for the entire school system.
“To undo the legacy of racism and oppression in this country that impacts our school community,” the mission statement reads, Lower Manhattan Community Schools works to instill “anti-racist beliefs and practices.”
The school’s sixth-grade humanities curriculum is a microcosm of what that education looks like in practice. Three of its five units concern “identity,” with Jewell’s book listed as a “key text” for unit one. The “social identities” worksheet was part of a broader lesson on “the dominant culture,” which consists of “people who are white, middle class, Christian and cisgender.”
Whoever does not fit into this “box,” Jewell writes, is “part of what’s called the ‘subordinate culture.’” Her description of that culture is exhaustive, albeit studded with solecisms: “Folx included in the ‘subordinate culture,’ include Black, Brown, indigenous People of Color of the Global Majority, queer, transgender, and nonbinary folx, and cisgender women, youth, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, atheist, and non-Christian folx, neurodiverse folx, folx living with disabilities, those living in poverty, and more.”
“The people who want to talk about racism all the time are the racists,” said Maud Maron, who served as an elected representative for parents in the district where Lower Manhattan Community School is located. “The people who suffer are the kids who get cheated out of a wholesome school experience and hours of learning that should be focused on academics instead of race indoctrination.”
Lower Manhattan Community School did not respond to a request for comment.
The focus on race extended to the seventh-grade social studies curriculum—ostensibly devoted to early American history—which used “anti-racist” guru Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning as its main textbook, according to a syllabus for the 2021-2022 school year reviewed by the Free Beacon.
These curricula do not seem to have soothed racial tensions at Lower Manhattan Community School, which is 41 percent Asian, 15 percent Hispanic, and 7 percent black.
A group of parents and administrators in April began planning a “restorative justice circle” to address alleged incidents of racism that had taken place over the school year, according to emails reviewed by the Free Beacon. The incidents included a black student calling a South Asian student “Indian Boy,” an Asian student touching a black student’s hair, and a “rumor” that a white student “used the N-word.”
The school eventually canceled the circle after a parent objected that it would “violate students’ privacy” and “possibly put current students at risk”—and after parents started to litigate the incidents over email, replicating the racial catfighting that had consumed the classroom.
One parent questioned the wisdom of discussing the transgressions of Asian students at a time when anti-Asian hate crimes were on the rise. It didn’t go over well.
“African Americans have been facing race-based violence for 500 years in this country, and still face it every day,” another parent responded. “So, I’d ask you to please be sensitive to that fact during discussions and emails with our group.”