American Culture Politics

The ‘Child Soldier’ Strategy of Leftist Teachers’ Unions

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The Grind:
Last October, a group of New York City parents gathered outside City Hall to defend accelerated academic programs. The city’s Department of Education had been chipping away at those programs for over two years—part of its “equity”-oriented agenda—and the predominantly Asian crowd was fed up. “Keep SHSAT,” many signs read, a reference to the Specialized High School Admissions Test that by law determines admission to the city’s top public schools.

The rally was proceeding without a hitch- until a group of student activists shoved their way into the middle of it, blocking speakers and unfurling a large banner that read “Unscreen Our Schools.” The 16- to 17-year-old activists belonged to a group called Teens Take Charge, which argues selective public schools are a form of modern-day “segregation.” Amid the ensuing tumult, one parent pushed the banner aside, while others threatened to call the police.

The skirmish was an especially bitter episode in the ongoing debate over New York City’s elite public schools, where standardized tests are an important factor in admissions. Those tests, the city’s education department has argued, are systemically racist, since very few black and Latino students do well enough on them to be admitted to top schools like Stuyvesant or Bronx Science.

On the other side of the debate are parents—particularly low-income Asian parents—who see the tests as engines of upward mobility and oppose efforts to eliminate them. Public opinion is on their side; an April poll found that a majority of New Yorkers support keeping gifted and talented programs for younger students, while a plurality oppose eliminating the admissions test for specialized high schools.

But the education department has a potent cudgel against that opposition: the high school students of Teens Take Charge, who have been weaponized as child soldiers in the culture war. The fracas at the rally was part of a pattern, nearly a dozen parents said, in which adult activists sic students on anyone who challenges the department’s anti-test agenda.

The Details:
At the adults’ direction, members of Teens Take Charge launch smear campaigns against supporters of merit-based admissions, branding them as “racists” and “segregationists.” If the targeted parents push back, they are accused of attacking kids—making it difficult to avoid reputational ruin.

After the rally last October, for example, Teens Take Charge claimed that the parents had physically assaulted children. “These are students you guys are attacking,” Kevin Beckford, who was chaperoning the activists, said in a video taken at the rally. “@TeensTakeCharge & it’s [sic] adult allies were verbally & physically assaulted & threatened,” Teens Take Charge program manager Tajh Sutton tweeted after the fact. Footage of the rally does not support these claims and its organizers deny them. Asked for evidence of the alleged assaults, Sutton didn’t reply.

“It’s like what Hamas does with human shields,” one parent born in China said. “Immigrants recognize in Teens Take Charge the Soviet Youth and the Chinese Red Guard.” Read more…

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