1000 x 90

LETTERS / New “Woke” Teaching Methods in the Watauga County Schools

Dear Editor,

The Pandemic lockdowns and masking caused physical and emotional harm to everyone, including Watauga County School students. During the Pandemic, the NC State Board of Education, NC Department of Public Instruction, and Watauga County Board of Education quietly initiated new training programs to support “woke” teaching methods and materials based on “Social Emotional Learning” (“SEL”).    The parents of Watauga County K-12 students need to understand “woke” indoctrination is being administered under the guise of Pandemic recovery.

In 2020, the NC State Legislature passed a new state law (SL 2020-7) directing the NC State Board of Education to prepare a school mental health policy and plan, to address problems such as youth mental health, suicide prevention, substance abuse, sexual abuse prevention, sex trafficking prevention, and teenage dating violence.  But the NC State BOE and DPI responded by formulating new “woke” policies and plans for use in K-12 public schools (Policy SHLT-003), defined in terms of “Social Emotional Learning” (“SEL”) approaches.  

SEL originated as a controversial approach developed in Academia over many years that focuses on social and emotional issues. This general SEL approach has often been criticized for over-emphasizing political / emotional issues and reactions, to the neglect of balancing them with factual and logical considerations that are also important in such complex matters. 

In 2019, CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), the foremost national advocate of SEL, had radically modified its prior SEL approaches to make a new “Transformative SEL” approach that explicitly embraces teaching K-12 students “Academic content that integrates issues of race, class and culture”. The new Transformative SEL approaches call for teaching “…social and emotional competencies needed for civic engagement and social change, reflecting on personal and social identities, examining prejudices and biases, interrogating social norms, disrupting, and resisting inequities.”  See the CASEL website for more detail.

At a sparsely attended June 28, 2021 meeting, the Watauga Board of Education reviewed and adopted a detailed Watauga plan to implement the NC State BOE policies.  The Watauga BOE plans explicitly endorsed using the CASEL approaches and initiated a plan for teacher training in those CASEL approaches that was to be completed by Dec 2021.  Parents will find some parts of the plans justifiable. But many parents will find some parts of these plans highly objectionable because they support some parts of the radical “Transformative SEL” political agenda.   

The Newsela computerized lesson materials used in Watauga County Schools in 2021-2022 (discussed in my August 10, 2022, letter to High Country Press) clearly utilize some of the radical “Transformative SEL” approaches, by explicitly covering political topics including “systemic racism”, “oppression”, “white privilege”, “intersectionality”, “protest”, “resistance”, “sexual identity” and many others.

There are many potential devils in the details of these plans for the Watauga County Schools and how they will be implemented in the classrooms this Fall.  But several of the other Policies of the Watauga Board of Education explicitly invite parental involvement and input.   I believe that the parents of Watauga students should carefully monitor the materials assigned to their children, discuss the good and/or bad of those materials with their children’s teachers and also demand the Watauga Board of Education publicly reveal and discuss the teacher training materials and student materials that will be assigned to their children this coming year.

Mark A. Murphy PhD, JD

Blowing Rock North Carolina