If you listen to the mainstream media, critical race theory (CRT) is just “an academic field that critiques racial justice issues” (Topeka Capital-Journal), which “Republicans are weaponizing… to win back the House” (Buzzfeed). These efforts to tamp down controversy are proving necessary because during the past year a national movement promoting radical indoctrination shifted its reasonable-sounding approaches to K-12 education toward the radical ends.
An excellent example can be found in Rhode Island, with the Highlander Institute, which Accuracy in Media found has received $1,421,461 for training services in the Providence school department. This was largely funded by the federal government through the state Department of Education.
The Highlander Institute’s radicalism can be seen in a review of its Twitter stream. For example, the organization provided the only retweet for a tweet by Dinah Becton-Consuegra of the Kapor Center in Oakland, California, which says:
“We are a country founded on racist ideas, policies and practices and yet white people don’t want us to talk about this in school now. And there’s a movement happening across the country and we are just watching all the chips fall.”
The Highlander Institute was not always dedicated to setting up those chips — at least not obviously.
The institute began in earnest in 1999 as the Bradford Dunn Institute with the mission to improve teaching practices and community awareness of “students with learning differences.” In 2005, it began “a dynamic collaboration with Highlander Charter School in Rhode Island,” which was followed by a “generous multi-year” grant from the Hasbro Children’s Fund to expand its professional development activities across the region.
Around 2010, the organization changed its name to the Highlander Dunn Institute and added “using innovative education practices as a catalyst for social change” to its mission. By 2012, Highlander dropped “Dunn” from its name and shifted its focus to “blended learning,” which mixes digital media learning and traditional teaching methods.
With $2,991,295 in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2015 and 2016, Highlander expanded its reach and added “personalized instruction models” to its areas of focus. The group’s personalized learning activities received a big boost in 2017 when Microsoft’s Bill Gates joined with the charitable foundation of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to provide $12 million to Boston-based “social entrepreneur” venture firm, New Profit, which shared some of the windfall with the Rhode Island non-profit.
In 2019, CRT meant “culturally responsive teaching” for Highlander, and the institute had begun training teachers in its “Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Education Teacher Framework.” Even then, however, the cultural emphasis seemed largely to be a sort of marketing flourish. Importantly, the fourth “criteria” in its framework was “active demandingness based on assessment,” which meant “implementation of a continuous improvement approach” requiring “the use of data by both the facilitator and learner.” In other words, a rigorous process to draw students toward greater achievement.
However, in the past year or so, critical race theory and social justice have been fully grafted onto these positive-sounding principles and strategies. The fourth “domain” of Highlander’s framework is now “critical consciousness,” which means teaching children “how cognitive skills empower them to transform their lives, their communities, and society,” with an emphasis on “systems of inequality and the commitment to take action against these systems.”
Earlier this month, Highlander Managing Partner Malika Ali was a featured speaker at the inaugural Antiracism for Educators Conference, presented by EDquity Consulting, from Atlanta, Georgia, “to share strategies centered around antiracism & instructional equity with PK-12 educators.”
The seed in Highlander’s 2010 mission statement — to be “a catalyst for social change” — has sprouted, and the hidden “chips” of this profusely funded, radical, and national movement are indeed falling into place.