One of President-elect Biden’s top Education Department nominees hosted a diversity training during which she gave an “extremely complimentary” introduction to its featured speaker, who has accused public schools of “spirit murdering” of Black children.
Discovery Institute researcher Chris Rufo previously reported on the training, which took place under Unified San Diego School District Superintendent Cindy Marten, whom Biden named on Monday as his nominee for deputy secretary of education. An attendee’s notes and screenshots of the presentation allege the speaker, Dr. Bettina Love, accused schools of engaging in “spirit murder” and dehumanizing Black people.
That attendee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Fox News that Love was introduced by Marten, who, they said, offered “glowing” remarks about Love. School board resident Richard Barerra similarly told Fox News on Tuesday that Marten’s introduction was “extremely complimentary.”
As deputy secretary, Marten would have significant power over the federal department responsible for regulating the nation’s public schools. She would also serve as acting secretary in the secretary’s absence.
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The unnamed attendee confirmed Rufo’s reporting, which claimed that Love said public schools didn’t see Black people as humans, were guilty of systemic “anti-Blackness,” and “spirit murder babies.” Although participants were reportedly prohibited from recording Love’s talk, the attendee claims to have relayed these comments from notes they took during the training.
Screenshots from the training promote the idea of “abolitionist teaching,” an idea pushed by the Abolitionist Teaching Network (ATN), which Love co-founded. The organization’s “Guide for Racial Justice & Abolitionist Social and Emotional Learning,” which was tweeted by Love, calls for the removal of “all punitive or disciplinary practices that spirit murder Black, Brown, and Indigenous children.”
It also demands “reparations for Children of Color stolen by the school-to-prison pipeline” and warns that “social and emotional learning” “can be a covert form of policing used to punish, criminalize, and control Black, Brown, and Indigenous children and communities to adhere to White norms.”
The report was dated August 2020, the month before the school district’s training took place on Sept. 29.
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While it’s unclear how much Marten endorses these views, her school district has joined others undertaking a variety of so-called anti-racist initiatives amid racially charged protests following George Floyd’s death. The anonymous attendee’s notes on Marten’s introduction read, in part: “Recognize our privilege and bias and how it affects our decisions.”
That particular event was geared towards managers and principals, according to the attendee. Under Marten’s leadership, the school district also held training that challenged teachers to confront their “white privilege.”
The teachers were told they are racist and “upholding racist ideas, structures, and policies” and must commit to becoming “antiracist” in the classroom.” They were also required to watch clips of Robin DiAngelo, author of the book, “White Fragility,” and Ibram X. Kendi, author of the book “How to be an Antiracist.” Kendi, as Fox News previously noted, has argued “there is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy” and that discrimination is a valid “anti-racist” tool. “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination,” he wrote.
Neither Biden’s team, Love, nor Marten responded to Fox News’ requests for comment.
School board president Barrera vehemently defended the training and indicated he supported the idea that Black children’s spirits were being murdered by schools. When asked whether the district endorsed that concept, he said: “The work that we’ve done in the trainings … not only, of course, are supported by our district but are supported by our educators who are developing capacity to improve their ability to teach our students and they welcome it and they want more of it.”
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He also seemed to criticize Rufo when asked earlier in the interview whether “spirit murder” argument was something the school district supported.
“It sounds like something somebody who’s trying to get followers on a blog is trying to inflame the situation,” Barrera said. “We’re in a period in our country right now where we’ve had too many opportunists who are taking advantage of divisions in our country and spreading misinformation and with the intention of dividing people and bringing attention to themselves. We’ve seen too much of that, and that is not what we need to be doing as a country, and certainly not what we’re interested in in our public school system.”
Rufo told Fox News: “Mr. Barrera is lashing out like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. But, in this case, the cookie jar is cultural Marxism. He is a threat to children in San Diego and beyond.”
Barrera also disputed the idea that Rufo’s source was a “whistleblower,” as Rufo claimed. Instead, he said, that the district had been “very” transparent. “We not only have nothing to hide, but we’re very proud of the work that we have begun to do in confronting racist practices in our district — and removing barriers of racism to young people in our district,” he said.
When asked about a screenshot that instructed attendees not to record Love’s comments, Barrera declined to provide additional comment. “I’m not going to speak to that because, first of all, I don’t know whether that’s true,” he said, adding that he wasn’t sure if that reported restriction was for copyright or other purposes.
As Rufo previously noted, Love published a 2019 article titled, “How Schools Are ‘Spirit Murdering’ Black and Brown Students.” After highlighting an incident in which teachers dressed as Mexicans and the border wall for Halloween, Love introduced the concept of spirit murder.
“What I am talking about is a slow death, a death of the spirit, a death that is built on racism and intended to reduce, humiliate, and destroy people of color,” she said.
But based on ATN’s report, it appeared as though “abolitionist teaching” entailed more than opposing overt acts of cultural appropriation, such as insensitive Halloween costumes. The report focuses on “social and emotional learning” (SEL), which the Education Department’s website describes as involving “the processes through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”
In warning about the “covert” policing of SEL, the report refers to readers to “Kaler-Jones,” an apparent reference to Cierra Kaler-Jones. A Medium article by Kaler-Jones argues that “SEL conversations, practices, and curricula are too often based on white, cisgender, patriarchal norms and values which further enact emotional and psychological violence onto Black, Brown, and LGBTQ+ youth of color, in particular.”
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It adds: “The current narrative around SEL is that students must manage and regulate themselves and their emotions, conform and constrict their identities, and not express their fullest, most authentic selves.”
Details surrounding the school district’s training appeared to reflect reporting on how critical race theory and related ideas are permeating U.S. institutions in a variety of ways.
Last year, President Trump banned his administration from carrying out certain training which he described as divisive and anti-American. Another executive order set up a commission designed to direct schoolchildren towards a “patriotic education” and to push back on the idea that the country is “irredeemably and systemically racist.”
Before taking office, Biden has encountered pleas from higher education groups to reverse Trump’s initial order. Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, who wrote legislation opposing the order, also reportedly wrote a letter asking Biden to scrap the measure.
Critical race theory training has been defended by some.
“If we are going to live up to this nation’s promise — ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’ — we have to see each other as human beings, and we have to do whatever it takes, including taking whatever classes make that possible,” attorney M.E. Hart told The Washington Post. Hart, who has conducted these types of training sessions, said: “These classes have been very powerful in allowing people to do that, and we need them more than ever. There’s danger here.”
But according to Rufo, Marten’s apparent ties to critical race theory should disqualify her from serving in the administration.
“Cindy Marten is one of the most radical superintendents in the country,” Rufo told Fox News.
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“During her tenure in San Diego, she promoted the most divisive concepts from critical race theory and implemented bone-headed policies such as eliminating the requirement to turn in homework on time. Senators should oppose her confirmation as Deputy Secretary of Education.”
Barrera defended Marten, stating: “Cindy is an incredibly gifted educator and we are not only extremely proud as San Diegans that President-elect Biden has nominated her to be the deputy secretary of education but we’re inspired by what Cindy will be able to do across the country for all children.”
Fox News’ Bradford Betz contributed to this report.