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The Bottom Line College Campus Protests Are a Byproduct of K-12 Education

Originally published at The Epoch Times

Tent encampments, violent protests, and defiant students are taking over the campuses of many of America’s most prestigious higher education institutions. In some cases, Jewish students have been forced to leave mid-semester, classes have been canceled or moved to remote only, and buildings have been barricaded by pro-Palestinian protesters.

On April 30, upwards of 300 people were arrested at Columbia University and The City College of New York, schools less than a mile apart, after police were finally allowed on campus. Harvard University, Yale University, Princeton University, Brown University, University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have also been dominated by student protests, encampments, demands, and disorder.

The protests that have led to chaos and violence on college campuses are centered on pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel, and pro-hatred and genocide of Jews messages. In addition to the college students, police are finding seasoned agitators participating in the destruction. According to NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban, “professional outside agitators” were among students inside the barricaded Hamilton Hall at Columbia University.

The unrest is far from limited to the northeastern universities. On April 30, violence occurred at the University of California at Los Angeles, which followed last week’s unruly demonstrations at the University of Southern California, where protesters, according to NBC Los Angeles, “threw objects at officers, including a rock, water bottles and water,” leading to nearly a hundred arrests.

All students — K-12 and higher education alike — must be held accountable for abiding by the established rules and code of conduct. And if institutional leaders aren’t willing to do that, they should be replaced.

Keri D. Ingraham

The defiant, even anarchical, behavior of students shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, despite university officials at many of these schools misguidedly attempting to appease students by negotiating with them over their anti-Israel demands in hopes of ending the protests.

The students carrying out these protests might have gained entrance into Ivy League schools by their top-in-the-nation high school academic achievements in terms of grade point averages, standardized test scores, and Advanced Placement course completion. However, graduates of these institutions aren’t the students employers want to hire. Rather, employers want hard-working students who are thriving in their studies rather than threatening fellow students, protesting, forming tent encampments on campus, inciting violence, and disregarding institutional authority and law enforcement.

K-12 Education: The Precursor

This makes one wonder how American higher education got here.

Look no further than K-12 public education and even many elite private schools. In these places, children are often no longer taught respect for authority, including their parents. Nor do they learn an accurate account of historical and world news facts or the inherent dignity and worth of every person regardless of skin color, ethnic background, or religion.

With the infiltration of Critical Race Theory into K-12 classrooms, children and teens are shepherded toward a worldview that “teaches people that their individuality is not based on their intrinsic worth as human persons, but as members of a group based on their perceived outward appearance,” according to the Washington Policy Center. Critical Race Theory intentionally seeks to divide people and label them, not based on their character or conduct, but rather on their skin color. White, Asian, and Jewish people are oppressors. Others are oppressed. In turn, discrimination and retaliation toward these groups labeled oppressors is justifiable.

The American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teachers union in the country, enlisted Ibram X. Kendi for its TEACH Conference and has relentlessly promoted his work and books about “anti-racism.” In 2020, public school districts nationwide began utilizing his materials in their teacher training. As just one example, Fairfax County Public Schools, the 10th largest school district in the United States, paid Kendi $20,000 for a one-hour training session and spent another $24,000 to purchase copies of his book, which became required student reading. Kendi’s teachings center on the radical assertions that “racial discrimination is not inherently racist” and “the only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination.” 

These teachings were not a one-time occurrence but have become the new norm that spans subjects, and are the foundation for school policies and practices across the nation.

One example regards student discipline, which in K-12 public schools is governed by notions of “restorative justice.” Heather Mac Donald explains that, dating back to the Obama administration, the Education and Justice departments “threatened schools with litigation and the loss of federal funding if they did not bring down black and Hispanic disciplinary rates to the same level as whites and Asians.” No longer were all students treated consistently. Instead, discipline was withheld or employed to reach redescribed metrics.

The negative results are widespread. Even at a time when many schools were closed for a significant period during the COVID-19 pandemic, a study by the American Psychological Association found that a staggering 14 percent of teachers and 22 percent of school staff cited physical violence from students. Further, “one-third of surveyed teachers reported they experienced at least one incident of verbal and/or threatening violence from students during COVID (e.g., verbal threats, cyber bullying, intimidation, sexual harassment).”

And let’s not forget that it was — and continues to be — the teachers unions who championed the defunding of police and removal of officers from K-12 schools. With that agenda, students are not taught respect for law enforcement, and teachers and students are unprotected from on-campus incidences.

Need for Good Leadership

On Wednesday, May 1, following the previous night’s mass arrests at Columbia University and The City College of New York, Mayor Eric Adams asserted at a press conference: “We can’t create environments while children could be in danger, and we must push back on all attempts to radicalize our young people in this city like we’re seeing across the entire globe.”

Yet, under Adams’s watch, New York City Public Schools continues to have a policy to support the gender transition of minor age children in secret from parents, a school library list promoting books with sexually explicit content, or a teacher reportedly providing anti-Israel lessons to other educators and activists, and her pre-kindergarten students.

Unlike the vast majority of school districts nationwide governed by school boards, the largest public school district in the country is the responsibility of the New York City mayor. Yet, Adams himself isn’t pushing back on the radicalization of K-12 schoolchildren when he has the authority to do so. 

Concluding Thoughts

Restoring sound academic instruction, a culture of respect for all students, and an environment that consistently enforces behavioral rules in our K-12 schools is essential if we are to reestablish our college campuses as places where the campus and classroom environment are conducive to high-quality academic learning and ideas are robustly debated with civility and decorum.

All students — K-12 and higher education alike — must be held accountable for abiding by the established rules and code of conduct. And if institutional leaders aren’t willing to do that, they should be replaced.

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The American Center for Transforming Education is a program of Discovery Institute, a non-profit organization fueled by its supporters. Will you help us advance the timely and vital work of transforming our K-12 education system so that it better serves students and their families?