Undoctrinating the Classroom

Hold my Drink Podcast Blog, Episode 47

The teacher couldn’t find her American flag. During the COVID lockdowns she took it down. It made her feel uncomfortable, or so she said. And so, according to the story, when her students, now back in the classroom, asked what to do during the morning pledge of allegiance, they were told that they could pledge to a pride flag.

Bonnie Snyder, Director of High School Programs for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), collects these stories. The stories she calls the whoppers. In this week’s podcast she shares a few more whoppers, including her own experiences and the experiences of others she encounters while working with FIRE and in her new book that is out this week, Undoctrinate.

More and more people are starting to share their whoppers. And in our fraught political climate, these whoppers have become another battle line drawn in the “us vs them” drama that has impacted most of our lives in some fashion.

With regards to our classrooms, the typical narrative is – those who are opposed to indoctrination that often takes the form of racial essentialism in the classroom, don’t want to teach history. Or, they are exhibiting fragility (hello, Robin Di’Angelo). Or, they are afraid that status in the American “caste system” is in jeopardy (thank you, Isabel Wilkerson).

To be fair, there likely is a contingent of those who fall into some of these categories. After all, stereotypes don’t exist in a vacuum. However, it is these caricatures that are driving the conversation, which ironically, leaves people with little to say. How can good faith conversations begin with pernicious labeling?

This labeling has become so entrenched that it often slips in undetected. Over the past week, I found myself in the car more than usual and listening to the news on CNN. Afghanistan and the 20th anniversary of 9-11 dominated the airwaves. In one expose, they were interviewing a family of someone who died on 9-11 and it was mentioned that this woman’s family had proudly served in the U.S. military all the way back to the Civil War. The commentator responded, “I hope for the right side.”

I can trace my lineage back to soldiers on both sides of the Civil War. It goes without saying that the “right side” won, thankfully. But I couldn’t help but to wonder if we will now be castigated and shamed in the public square if we are found to have a drop of confederacy blood in our veins. Is this a new rendition of the “one-drop” rule? Does it help move us towards equality?

This was so subtle that my father who sat beside me in the car didn’t catch it. It brought me back to this week’s conversation with Bonnie. There are some whoppers out there, but the “us vs. them” ethos has infiltrated into our mainstream discourse in ways that adults, let alone young children, barely notice.

This was just one comment in a news story, but it reminded me of Bonnie’s story of her daughter’s class assignment to debate communism and capitalism. As part of the assignment, she was given the Communist Manifesto to read. With no other reading given for the assignment, it was unsurprising that the debate ended up pulling for communism over capitalism.

In our effort to teach a more balanced and full history, have we gone sideways? Have we thrown logic out the window in favor of ideology? In fact, maybe we have as logic, along with civics are no longer required courses, whereas DEI-type pedagogy is increasingly mandated.

Let’s rethink how we teach history, adding in a variety of texts that instead of indoctrinate, encourage our students to approach our history logically and critically, giving them the tools they need to engage in discourse and viewpoint diversity that strengthen both their own futures and the future of democracy.

It’s time to undoctrinate.

In the Hold my Drink — navigating culture with a chaser of civility, and Counterweight podcast, Episode 47, we speak with Bonnie Snyder, Director of High School Programs for the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and author of the newly released book, Undoctrinate. Bonnie shares with us stories of ideological indoctrination that has become mainstream in K-12 education, and her efforts at FIRE and through her research to provide alternative solutions, bringing back robust discourse and constructive disagreement into the classroom. All discussed with a chaser of civility, of course, and a Shotgun spiked sparkling water.

Hold my Drink welcomes all people with all kinds of beverages to join us as we explore the truths of a chaotic and beautiful world, together.

Find us on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, or watch the conversation unfold on YouTube, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Podcast Resources

FIRE’s High School Curriculum and Discourse Club Resources

Undoctrinate, Bonnie Snyder

Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire

The Captive Mind, Czeslaw Milosz

The Mill Center

Costa Mesa Teacher Removed After Taking Down American Flag, KTLA 5

Utah teacher no longer employed after advocating vaccination and telling students she hates Trump, The Salt Lake Tribune, Courtney Tanner

Private Schools Have Become Truly Obscene, The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan

Antifa-supporting teacher wants to turn students ‘into revolutionaries’, The New York Post, Natalie O’Neill

Bonnie Kerrigan Snyder is an educator with 20+ years of experience in a variety of roles in different institutions, including teacher, counselor, administrator and professor in both public and private schools. A New Jersey native, Bonnie is an honors graduate of Harvard University with a master’s degree in Counseling from Virginia Tech and a doctorate in Higher Education from Penn State. She is the author of The New College RealityThe Unemployed College Graduate’s Survival GuideFinding Your Voice: A Free Speech Comic and Undoctrinate: How Politicized Classrooms Harm Kids and Ruin Our Schools—And What We Can Do About It. Bonnie lives in Lancaster, PA and likes to go to Hershey Bears hockey games.