Social justice, climate change, racial inequality, immigration and world hunger have replaced the classics as the focus of the curriculum in America’s schools and colleges. The goal of public education has shifted from academics to cultural indoctrination. The problem, which has come to Orange County’s Foothill High School, one of the state’s most elite high schools, deserves public scrutiny.
Foothill High School’s 2,494 students represent a cross-section of America. 49% of student enrollment is non-White, with students bussed from distant minority neighborhoods to accommodate the federally-mandated diversity. A percentage of White and Asian students come from middle- and upper-middle class families. The school ranks 66th in the state, has an 878 Academic Performance Index, 77% proficiency in reading, 76% proficiency in math and 3.30-3.85 GPA. Merit scholars number among its graduates.
What sounds like an enviable institution has been charged as having a “racist, classist history” in an online blogpost following an incident at a basketball game. The incident in January involved Tustin High School, Foothill’s blue-collar crosstown rival. What should have been ignored or treated as a minor incident escalated into an ugly example of political correctness run amok.
One of the Foothill Students held up a sign with a word that could have been construed as a racial slur. The word was #CHUNTI, slang for chuntaro which is the Spanish equivalent of redneck or White trash. The incident triggered a scathing post in a weekly online magazine that led to a written public letter of apology by the school’s principal, a hasty meeting of the Diversity Committee and the school wide assignment of Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario.
The young adult version of the book is written for 7th graders and “reluctant” high school readers, not the demographic at Foothill. Enrique’s Journey describes the experiences of an adolescent illegal migrant, abandoned by his mother when he was 4 years old, who makes the long trek across Mexico on the infamous Train of Death from his home in Honduras to find his mother. She lives with her boyfriend and a new daughter North Carolina. The narrative details the violence and depravity he encounters.
Man’s inhumanity to man is described in brutal and graphic terms. Neither the story nor the writing is scholarly or ennobling as this sample illustrates:
One afternoon migra agents come to the camp. They ask Enrique where he is from [and tell him he] can’t fish here [and has to] leave. “Get out of here.” He leaves, only to be arrested in town- twice, both times for loitering… They call him a street bum and lock him up with three drunks who are singing. The toilet is running over. The drunks have smeared some of the contents on the wall and the stench is overpowering. Both times Enrique wins his release by sweeping and mopping. 
Among the thousands of other migrants who make the illegal journey into the United States, only one woman pauses to reflect on the morality of her actions. She struggles with her conscience and acknowledges what they are all doing is very wrong. They are breaking the law. Enrique never confronts his conscience, nor do Nazario’s young readers.
The declared purpose of the assignment was to foster greater empathy in the Foothill student body. It should be noted adolescents developmentally have a limited capacity for empathy, a finding that was corroborated in a recent study by Sara Konrath (Changes in Dispositional Empathy in American College Students) that documents a progressive decline of empathy among young adults over the past five decades. 
If fostering empathy was the actual goal, a far better choice would have To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck or any of the hundreds of titles among the great classics.
The actual purpose of the Foothill assignment was cultural remediation. This is the latest example of the coercive practice known as political indoctrination. This practice is typically called brainwashing. It belongs in Nazi Germany or Communist China and Russia, not Southern California or the USA.
The ramifications of the mandatory reading assignment extend far beyond the classroom walls at Foothill. It is symptomatic of a dangerous psychology that threatens the survival of our free and democratic Republic. The need to reverse the trend needs to start at the Foothill schoolhouse door. NOW!
Foothill’s students are not a group of spoiled, rich White kids as the OC Weekly blog charges. They are hard-working, serious youngsters who are dedicated to getting good grades, graduating from college and making something of themselves. They are to be applauded, not humiliated and shamed as Gustavo Arrellano has done.
That their parents are not up in arms with visceral outrage at the assignment of Enrique’s Journey is deeply troubling to this psychiatrist. Their silent, passive acceptance bespeaks an attitude of cowed defeatism, indifference or hopelessness that mirrors the lack of response by the citizenry to President Obama’s strident attacks against the so-called “1%” for their allegedly undeserved wealth. Foothill parents should by saying “No mas! Education, not political indoctrination.”
If Dr. Stephany, Foothill’s principal, wants to give the sign-carrying student 15 hours of community service, we think that might be appropriate. His knee-jerk, anguished over-reaction is unwarranted and ill-advised. There was no need to have done anything.
The parents should demand the mandatory assignment, which was supposed to be read in every class including AP calculus and Phys Ed, be rescinded immediately. A list of alternate titles can be found in the library stacks under Great Works of Western Literature.
If all else fails, a school wide sick out and a visit to the local library would be therapeutically-indicated and educational. Feel free to contact me for a prescription.
About the Author: R. Claire Friend, MD, is the Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, UC Irvine Medical Center, and the editor of the UC Irvine Quarterly Journal of Psychiatry. She is a retired psychiatrist and frequent commentator on the psychological dimensions of education and social welfare policies.
(1) Sonia Nazario, Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with his Mother (New York: Random House, 2006), 153.
The article by university president John Agresto is an excellent discussion of the destruction of liberal education by progressivism.
The students at Arnold Beckman High School in Irvine chose David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell as their summer reading assignment. The author examines the biblical parable to illustrate how much of what is beautiful and important in the world arises from appears to be suffering and adversity. Viewing adversity through a different prism, he offers a new interpretation on the meaning of the struggle of the underdog.