There’s a rare note of dissent in the May-June issue of Educator, the usually doctrinaire magazine of the California Teachers Association. In a letter to the editor, Fremont Teacher Jim Brady questions the purpose behind official union posters appearing in public school classrooms across the state.
As part of its 2017 campaign to “actualize the definition of social justice,” the California Teachers Association is encouraging teachers to display the posters “in your school, classroom, and beyond to create welcoming environments and safe zones.”
But Brady says the posters do precisely the opposite. In some cases, they express sentiments which, “despite being true, only tend to divide races or gender (‘Black Lives Matter,’ ‘Women’s Rights Are Human Rights’), or are ultimately meaningless (‘Kindness Is Everything,’ ‘No Human Is Illegal’), or insidiously promote an atheistic vision of the world (‘Science Is Real,’ ‘Love Is Love’).
“I’m concerned with the constant push for a different kind of advocacy, one that advocates a leftist ideology under the guise of kindness and compassion,” Brady said. “As CTA President Eric Heins wrote, ‘All students matter and all students deserve a quality public education.” We simply need to continue being student advocates as we value and affirm them without surreptitiously promoting a leftwing ideology.”
Imitation of Communist Art Forms Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery
Anyone who knows and appreciates political propaganda art forms (such as Socialist Realism and Constructivism) recognizes that the posters distributed by the California Teachers Association evoke the style of vintage communist propaganda. One way to celebrate an ideology is to emulate its cultural achievements. Like the best communist propaganda, the California Teachers Association posters are well-designed and compelling, although perhaps sometimes derivative.
They’re clearly meant to help younger generations absorb the precepts of social justice and then seek to advance those precepts for the collective good of society. In fact, the California Teachers Association Strategic Planning Group has adopted an explicit definition of social justice:
Social Justice encompasses educational, economic, and political arenas. Social Justice is a commitment to equity and fairness in treatment and access to opportunities and resources for everyone, recognizing that all is not equal. Social Justice means that we work actively to eradicate structural and institutional racism, sexism, classism, linguicism, ableism, ageism, heterosexism, religious bias and xenophobia. Social Justice means that we as educators are responsible for the collective good of society, not simply our own individual interests.
Most of the messages and images on these posters can be interpreted in various ways, thus allowing people defending the posters to claim they are innocuous statements of self-evident truths. Of course, the posters can also be interpreted as a call for self-identified oppressed classes to establish a government fixated on social justice, like the dictatorship of the proletariat envisioned by Marx and his philosophical successors.
It is hard to see how social justice as defined by the California Teachers Association can be achieved without government coercion, confiscation of property and eradication of liberty from a perceived “ruling class.” As the California Teachers Association knows from experience, the economic, political, and cultural systems now dominant in the United States hinder many efforts to use the government to achieve their concept of social justice. These systems include a constitutional republic with checks and balances to suppress popular initiatives and majority factions, a regulated market-economy that creates disparities among residents, a sometimes coercive and violent approach to law and order and international relations, and a cultural milieu based on secular and religious writings of Western Civilization that tend to emphasize individual liberty.
Can democracy, in the form of elections, overcome the political, economic, and cultural control of capitalist interests and their sycophants that allegedly profit from social injustice? What if it can’t? What kind of revolutionary activity would be needed to reach the ambitious vision of social justice as defined by the teachers union?
For now, supporters of the posters can evade these questions by accusing critics of opposing equity, fairness, opportunities, and resources for everyone – or by simply accusing them of condoning hate.
Critics of the posters can also be labeled as inadequately educated, or more ominously as agents or sympathizers for the structural and institutional evils in the American political, economic, and cultural systems.
Or, critics can be accused of “red-baiting” – adopting an ignorant and crude strategy to discredit visions for the collective good of society.
Organized Confusion, Insubordination, and Disloyalty
California law claims that “the successful establishment of totalitarian dictatorships has consistently been aided, accompanied, or accomplished by repeated acts of treachery, deceit, teaching of false doctrines, teaching untruth, together with organized confusion, insubordination, and disloyalty.…” While issuing a call for the forceful reorganization of American politics, economy and culture, the CTA can deploy a variety of logical tricks and fallacies to ease the qualms of an ordinary person.
For example, some people might see the raised clenched fist, consider the history of the symbol, and regard it as a call for revolution to end the economic, political, and religious systems now dominant in the United States. But a defender of the symbol could say that it’s simply a widely used symbol for popular solidarity and defiance – a visual appeal to resist injustice perpetuated by systems that fail to serve the collective good.
Likewise, the call for “resistance” has various meanings depending on the perspective of the individual. It can mean the exercise of the freedom of speech and the press and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. However, the presence of line graphs and pie charts in one California Teachers Association poster insinuate a call for the redistribution of wealth – perhaps through public ownership.
The Messages Are Intended to Provoke Popular Action
The president of the California Teachers Association has been open about the intent of the posters to inspire a political advocacy campaign, a campaign that was supposed to climax on May 1, International Workers’ Day:
Some of you have participated in walk-ins before, and you know you can decide the best action for your school site. We have put together a toolkit to help you plan May 1. And we are holding a forum today from 4-5:30 right here in the California Ballroom where you can pick up your planning toolkit. Those of you that attend will get first dibs on the CTA social justice posters. We have some translated to Spanish and 2 new posters for transgender awareness. At this forum we’ll join in a conversation and brainstorm session about organizing our members and communities for this action. Come to share your ideas, get some ideas and leave energized, ready to engage your members, and with some new cool posters before they run out. In the coming week, we will be adding materials to the online toolkit that will help you promote our Day of Action. The planning toolkit is already available at cta.org/May1. As you go about planning for May 1, please ask your members to sign the pledge we passed unanimously at last Council.
References to the posters on social media indicate that some educators are indeed displaying the California Teachers Association posters. A school district in California where some teachers have embraced the poster campaign – perhaps though the conduit of the local Sweetwater Education Association union – is the Sweetwater Union High School District in Chula Vista (in southern San Diego County). A teacher in the district recently used Twitter to show his enthusiastic participation and support in the poster campaign:
Other educators have announced their enthusiasm for displaying the posters at schools:
A Captive Audience Compelled to be in the Classroom Is a Ripe Target for Ideological Movements
There’s a section of California law enacted in 1953 that purports to describe how a “world-wide revolutionary movement” spreads “the basic precepts of communism as expounded by Marx, Lenin, and Stalin”:
One of the objectives of the world communism movement is to place its members in state and local government positions and in state supported educational institutions. If this objective is successful, propaganda can be disseminated by the members of these organizations among pupils and students by those members who would have the opportunity to teach them and to whom, as teachers, they would look for guidance, authority, and leadership. The members of such groups would use their positions to advocate and teach their doctrines and teach the prescribed Communist Party line group dogma or doctrine without regard to truth or free inquiry. This type of propaganda is sufficiently subtle to escape detection.
It would be easy to dismiss that language as an artifact of McCarthy-era red-baiting – except that intellectual advocates for communism and other ideologies of the Left are actually embedded in “state-supported educational institutions.” Teachers and professors continue to provide “guidance, authority, and leadership” to students by disseminating Marxist-oriented propaganda that is “sufficiently subtle to escape detection.”
Of course, the Soviet Union dissolved at the end of 1991 and Cold War anxieties about the international communist movement have faded. Today, political movements in California influenced by Marxism tend to be homegrown. These movements encourage California residents to identify with oppressed classes and transform economic, political, and cultural systems to achieve “social justice.”
The instigator of this movement today in California public schools is not a foreign power. It is the California Teachers Association.
Kevin Dayton, a frequent contributor to the California Policy Center, is President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and writes frequently about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.