AZ Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne is the living embodiment of the saying that an old dog can’t learn new tricks. His campaign gave us a preview that he was not going to change his ways. After all, he didn’t tout plans to improve our public schools (he was vying for the position overseeing “public” instruction after all), but rather, posted countless campaign signs shouting, “STOP CRITICAL RACE THEORY”. Never mind that actual CRT, (which rests on the premise that racial bias – intentional or not – is baked into U.S. laws and institutions), is not taught in elementary or secondary schools, but at the university level, most often in law schools. For Republicans, however, the term became synonymous with being “woke” and their focus on “owning the libs” carried Horne back to his old office.
This isn’t a new fight for Horne. After his recent election, MSNBC called him,
a pioneer in the right-wing crusade against school teachings centered on nonwhite people and social inequality.
As evidence, MSNBC cited his fight against “ethnic studies” which led to a ban on such instruction in Arizona schools in 2010. He also banned bilingual education services that same year which the Justice Department found illegal. The ban on ethnic studies held until 2017, when a federal judge overturned it, finding that it had an,
invidious discriminatory racial purpose, and a politically partisan purpose.
At 77, it is no surprise Horne hasn’t changed his spots. After all, it mostly works for him as evidenced by his previous elections to serve as State Superintendent from 2003 to 2011, as well as his election to a term as AZ Attorney General. Now, he’s swept into office on his STOP CRT broom, promising to,
eradicate teaching on diversity and equity and eliminate the use of social emotional learning in Arizona schools.
He’s off to a running start, canceling previously approved diversity presentations at the education conference hosted by his department and wrapping up today. Michaela Rose Classen, an education consultant originally scheduled to speak, expressed worry to the AZ Daily Star about excising social-emotional learning from schools saying,
When students enter the classroom, I think the assumption by some folks is that they just enter ready to learn. But there are different levels of experiences and often trauma that students are bringing into the classroom with them,’ Claussen said. ‘And they’re not quite developed yet emotionally, like we are as adults, to leave it at the door. So we have to really be cautious about how are we paying attention to student needs.
Horne doesn’t believe this type of learning has any place in the classroom. A 2022 Pew Research Poll, however, showed that about two-thirds of parents believe it is important their children’s school teaches social-emotional skills. These skills, in a nutshell, are:
- Self-Management – managing emotions and behaviors to achieve one’s goals
- Self-Awareness – recognizing one’s emotions and values as well as one’s strengths and challenges
- Responsible Decision Making – making ethical, constructive choices about personal and social behavior
- Relationship Skills – forming positive relationships, working in teams, dealing effectively with conflict
- Social Awareness – Showing understanding and empathy
As a school board member in my 11th year of service, I can unequivocally say that many of our students need help with social-emotional skills. Should parents and communities teach these skills? YES, ABSOLUTELY!! But, in many cases, this isn’t happening and the global pandemic exacerbated difficulties with students trying to learn and interact with friends remotely. In fact, I’m guessing most would agree that our society in general needs help with these skills more than ever.
Horne, no doubt, thinks our kids just need to “man up” and stick to learning “readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmatic” with his stated focus on improving academics and increasing test scores. Unfortunately, the narrowing of curriculum and “teaching to the test” are making our students less prepared for the real world. And speaking of that, I noted he allowed presentations on suicide prevention at the education conference. Does he not understand the relationship social-emotional learning has on student mental health relating to not only suicide prevention but also the mass shootings plaguing our schools?
Another of Horne’s first acts was to eliminate the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Department at ADE, stating that in the context of CRT “equity has come to mean equal outcomes by racial groups”. That may be how sees it, but Google’s Dictionary defines equity as “the quality of being fair and impartial”. Doesn’t this mean we recognize not every child is born with the same opportunities to succeed and we should do what we can to make the opportunities available for those who are willing to apply themselves?
There will no doubt be many battles to fight with Horne, (with his “politically partisan purpose”), leading Arizona’s public schools. The inefficiency of jerking our teachers and students around with policy reversals is frustrating. But it is the potential for setting back another generation of our students that really worries me. As the slogan for the United Negro College Fund states, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”