Oregon’s New Ethnic Studies Standards: Identity Politics Run Amok

The Oregon Ethnic Studies Bill signed into law
Gov. Kate Brown signs ethnic studies bill

Say it ain’t so, Colt.

Colt Gill, appointed by Governor Brown as Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction, serves as Director of the Oregon Department of Education.

Oregon HB 2845, signed into law by Governor Kate Brown in June 2017, called for an advisory group to create recommendations for ethnic studies standards. A panel of K-12 teachers aligned the recommendations to 2018 social science standards for use in the classroom. After engaging with the public, the Oregon Department of Education made adjustments to the standards. 

The new standards were approved for classroom use in March 2021. School districts will be required to address the ethnic studies standards beginning in the 2026 – 2027 school year.

The theory behind the new standards was that commonly used textbooks and classroom lessons had too narrow a focus of the history, politics, and human geography and that students would benefit from a more complete and inclusive understanding of U.S. and Oregon history. 

So far so good.

Then not so good.

The Kindergarten Standards with Ethnic Studies, yes kindergarten, start off with the following:

Civics and Government

* Engage in respectful dialogue with classmates to define diversity comparing and contrasting visible and invisible similarities and differences. 

 *Develop an understanding of one’s own identity groups including, but not limited to, race, gender, family, ethnicity, culture, religion, and ability. 


* Identify examples of unfairness or injustice towards individuals or groups and the “change- makers,” who worked to make the world better. 

Historical Thinking

* Make connections identifying similarities and differences including race, ethnicity, culture, disability, and gender between self and others. 

Social Science Analysis

* Identify possible solutions to injustices 

The questionable guidance continues for later grades. First grade standards, for example, include: 

*Define equity, equality and systems of power” 

*Describe how individual and group characteristics are used to divide, unite and categorize racial, ethnic, and social groups.”

How, in heaven’s name, do 5-year-olds conduct “respectful dialogue” over “visible and invisible similarities and differences.” How and why should they “develop an understanding of one’s own identity groups,” and identify racial, ethnic and cultural differences?

How and why should 1st graders “define…systems of power”?

“In reality, the point of the exercise is to make children hyper-sensitive to racial differences and encourage them to internalise an identity-based consciousness,” Prof. Frank Furedi wrote in Spiked. “The main objective of this curriculum is to introduce youngsters to an identitarian worldview. When small children are exposed to topics suitable for mature adults it is clear that indoctrination rather than education is taking place.” 

Did anybody outside the education establishment read these standards before they were adopted?

Is this really how Oregon parents want their children taught?

Just what baby wants for Christmas- an antiracism picture book

The Best Christmas Books for Toddlers - MBA sahm

Still struggling with finding the right Christmas gift for your toddler? American book publisher Penguin Random House says it has “the perfect gift” for your child, a book it is proudly promoting as part of its new offering, PRH Education Classroom Libraries.”

“Books are a students’ passport to entering and actively participating in a global society with the empathy, compassion, and knowledge it takes to become the problem solvers the world needs,” says Laura Robb, an author and teacher featured in the program’s promotional materials.

So what does PRH recommend this year?

Once upon a time toddlers drifted off to sleep on a diet of bedtime stories that grew out of folklore, depended on magic or were just enchantingly simple, like Goodnight Moon, Charlotte’s Web or Where the Wild Things Are.

But not anymore. According to PBH, bedtime is now all about getting woke, so it’s promoting “Antiracist Baby Picture Book” by Ibram X. Kendi as part of its new initiative.

Antiracist Baby Picture Book

“With bold art and thoughtful yet playful text, Antiracist Baby introduces the youngest readers and the grown-ups in their lives to the concept and power of antiracism.,” says PRH. “Providing the language necessary to begin critical conversations at the earliest age, Antiracist Baby is the perfect gift for readers of all ages dedicated to forming a just society.”

“Critical conversations at the earliest age” about racism? Kendi, author of the bestselling book How to be an Antiracist, wants parents to proselytize about antiracism to babies. That’s right. Babies.

Somebody obviously is buying the book and its message. After all, the book has been  at the top of the New York Times Best Seller List  and was chosen as one of National Public Radio’s 100 favorite books for young readers.

But does that mean you should buy it and read it to your baby?

Is your toddler ready for text such as:

“No one will see racism if we only stay silent. / If we don’t name racism, / it won’t stop being so violent.”

“Knock down the stack of cultural blocks.”  

“Antiracist Baby is bred, not born./Antiracist Baby is raised to make society transform.”

Kendi told the Harvard Gazette parents should start talking to their children about racism as early as preschool and kindergarten. “We know that by 2 years old, children are already consuming racist ideas,” Kendi said. “They’re already discerning whom to play with based on kids’ skin color, and so if we wait till they’re 10 or 15, they may be a lost cause, like some of us adults.”

That’s a pretty bleak point of view.

I much prefer the view of David Schonfeld, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “In these early years, your task is to lay positive groundwork, addressing hate by cultivating its opposite—compassion and tolerance. Luckily, your child has a head start: an innocent indifference to what sets people apart. Kids are very aware of ways we differ, but they aren’t born identifying people with a particular race, gender, or ethnicity,” he says.

Goodreads reviewer echoed Schonfeld’s observation. “… the main problem with Kendi’s) book is that conceptually it does more to divide than unite,” the reviewer commented. “How can anyone set out to write a book for toddlers with the intention of making some of its tiny listeners feel guilt and shame (for nothing they have done wrong), and others feel wronged (for nothing they’ve experienced), before they barely know what a duck or a bike or a picnic are?  The presumption seems to be that every baby is racist until taught not to be, when the opposite is the reality – it is racism and division which are taught – and I worry that is exactly what this book, if unwittingly, achieves.” 

Jay Caspian Kang,  a writer for New York Times Opinion and The New York Times Magazine, conveyed my thinking in a New York Times essay, Do I Have to Read My Child Antiracist Books, Even When They’re Bad?:

“… I admit I find myself a bit repelled by some of the more inelegantly antiracist books, which, at least in coastal cities, have become a main draw in the children’s sections of bookstores. What does it mean, really, to have an antiracist baby? Are these books actually written for kids, who, as far as I can tell, mostly like stories about dinosaurs and cats? Or are they a commodity for white parents who want to prove their progressive bona fides?”

I can’t help but agree. As another reviewer commented, “If you’re looking for a tool to help you indoctrinate your kids into a worldview of racist white-hating woke intersectional progressivism then this is the book for you.”

My advice – spare your toddler the divisive lecturing. Skip Kendi’s book. Go for something like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom or If you give a mouse a cookie.

You’ll both be better off.

It’s not just print newspapers that are dying; their readers are, too.

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Not that long ago, printed newspapers dominated the news landscape and seemed to have a promising future.

In 1940, daily circulation of print newspapers in the U.S. was 41.1 million, according to the Pew Research Center. It was a rare home that didn’t start the day with a newspaper at the breakfast table. At my home in Wallingford, CT, we had two papers delivered daily in the 1940s. In the morning, we got the Meriden Record; In the afternoon we got the New Haven Register. Established about 1812, the Register was one of the oldest continuously published newspapers in the United States.

In the mid-1980’s, weekday print newspaper circulation in the U.S. reached a peak of 63.3 million.  Americans avidly followed stories about events such as the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the introduction of Apple’s original Macintosh personal computer (accompanied by a still heralded Orwellian-themed “1984” TV ad), the agreement between China and the United Kingdom to transfer power in Hong Kong from the UK to China in 1997 and Villanova’s stirring 66-64 upset victory over Georgetown in the NCAA championship. 

Onward and upward, thought media leaders. 

Print newspapers hung in there until the early 2000s. Then the bottom began to fall out. By 2012, daily print circulation was down to 43.4 million. By 2020, Pew Research estimated that print circulation had fallen to just under 24.3 million. What happened? The internet and age.

Print newspaper readers have always tended to be older, more affluent, and more educated. Publishers and advertisers used to like that. The problem is that as those older readers have aged and died, they have not been backfilled by subsequent generations. Instead, younger readers have been gravitating to digital communications channels.

And the shift has accelerated across print platforms where readers have been aging fast.

In a 2012 Pew Research Survey, just 23% of respondents said they read a printed newspaper the previous day. The highest readership, 48% was among those 65 and older. The lowest was those 18-24, at 6%, and 25-29, at 10%.

Pew – where people got news yesterday

The percentages saying they read a printed newspaper yesterday have continued to steadily decline.

A newer May 2021 survey revealed that most consumers never use newspapers as a source of news, and only 25 percent of adults aged 65 or above (those who engage with newspapers the most) reported reading newspapers every day. Meanwhile, even older folks are warming up to online news. Those over 50 are also warming up to the web. In 2016, 32% of the news readers in the 50+ age group expressed a preference for the web. This increased to 43% in a 2019 survey. Newspapers have become even less popular as a news source than radio, and are also among the least used daily news sources among adults aged 18 – 24.

If this young cohort keeps its print avoidance as it ages, print newspapers will eventually lose almost their entire audience.

The biggest threat is probably to local papers with smaller circulation. Papers with a significant number of print subscribers, such as the still profitable Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, are in a better position.

About five years ago, the Journal’s Editor-in-chief, Gerard Baker, was asked by a writer for the Nieman Lab whether he saw a day when there would be no print edition at all.

I don’t really foresee the day when there’s no print edition,” Baker said. ” I mean, who knows — we live in a rapidly changing world. Who can really say anything with conviction about what will be 10, 15, 20 years hence? But as things stand, we have a million print subscribers who really value the print edition of the paper. They really want it. They’re prepared to pay a significant amount of money for what they pay for a print newspaper. There continues to be strong demand for the print product, and we will continue to need to meet that demand. I don’t foresee any other changes in the foreseeable future.”

Notwithstanding this rosy prediction, in Sept. 2017 the paper announced it would stop publishing its European and Asian editions. Falling overseas sales and plunging print advertising revenue in recent years drove the decision, according to the Journal. In Oct. 2020, it took another step away from print, cutting print editions of its fashion and luxury lifestyle insert WSJ. Magazine from a dozen to eight.

Those are the drip drip signs of changing attitudes at the Journal about the viability of print.

Meanwhile, most of the paper’s subscription growth is on the digital side. In 2017, of the paper’s 2.1 million subscribers, 1.08 million were digital. Daily print readership now stands at about 734 thousand copies, while digital subscribers total about 2.7 million.

It’s a similar story at The New York Times. In 2017, the paper had 540,000 daily print and 2.2 million digital subscribers. Daily print readership now stands at about 795,000 copies, while digital subscribers total about 5.7 million.

A friend of mine told me he used to subscribe to the daily print version of the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, even after he moved away from Columbus, until he realized he was spending $1000 a year for the subscription. A 12-month digital subscription today is just $119.88.

In all three cases, it costs a lot less to be a digital subscriber, so you have to really love print to go that way. Fewer and fewer people do.

An added note: Covid-19 isn’t helping either. Covid-19’s devastation has hit the elderly the hardest. Of the more then 800,000 Americans who have died from Covid-19, 75% have been 65 or older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s the newspaper audience.

Build Back Better’s Subsidy of Local Newspapers: a big Mistake

Print Your Custom Newspaper | PRINTNEWSPAPER

Once upon a time, printed newspapers serving local audiences were in high demand.

But over 2200 newspapers in the United States have closed in the past 15 years and the carnage continues. 

Circulation has declined drastically. Pay has been cut. Advertising revenue has plunged. Newsroom employment has plummeted. The vast majority of remaining print newspapers have a circulation of less than 15,000, according to a review by the University of North Carolina’s journalism school.

It’s a grim picture, made worse by the fact that, as Harvard’s Shorenstein Center has pointed out, “Printed newspapers are a manufacturing business. For some, the non-newsgathering cost structure can be the majority of total operating expense. This means that in a world of declining demand for print editions of local newspapers, legacy costs become an increasing share of declining revenue. Much of the underlying reality of the current market failure for local news coverage can be traced to this simple fact.”

But the newspaper industry and some members of Congress think they have found a solution — a federal taxpayer bailout.

This is the wrong solution. And, frankly, it’s embarrassing.

America’s journalism industry, which until now has prided itself on its independence, got a tax break in the Build Back Better bill passed by the House on Nov. 19.

The bill would provide a payroll tax credit for companies that employ eligible local journalists. The measure would allow newspapers, digital news outlets, and radio and television stations to claim a tax credit of $25,000 the first year and $15,000 the next four years for each of up to 1,500 journalists. 

The theory is this would incentivize some publishers to hire or retain local reporters. The Democrats project the cost of putting journalism outlets on the public dole will be $1.7 billion over the next five years, with an estimated $38 million of that injected into approximately 113 newsrooms in Oregon.

Supporters say there will be guardrails to prevent the tax breaks from going to partisan or fake-news sites. Good luck.  The battles over eligibility will be never-ending.

I’m a former newspaper reporter and the struggles of local print news in our Internet-juiced landscape are undeniable, but why print journalism enterprises, or other journalism forms, deserve taxpayer bailouts like this is beyond me. And, unfortunately, you are not likely to read about criticisms of the bailout in your local paper. No surprise there.

Some tax credit supporters argue that government support for media goes back a long way, that the two have always been joined at the hip, so this new idea just continues long-established practices. The latest help is the pandemic-related small business loan program, for example, provided millions to news organizations.

Fundamentally, this argument is that print media already get some subsidies so they should get more. A dubious assertion that too many are willingly embracing.

Media figures also argue that the Build Back Better subsidies will only be temporary anyway. But let’s be honest. When was the last time you saw a government subsidy discontinued?[1]

It’s a given that when the subsidy ends in five years, newspaper publishers and others raking in the subsidies will be back in Congress hat in hand seeking an extension. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that if the subsidies continue for ten years, the cost will be $3 billion, far from small change. 

It’s also defies logic that taxpayers should subsidize already well-off newspapers. 

One of the vocal tax-break supporters, for example, is The Washington Post, owned by tech billionaire Jeff Bezos since 2013. According to Americans for Tax Reform,  if the tax break becomes law, Gannett, one of the nation’s largest remaining newspaper chains, could gain as much as $127.5 million in tax benefits over five years.

And why should the government give breaks to papers owned by super-rich hedge funds? 

Hedge fund Alden Global Capital, for example, is one of the country’s largest newspaper owners. It has been buying up newspapers, imposing draconian cost cuts, and implementing widespread layoffs. Its current target is the local newspaper chain Lee Enterprises, whose Oregon titles include the Albany Democrat-Herald, the Corvallis Gazette-Times and the Lebanon Express. 

Local print newspapers have been a key element of our civic life for generations, but Build Back Better’s tax breaks are not the solution to the challenges they face. And despite the special show of neediness among many newspaper people these days, we won’t be doing them a favor if we succumb to their pleading.

Maybe a little creative destruction is in order, instead.


[1] The situation with the federal child tax credit (CTC) is a classic example of the never-ending subsidy.  The CTC is not new, but it was expanded in the March 2001 American Rescue Plan (ARP). Before the ARP, parents were eligible to receive up to $2,000 in tax credits every year for each child under 17 they claim as a dependent. The benefit began to phase out at $200,000 of annual income for single filers and $400,000 for married couples filing jointly. Families had to earn just $2,500 a year to qualify. Parents claiming the credit would receive it as one single refund at tax time, and the credit was partially refundable, meaning families with a tax burden smaller than the size of their credit could still receive up to $1,400 per child.

The ARP increased the program’s benefits, raising the maximum credit to $3,000 for every child aged six to 17, and $3,600 for children under 6. The new credit was fully refundable. In 2021, half was paid out in monthly installments, with the rest to be meted out in families’ annual tax return. 

The ARP expanded the CTC only through 2021. Democrats figured it would prove to be so popular they could extend it indefinitely. So far, they haven’t been able to secure enough votes to do so, but efforts to do so were still underway at the end of 2001.