Caveat Emptor Oak Park River Forest Taxpayers
Caveat Emptor Oak Park River Forest Taxpayers
Written By Laurie Higgins   |   06.28.10

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Caveat Emptor: Let the buyer beware. That’s one of the serious problems plaguing public schools: buyers–that would be taxpayers–rarely have any real sense of the product–that would be the teachers and administrators–that they’re “buying.”

I may be wrong, but I suspect that few Oak Park and River Forest High School (District 200) taxpayers know much about the pedagogical, political, and moral views of Dan Cohen, who is leaving Deerfield High School to become their English Department Chair (English Division Head).

Those taxpayers who subscribe to historical revisionism, critical pedagogy, critical race theory, and “teaching for social justice” (which is a euphemism for using public schools to promote grievance or racialist identity politics) will be over the moon with this hire. Those who revere former Weather Underground domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, Brazilian Marxist Paulo Freire, historical revisionist Howard Zinn, and racialist Glenn Singleton will likely have thrills going up their legs.

But those who find the views of these theorists flawed and those of any philosophical stripe who don’t believe tax dollars should be used to promote unproven and controversial political or moral beliefs in the classroom may be deeply troubled by the hiring of Dan Cohen.

While an English teacher atDeerfieldHigh School, Dan Cohen was a “progressive” activist extraordinaire. Here are just some of the programs he was involved in promoting and which he, if left unmonitored, just may implement in District 200.

  • Dan Cohen introduced Peggy McIntosh‘s Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity” (SEED) curriculum to District 113, a curriculum that continues to bedevil the district to this day. As I’ve written before, SEED is a quintessential “social justice” curriculum that encourages both teachers and students to view the world through the divisive lens of identity politics, which separates the world into groups according to who are the purported oppressors and who the oppressed. This requires the stereotyping of people and robs minority students of a sense of agency in and responsibility for their own lives. Even more troubling, SEED promotes subversive views of the nature and morality of homosexuality.   (For more information on SEED, click Here)
  • Dan Cohen brought the partisan political action club AWARE to the district. AWARE is an acronym for Anti-War Anti-Racism Effort. Of course, no rational person wants war and no moral person supports racism, but AWARE espouses a particular political and philosophical ideology that is similar to that of SEED.
  • Dan Cohen helped co-teach District 113’s Equity and Excellence workshops which grew out of the racialist theories of Glenn Singleton.
  • Dan Cohen led a workshop during an Institute Day in District 113, which he described as follows:

“Whiteness: Making the Invisible Visible and How It Impacts Our School Culture”:

Description: In what ways is race relevant for a predominately white school district? In this session we will learn to see whiteness as we read Peggy Macintosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Then we will study how whiteness and white culture operate in District 113. This will be done through film, reading and discussing Judith Katz’s “Defining Aspects of White Culture” and personal reflection. This session is designed for people who have some prior experience exploring the concept of whiteness.

  • Dan Cohen was able to get taxpayers to fund at least one of his trips to California to attend Stir Fry Seminars, where according to their website, he is currently a “facilitator.” His Stir Fry Seminars bio shares this:

[Dan Cohen] has taught high school in and aroundChicagofor 14 years. It has been through re-examining American history as an adult and hearing the stories of his students and colleagues that Daniel has come to realize that he carries his whiteness, his maleness and his heterosexuality with him everywhere. He has felt the cost of racism and sexism while recognizing the vital need for dialogue and change inAmerica.

  • While teaching an English class at Deerfield High School, Mr. Cohen led a discussion of his favorite topic–no, not literature–race. He asked his students to share stereotypes of African Americans. Two students in that class shared with me that students felt uncomfortable with this request. Students feared that if they identified a stereotype, someone might assume they held it. But finally a student said that one stereotype is that African Americans are rappers; another student said that some believe that African Americans are all good athletes. Then Mr. Cohen said that another stereotype of African American men is that they’re all “well hung,” which he then wrote on the board. I know this to be true because one of the students who shared this anecdote is my daughter.
  • On two separate occasions, I heard Mr. Cohen make the startlingly racist, sexist, and heterophobic comment that if someone is white, male, and heterosexual, they are oppressors.

As a public educator, his words and actions are public words and actions subsidized by taxpayers and intended to shape the beliefs and values of his captive audience–other people’s children. District 200 parents and other taxpayers are entitled to detailed information about Mr. Cohen’s pedagogical beliefs, his goals, and the degree to which he thinks teachers should bring their political and moral beliefs into the classroom through their comments and curricula. Taxpayers are entitled to know what ideologies teachers advance in the classroom through their rhetoric, resources, and activities. And taxpayers are entitled to know the cost and content of the professional development opportunities that activists like Mr. Cohen use school funds to subsidize.

With regularity and persistence, taxpayers in District 200 and every other community should be asking their administrations and school boards for detailed information on the costs and content of the professional development opportunities offered to their faculties on late arrival days, Institute Days, and summer workshops. They need to ask for the costs and detailed information about the often troubling and highly politicized workshops, conferences, and seminars that their taxes are subsidizing, conferences like this one that Stevenson High School teachers attended , and this one that Dan Cohen attended.

After receiving this information, parents should do further Internet research to find out more about the speakers and organizations involved.
If administrations are not forthcoming, parents should file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to access the desired information. FOIA requests are very easy to file, and IFI is happy to help taxpayers understand how to use them.

Activist ideologues in public schools expect and thrive on their nearly limitless autonomy, lack of public awareness and oversight, and access to public money. The only way to effect positive change is to limit their autonomy; demand transparency; insist on ideological parity; and explicitly prohibit the use of public resources to advance unproven and controversial social, political, moral, and pedagogical theories.

Laurie Higgins
Laurie Higgins was the Illinois Family Institute’s Cultural Affairs Writer in the fall of 2008 through early 2023. Prior to working for the IFI, Laurie worked full-time for eight years...
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