Posted on June 5, 2021

The Child Soldiers of Portland

Christopher Rufo, City Journal, Spring 2020


Famously the “whitest city in America,” Portland has become the unlikely headquarters of race radicalism in the United States. The city has elevated white guilt into a civic religion; its citizens have developed rituals, devotions, and self-criticisms to fight “systemic racism” and “white supremacy.” The culminating expression of this orthodoxy is violence: street militias, calling themselves “antiracists” and “antifascists,” smash windows and torch the property of anyone transgressing the new moral law.


I have spent months investigating the structure of political education in three Portland-area school districts: Tigard-Tualatin School District, Beaverton School District, and Portland Public Schools. I have cultivated sources within each district and obtained troves of internal documents related to the curriculum, training, and internal dynamics of these institutions. We can best understand the political education program in Portland schools by dividing it into three parts: theory, praxis (or practice), and power. The schools have self-consciously adopted the “pedagogy of the oppressed” as their theoretical orientation, activated it through a curriculum of critical race theory, and enforced it through the appointment of de facto political officers within individual schools, generally under the cover of “equity and social-justice” programming. In short, they have begun to replace education with activism.

The results are predictable. By perpetuating the narrative that America is fundamentally evil, steeping children in race theory, and lionizing the Portland rioters, they have consciously pushed students in the direction of race-based “revolution.” In the language of the Left, the political education programs in Portland-area districts constitute a “school-to-radicalism pipeline”: a training ground for child soldiers. This is not hyperbole: some of the most active and violent anarchist groups in Portland are run by teenagers, and dozens of minors were arrested during last year’s riots. These groups have taken up the mantle of climate change, anticapitalism, antifascism, and Black Lives Matter—whatever provides a pretext for violent “direct action.”


Tigard, Oregon, is a placid suburb southwest of Portland. {snip} Demographically, Tigard is not diverse; it numbers only 636 blacks out of a total population of 52,368, making up approximately 1 percent of residents.

Nonetheless, educators at the Tigard-Tualatin School District have gone all-in on the social-justice trinity of “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Last June, at the height of the nationwide unrest, Superintendent Sue Rieke-Smith and Board Chair Maureen Wolf signed a proclamation “condemning racism and committing to being an anti-racist school district.” The preamble to the document recited the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and confessed that the district’s “students of color, and Black students in particular, still regularly experience racism in [their] schools.” To rectify this, the superintendent pledged to become “actively anti-racist,” “dismantle systemic racism,” implement a “collective equity framework,” establish “pillars for equity,” deploy “Equity Teams” within schools, create racially segregated “Student Affinity Groups,” and use “an equity lens for all future curriculum adoptions.”

The next month, the district announced a new Department of Equity and Inclusion and installed social-justice activist Zinnia Un as director. Un quickly created a blueprint, which I have obtained through a whistle-blower, for overhauling the pedagogy and curriculum at Tigard-Tualatin schools. {snip}

In her blueprint, Un describes the new oppressor as an amalgamation of “whiteness,” “colorblindness,” “individualism,” and “meritocracy.” These are the values of capitalist society—but for Un, they are the values of white society, the primary impediment to social justice.

What is the solution to pathological whiteness? According to Un and the Tigard-Tualatin School District, the answer lies with a new form of “white identity development.” In a series of “antiracist resources” provided to teachers, the Department of Equity and Inclusion includes a handful of strategies for this identity transformation, intended to “facilitate growth for white folks to become allies, and eventually accomplices, for anti-racist work.” Couched in the language of professional development, the process assumes that whites are born “racist,” even if they “don’t purposely or consciously act in a racist way.” The first step in the training document is “contact,” defined as confronting whites with “active racism or real-world experiences that highlight their whiteness.” The goal is to provoke an emotional rupture that brings the subject to the next step, “disintegration,” in which he or she feels intense “white guilt” and “white shame,” and admits: “I feel bad for being white.” The training then outlines a process of moving white subjects from a state of “reintegration” to “pseudo-independence” to “immersion” to “autonomy.”

In the early stages, activities include “attending a training, joining an allies group, participating in a protest.” Later, white subjects are told to analyze their “covert white supremacy,” host “difficult conversations with white friends and family about racism,” and use their “privilege to support anti-racist work.” At the final stage, trainers plumb their subjects’ individual psyches to ensure that their “whiteness” has been banished. Subjects must answer a series of questions to demonstrate their commitment: “Does your solidarity make you lose sleep at night? Does your solidarity put you in danger? Does your solidarity cost you relationships? Does your solidarity make you suspicious of predominantly white institutions? Does your solidarity have room for Black rage?”

{snip}A veteran teacher who requested anonymity, out of fear of reprisals, told me that the “big change” happened when the new superintendent and equity and inclusion director took over the district. Immediately, the focus shifted from academics to politics, and employees were expected to fall in line with the new ideology. The teacher described one professional-development training that left some of her colleagues in a neighboring school devastated: “They had teachers actually crying because of their ‘whiteness.’ ”

Which brings us to the last plank in Tigard-Tualatin’s antiracism program: enforcement. As soon as Un took over as equity and inclusion director, she formulated a new “hate speech” policy designed not just to prevent truly discriminatory speech but also to pathologize any political opposition to the new order. The cultural cues in the district are clear: teachers must support Black Lives Matter protests and oppose anything that smacks of conservatism.

“I almost feel like we’re walking around on eggshells. You have to be careful what you say,” a veteran teacher told me. “I’m afraid of speaking up for fear I might lose my job. . . . I mean, what would happen if I said I’m a conservative Republican Christian? How would that go?” When I asked how the new political education program had affected her personally, her voice broke: “I don’t want go back to work. I don’t believe in this. It goes against my faith system. . . . We’re all created as equals in God’s sight, and this is just wrong, the way we’re teaching our children. I don’t have to be embarrassed because of my skin color.”

Born as a small farming community with the arrival of the Oregon Central Rail Road in 1868, the City of Beaverton has since transformed itself into a busy and prosperous suburb. {snip} Like Tigard, which borders the city to the south, Beaverton is a predominantly white and Asian-American community; just 2 percent of the city’s population is black.

Beaverton shares something else with Tigard: its public schools have been consumed by the racial panic following George Floyd’s death. Building on some of the same pedagogies and educational theories as in Tigard, Beaverton teachers designed and began teaching a new racial curriculum for every grade level, including kindergarten. The general language for these lessons seems innocuous: “diversity,” “empowerment,” “change-making,” “culturally responsive teaching.” {snip}

One family that had moved to Beaverton partly for the city’s highly rated public schools sent me a folder of lessons being taught to their third-grade child. The social studies module on race begins innocently enough: the teacher asks the eight- and nine-year-old students to think about their “culture and identity” and join her in “celebrating diversity,” set alongside pictures of a world map and cartoons of smiling children. The subsequent lessons become more pointed. The teacher explains to students that “race is a social construct,” created by privileged white elites who use these categories “to maintain power and control of one group over another.” This, the teacher says, is “racism” that “can determine real-life experiences, inspire hate, and have a major negative impact on Black lives.”

The next module focuses on “systemic racism” and the history of the United States. The teacher tells the students that racism “infects the very structure(s) of our society,” including “wealth, employment, education, criminal justice, housing, surveillance, and healthcare.” To accompany the lesson, the teacher includes a video presentation in which the speaker directly accuses the children of being racist themselves: “Our society speaks racism. It has spoken racism since we were born. Of course you are racist. The idea that somehow this blanket of ideas has fallen on everyone’s head except for yours is magical thinking and it’s useless.” The speaker then tells the students that if they don’t convert to the cause, they will “affirm the status quo of certain bodies being allowed resources, access, opportunities, and other bodies being literally killed.”

The final modules present the solution: students must immerse themselves in “revolution,” “resistance,” and “liberation.” The teacher introduces these principles through photographs of child activists, Colin Kaepernick, the Black Power fist, and Black Lives Matter demonstrations, as well as protest signs reading “White Silence = Compliance,” “Black Lives > Property,” “AmeriKKKa,” and “Stop Killing Us.” The goal, according to the curriculum, is for students to become “change-makers” and “antiracist in all aspects of [their] lives.” They must actively fight “white supremacy, white-dominated culture, and unequal institutions,” or they will be guilty of upholding these evils. In the concluding lesson, the curriculum instructs the third-graders to “do the inner work to figure out a way to acknowledge how you participate in oppressive systems,” “do the outer work and figure out how to change the oppressive systems,” and “learn how to listen and accept criticism with grace, even if it’s uncomfortable.”


Unfortunately, this kind of curriculum is fast becoming the rule in Oregon. In 2017, state legislators passed a bill overhauling the state curriculum and installing a mandatory “ethnic studies” program that reflects the emergent racial orthodoxy. {snip}


Meantime, Portland Public Schools has institutionalized the philosophy of social justice and codified political activism into every aspect of the bureaucracy. In the district’s 2019 Racial Equity and Social Justice Plan, the administration pledged to make “antiracism” the district’s “North Star” and to create “an education system that intentionally disrupts—and builds leaders to disrupt—systems of oppression.” The superintendent hired a new equity czar and announced a “Five-Year Racial Equity Plan,” which promises a dizzying array of acronyms and academic catchphrases like “intersectionality” and “targeted universalism.”

It’s hard to overstate how entrenched the political ideology now is in the school system. A veteran elementary school teacher who described herself as a longtime liberal told me that the district’s “antiracist journey” began with good intentions a decade ago. But over time, the leadership has hardened “antiracist” principles into dogma. Today, she and other teachers must submit to mandatory antiracism training each week. “From the beginning, we were told that we couldn’t question [the antiracism program],” she said. {snip}

In one recent antiracism session, this teacher had to participate in a “line of oppression” exercise. The trainers lined up the teachers and shouted out various injustices (racism, homophobia, and so on), and asked teachers who would suffer from these harms to step forward. The trainers then divided the room into oppressed and oppressors, with straight white men and women forced to reckon with their identity in the oppressor category. The objective, according to the teacher, was to intimidate white teachers into submission through collective guilt and fear of being labeled a racist.

The ideology of “antiracism” has permeated every department in the district. Even educators in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program have begun teaching the principles of critical race theory to immigrants and refugees. According to a document that I obtained, ESL teachers are told to develop “counterstories” to the dominant American culture and to focus instruction on “advocacy for racial equity for emergent bilingual/multilingual students.” As part of the curriculum, they are asked to teach immigrants that “racism in the USA is pervasive and operates like the air we breathe” and that “civil rights gains for people of color should be interpreted with measured enthusiasm.” To combat the pernicious influence of their own “Whiteness,” the district recommends that white teachers adopt a series of affirmations, beginning with “getting to know myself as a racial being” and then “[deconstructing] the Presence and Role of Whiteness in my life and [identifying] ways I challenge my Whiteness.” Finally, after shedding their racial limitations, the teachers can begin the work of “interrupting institutional racism” and “the perpetuation of White Supremacy.”

{snip} Portland has a significant population of immigrants and refugees from countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Guatemala, and El Salvador. {snip}

How does all this translate in the classroom? At Forest Park, Whitman, and Marysville elementary schools, a teacher named Sarita Flores, who runs the information technology program, has transformed her role into that of a political inquisitor. According to leaked internal documents and whistle-blower testimony, Flores holds weekly “antiracism” sessions in which white teachers are expected to remain silent, “honor the feelings of BIPOC”—black, indigenous, and people of color—and “make space for and amplify BIPOC educators.” In presentations resembling Soviet-era struggle sessions, Flores instructs teachers that they must “deepen [their] political analysis of racism and oppression” and “start healing with public apologies about [their] racism and then go back and apologize through an audit through an anti-racist lens.” During one of these sessions, Flores hosted an exercise resembling Orwell’s Two Minutes Hate, in which minority teachers were allowed 90 seconds to berate their white colleagues. During the exercise, Flores denounced one of her white female colleagues by screaming, “You make me feel unsafe, you make me feel unsafe” repeatedly for 90 seconds. Afterward, Flores boasted on Facebook that she had publicly humiliated a racist, despite providing no evidence of racism or misconduct. It was a pure display of racial dominance. {snip}

For Flores and other teachers in the social-justice wing of Portland Public Schools, the only solution is revolution. During one presentation to teachers, Flores claimed that “an educator in a system of oppression is either a revolutionary or an oppressor.” In a folder hosted on the district website, Flores shared a meme with teachers that justified the ongoing political violence in Portland: “The root cause of every riot is some kind of oppression. If you want to end the riots, you have to end the oppression. If you want to end a riot without ending its root cause, your agenda isn’t about peace and justice—it’s about silencing and control.”

Her message to students was similar. In a series of videos delivered to her elementary school students, Flores declared: “Black people were used as slaves in the U.S.” and therefore students must become “justice fighters.” At the height of the Portland riots, Flores released another video message telling the children that “protesting is when people hold up signs and march for justice. You’ve trained for this moment all year: the fight for justice.”