“Culturally Responsive Teaching” – Putting Activism Before Learning

Writing in Education Week last February, Bettina Love, professor at the University of Georgia and co-founder of the Abolitionist Teaching Network, declared that “Anti-racist teaching is not a teaching approach or method, it is a way of life.” That thinking has landed here in Illinois.


Like every state, Illinois requires that programs for developing teachers adhere to a defined pedagogy by which certain standards of competency in the subject matter are to be taught and which assure mastery of the means of imparting that knowledge to students. Our standards are laid out in 23 Ill. Adm. Code 24. Section 24.130 contains the minimum requirements for any program leading to teacher certification, such as mastery of subject matter, varying plans of instruction for diverse students and the like.

This month, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (of which I’m a member) will be asked to approve an amendment to Section 24 which layers “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards” onto the minimums established in Section 130. “Culturally responsive teaching” (also called culturally relevant teaching), is a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning. To give you a flavor of what JCAR is being asked to consider, I’ve excerpted certain sections from the amendment:

Section 24.50 The Illinois Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards

a)  Self-Awareness and Relationships to Others – The culturally responsive teacher and leader will:

1)  Understand and value the notion that multiple lived experiences exist, that there is not one “correct” way of doing or understanding something, and that what is seen as “correct” is most often based on our lived experiences;
10)  Assess how their biases and perceptions affect their teaching practice and how they access tools to mitigate their own behavior (racism, sexism, homophobia, unearned privilege, Eurocentrism, etc.).

b) Systems of Oppression – Culturally responsive teachers and leaders understand that there are systems in our society that create and reinforce inequities, thereby creating oppressive conditions. The culturally responsive teacher and leader will:

4) Know and understand how current curriculum and approaches to teaching impact students who are not a part of the dominant culture.
5) Be aware of the effects of power and privilege and the need for social advocacy and social action to better empower diverse students and communities.
7) Know and understand how a system of inequity reinforces certain truths as the norm.

e) Leveraging Student Activism – The culturally responsive teacher and leader will:

5) Create a risk-taking space that promotes student activism and advocacy.
6) Research and offer student advocacy and activism content with real world implications.

g) Content Selections in All Curricula – The culturally responsive teacher and leader will:

5) Embrace and encourage progressive viewpoints and perspectives that leverage asset thinking toward traditionally marginalized populations.
9) Ensure teacher and students co-create content to include a counternarrative to dominant culture.

You get the picture. If adopted, these standards will lard our teaching programs with additional mandates just at the time when Illinois is suffering from a shortage of teachers. At the start of the 2020 school year, there were 2,000 teacher vacancies reported in Illinois schools. With these new requirements, we risk increasing the teacher shortage and losing quality, new teachers. But what we’re really seeing here is not so much an attempt to expand our teacher rolls as it is a means by which those who set education policy are cementing social activism into our schools. I don’t say this solely based upon what the amendment itself says, but also upon an examination of the reading list upon which ISBE relied in creating the standards, among them:


The General Assembly has created a number of mandates for schools to teach students about racism, sexism, and other biases including, but not limited to:


  1. Character education so that students are taught respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, trustworthiness, and citizenship intended to raise pupils’ honesty, kindness, justice, discipline, respect for others, and moral courage for the purpose of lessening crime and raising the standard of good character.
  2. Holocaust and Genocide Study.
  3. Black History, including history of slavery and the contributions of African Americans in Illinois and U.S. history.
  4. History of Women, including women’s contributions and the fight for suffrage and equality.
  5. U.S. History and the role and contributions of a number of defined ethnic groups made to Illinois and the U.S.
  6. History, roles, and contributions of the LGBT community.
  7. Civics education so that students are well-informed and can be productive citizens.
  8. Violence prevention and conflict resolution.
  9. Anti-bias education so students can understand differing groups.
  10. Anti-bullying prevention and education.
  11. Disability history and awareness.
  12. Social and emotional learning.


This amendment does not establish a “woke” curriculum on its own. What it does is create a vehicle by which curriculum will be curated to conform to the standards, which will ultimately have the same effect. In a recent article in National Review, the author examined the trend of creating new history and civics standards for which this amendment will be the implementing vehicle, using the initiatives that are found in IllinoisCivics.org as an example. The Chicago Public School system has begun to implement The 1619 Project Curriculum as part of its curriculum, even though the assertions in the 1619 Project as credible history have been strongly and effectively rebuffed. This amendment is nothing more than a Trojan Horse which will only accelerate the movement to get an undefined progressive agenda permanently into our schools.

Section (g)(5) of the amendment, quoted above, requires the culturally responsible teacher to “(e)mbrace and encourage progressive viewpoints and perspectives” without defining the term “progressive”, leaving one to infer its meaning. Requiring all new teachers to teach from a “progressive viewpoint” is simply wrong. There should be no political viewpoints required or taught in any manner in Illinois’ public schools, nor should teacher licensure be dependent upon embracing them.

This amendment does no favors to the children who will be taught to think that 2+2=5 because to do otherwise would be to buy into the notion that they’re caving into the “dominant culture”. Education is power, and those we put in charge of public education hold great sway in what is and is not taught. What this amendment really does is condemn students to failure when they come up against the harsh realities of a world that hires people who know that 2+2=4. When that happens, will those who advocate for this be held to account? I doubt it.

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13 Responses to “Culturally Responsive Teaching” – Putting Activism Before Learning

  1. Mike says:

    The ILGA JCAR committee meeting to vote on the ISBE proposed Illinois Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards is scheduled for February 16, 2021?


  2. Elizabeth schupbach says:

    This is another government intervention that is going to lead us toward no real learning, hamper teachers from instruction the basics. Do not pass this .

  3. Monica Viktora says:

    I would like to know who to contact to voice my concern over this matter?

  4. Walter and Elizabeth Keller says:

    We OPPOSE the “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards.” 
    It is very refreshing to see your stand on this, and your lengthy article with so much information.
    Thank you.
    Walter and Elizabeth Keller

  5. Kathy Watros says:

    This is wrong & I do not support it. I hope you won’t either. Kids should be taught truths & allowed to make their own decisions. Politics & Progressivism needs to stay out of the schools. Kids need to be kids.

  6. Robert Jacobsen says:

    Please let me know how I can get involved with educating citizens about this issue. Is there info that I can print and hand out or send via e-mail etc. (a fact sheet)

  7. Anna E Andermann says:

    Mr. Steve Reick,
    Thank you for your insight. I am a 69 year old Arlington Heights resident and just recently heard about this Cultural Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards proposal.
    I am absolutely horrified that this will be approved and that teachers will be mandated to agree to these politically motivated progressive teachings. Action Civics? Analyzing one’s white privilege? Agreeing to systemic racism? Those in favor of these changes like to describe the changes in nice generic terms but the fine print is so much more and scary in its potential.
    As you can tell, I am adamantly against this new standard. The existing standard covers a teacher’s responsibility quite well and those school districts that wish to achieve more progressive elements to their curriculums are free to do so But this progressive ideology should not be mandated through the licensure of teachers.

  8. Sandra Kernaghan says:

    Great article. Thank you for keeping us informed on this vitally important issue. I will be calling the ISBE on Monday to voice my disapproval.

  9. A. Durkin says:

    The school should present studies to students in an unbiased manner. Each student should be treated respect and dignity. The government should not been teaching students what to believe on social issues, political issues and religious issues. To teach only one government approved point of view is basically Communism. The school is taking over matters that should be taught by parents within the home. The government should not compel activism. Activism for the Christian student or teacher appears to violate this law. The tenants of Christianity violate this law on the issue of sexuality. So all students are valued and protected but the bible believing Christians? This legislation is not all inclusive. Add protection for the Christians!

  10. Ray Larson says:

    Rick. I sent thi to ISBE.
    Imposing uniformity of thought as the board of education’s agenda for “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards” is a concept stunningly lacking in wisdom. I am vehemently against it. I taught school for a number of years right out of college. I realized it was not for me and began five years of saving money to start a business. Eventually, I started that business. I made a lot of mistakes, but never gave up and kept on learning. Twenty four years later I retired (for the first time) with a degree of success. I had time to think about …”what did I do right and what did I do wrong, and how did it all work.” I realized that, as a businessman, there were always consequences for my decisions. If I made enough wrong decisions I could lose everything and go broke. To have a better chance of making good decisions, I realized I had to understand how reality works. Not how I would like it to work, but how it actually works. I also realized that if I had stayed a teacher all those years, I would not be any dumber at that point in my life, but I would not have had wisdom that comes with “experience with consequences” in the real world. It is obvious that the educators who are coming up with these ideas are stunningly out of touch with reality… and they don’t go broke and lose everything if they’re wrong. Between my home and my business, I currently pay approximately $50,000 per year of my real estate taxes towards education. There is not much that makes me madder than paying $50,000 to have the students of Illinois be indoctrinated with other people’s agendas rather than with what those students will need when they graduate into the real world.

  11. James R. Prombo says:

    I am a retired educator with 32 years in Illinois Public School teaching and administration. I know I am not telling you anything new, but this amendment is a step toward socialism that will undermine the education and freedom of thought of all the children of Illinois. It is a proposal to brainwash our youth. It must be defeated.

  12. Vivian G. says:

    I am in complete agreement with everything you have so soundly stated regarding this Culturally Responsive and Teaching Leadership mandate. Why do we need teachers to embrace and encourage “progressive” (ok, now they’ve changed that to “inclusive”) view points and perspectives? Does “inclusive” include conservative view points and perspectives? No, of course not. Why do we want to encourage social activism in our children? As you’ve stated we have a number of mandates that teach students about racism, sexism, and other biases. #8 states we teach violence prevention and conflict resolution. Isn’t that what is more important? Learning to resolve our differences in a peaceful manner is what needs to be emphasized. This mandate needs to be stopped and I do not want my grandchildren learning such nonsense, nor do I want my tax dollars funding any such thing!! My husband and I might join our numerous friends who have left this state and headed for Florida. Our daughters friends (20’s and 30″s) are also leaving. Illinois is a mess! Thank you, Representative Reick, for voting against this absurd mandate.

  13. Aaron says:

    Good Post

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