The Arizona Department of Education launched a hotline this week for people to report classroom lessons that use critical race theory or emotional support curriculum, concepts that have been the target of conservative outrage in recent years.
The Arizona Republic reports that the “Empower Hotline” was a key campaign promise of Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, who ran on a platform that promised to focus on math and reading instruction and “declare war” on conversations about emotions and identity.
Arizona residents should report “inappropriate lessons that detract from teaching academic standards,” the department said on its website. That includes topics like social and emotional learning or that could be considered critical race theory.
Critical race theory — a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism — is not taught in state schools but it’s a hot-button issue for social conservatives who view the concept as an effort to convince white people that they are inherently racist and should feel guilty because of their advantages.
Social and emotional learning involves being taught how thoughts, feelings and behaviors are linked and that learning how to control and reframe thoughts can lead to more positive outcomes.
Studies have shown that social and emotional learning programs can improve academic performance, classroom behavior and stress management. But conservative critics say schools use the concept to promote progressive ideas about race, gender and sexuality, and that a focus on well-being takes attention from academics.
According to Horne, if a teacher or staff member is named in a hotline complaint, the department will dispatch an investigator to that school. Investigators will tell the teacher to stop the alleged wrongful instruction, and if they do not do so, will consider discipline through a process laid out by the state board.
The State Board of Education is responsible for approving disciplinary action on an educator.
Critics say the hotline is a waste of limited educational resources — and will only heighten the political tensions that have pushed teachers out of the classroom.
This effort “continues to politicize and disrespect educators and their profession and the relationships that they have with their families,” said Arizona Education Association president Marisol Garcia.
Arizona is not the first state to try to tackle allegations of divisive teaching with a hotline.
Virginia’s governor started a similar call line for critical race theory reports but shut it down in November when parents used it primarily to report special education violations and praise teachers.
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