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Pennsylvania mom aims to mobilize parents against online cancel culture, 'woke' education

'There are more people who support our worldview than their worldview,' says Israeli-born Pennsylvania mother.

Published: August 25, 2020 1:38pm

Updated: August 26, 2020 6:50am

A Pennsylvania mother and doctor of social work is aiming to start a nationwide movement to counteract what she says is an epidemic of social media-fueled cancel culture, an effort that comes after she herself was pilloried online for opposing a "cultural proficiency" program at her children's school. 

Elana Fishbein told Just the News this week that she was inspired to launch the effort after a prolonged controversy at her children's school in Lower Merion Township just outside of Philadelphia. 

The dispute began in early June, when the fourth-grade teacher of Fishbein's son sent out an email to school parents informing them of upcoming "cultural proficiency" lessons at the school, which the teacher described as "explicit lessons on equity and race" for students. 

The lessons, which will be taught to students as young as kindergarten, address topics such as "racism," "justice," "diversity" and "privilege." Among the material fourth- and fifth-graders will study is a book titled "Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness." 

The book encourages white children to confront their own "privilege," what the book called "a painful truth about your own people [and] your own family." It argues that "whiteness" grants children "stolen land," "stolen riches" and "special favors."

"We recognize that this is an important step forward in supporting meaningful discussions with our students," the teacher wrote in the email. "We plan to continue designing lessons that promote anti-racist actions in the upcoming 20-21 school year and beyond."

Open letter generates major backlash

Fishbein, who holds a doctorate in social work, responded to the notice by writing a letter to the district superintendent as well as the school's principal and members of the school board. In that letter she describes the lesson as one meant to "indoctrinate children into the 'woke' culture, using reprehensible resources designed to inoculate Caucasian children with feelings of guilt for the color of their skin and the 'sins' of their forefathers."

She claimed in the letter that the program "does nothing to promote understanding, acceptance, compassion and empathy, but only fans the flames of hatred."

Fishbein said she never received a reply from school administrators regarding the letter. Around a month after sending it, she posted it to a school parent's Facebook group, a decision that generated immediate backlash. 

"Lo and behold, parents were jumping all over me with 'racist' and similar accusations," Fishbein said. "I went back and read it over and over, and there was nothing in it that was racist."

Fishbein shared screenshots of the negative reaction her letter generated. One parent accused Fishbein of "gaslighting. Victim blaming. Denial. Reverse racism."

"Her post does not belong here, nor does her blatant racism," the parent writes.

"Why let a racist post remain? Please remove it," wrote another, echoing the demands of numerous other parents in the group. Another described the post as "blatantly racist" and "very hurtful." Still another claimed Fishbein was guilty of "crushing the spirits and the heart of members of this community."

Fishbein's post was subsequently deleted from the group; she said she was removed from another Facebook group following efforts by a few members of the parent's group. 

Private messages of support; plan for movement in the works 

Yet alongside the public backlash, Fishbein said she received dozens of private messages from parents who agreed with her but who were nevertheless unwilling to openly support her on the forum. 

"THANK YOU," wrote one. "This is getting a lot of buzz in Lower Merion circles and almost everyone I have spoken with is on your side."

"We are proud of you for saying how you feel and saying it so well," said another. "It takes a lot of courage to speak up."

"Most people agree with you on this … but remain silent out of fear of being labeled a 'racist' by the leftist mob," wrote a third.

Fishbein said the dichotomy of the public criticism and the private support led her to organize a group of parents who are seeking to "push back against this 'woke' culture."

"It's important to understand what's happening in the context of the parents' reactions, not just the public ones, but the private reactions," Fishbein said. "We have to organize nationally. I have no doubt in my mind about that." 

Fishbein said she is unsure of what precisely the movement will look like, though she said one of its goals apart from pushing back against online cancel culture would be to petition against what she called the "trash" style of curricula that launched the controversy.

She argued that fears of social media backlash have caused parents to retreat from public debate over educational material rather than face angry commenters online. "Parents are scared, parents are terrified, parents don't know what to do," she said. 

But "we outnumber them," she said of the online leaders of cancel culture. "There are more people who support our worldview than their worldview."

One of her supporters, meanwhile, wrote to her privately this month: "Good for you! You are not alone and many agree with you!!"

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