The Chronicle Cries for Activist Teachers
Defending the Indefensible
When confronted with the shady tactics of activist teachers, the mainstream press typically tacks between silence and damage control. On Tuesday, the San Francisco Chronicle opted for the latter in a Twitter-trending piece entitled: “Two California teachers were secretly recorded speaking about LGBTQ outreach. Now they’re fighting for their jobs.”
The article is a follow-up to my reporting on an October conference of California’s largest teacher’s union, California Teachers Association (CTA). At that conference, two middle school teachers from Spreckels, California instructed educators statewide on how to establish middle school LGBTQ clubs, recruit students, and hold meetings, all while concealing these clubs and their membership from the students’ parents. The teachers even told their audience that they had monitored students’ Google searches and chat histories to determine which students might be receptive to in-person invitations to join their LGBTQ clubs.
The Chronicle’s lengthy apologia provides a worthy case study of the captured media’s attempt to defend the indefensible. How to rally behind those caught instructing educators statewide in the deception of parents about their own children? By making me into a right-wing aggressor, and the teachers who deceived parents into—you guessed it—victims.
The article never disputes a single factual claim made in my reporting; indeed, the teachers—Lori Caldeira and Kelly Baraki—admitted that the quotes were fairly attributed to them: “The Chronicle could not obtain audio of the presentation, but Caldeira confirmed she and Baraki had been accurately quoted by Shrier.”
That would have been hard to deny. Not only had I obtained audio of her public lecture, delivered before dozens of attendees, but I held onto the audio for several weeks until I was able to authenticate it with the help of documents from the conference and interviews with three conference participants. I was also able to compare the audio I had received with a podcast interview of Caldeira in which she reiterated many of the same tactics for concealing her club from middle schoolers’ parents, indicating to student participants that they should not tell their parents (or anyone else) what is discussed in the club. On that podcast, Caldeira said:
So the kids come, they have something on their mind they want to talk about it and then we have some structures in place for how to have those kind of complicated conversations. And you know, they include those group norms about respect: What happens in this room, stays in this room.
Despite the Chronicle’s repeated insinuation that there is something nefarious about a journalist’s reporting on remarks made at a widely-attended conference (“secretly recorded” and “surreptitious recording”)—the lecture was the furthest thing from a private conversation.
San Francisco Chronicle @sfchronicleTwo Central Valley middle school teachers talked publicly on the challenges of running a gay-straight alliance in a socially conservative community. When their presentation was leaked, the district was thrown into turmoil — and their program shut down. https://t.co/qzMrb1ynt0
Neither was my reporting a matter of picking on two hapless, rogue teachers. The reason I believed it especially newsworthy—and other outlets apparently agreed—was that these teachers were instructing educators at a state-wide conference on tactics for recruiting kids and deliberately deceiving parents. In the weeks after I published the piece on The Truth Fairy, I received communications from parents showing me their email exchanges with the school in which they complained about these teachers’ activism; some of these email exchanges went back several years. But I also received access to a trove of webinars put out by the CTA in which other teachers outlined similar strategies for the recruitment of even elementary school kids to LGBTQ clubs and the deliberate concealment of these clubs from the children’s parents.
One CTA webinar – “What Parents of LGBTQIA Students Need to Know” – hosted by CTA Training Director Christopher Arellano and CTA staff person, Andrew Oman, in December of 2020 – further underscores that teacher activism on matters of gender and sexuality is a statewide, if not a national problem. In that webinar, Arellano said:
In the research that Andrew [Oman] and I both have done, the age, you know, little ones are feeling or become aware of their sexuality, in liking, you know, other folks as early as age seven. So we do need to be talking about GSA [Gay-Straight Alliance, or Genders & Sexualities Alliance] and LGBTQ issues, even at that elementary level. And even with the resources we’re offering, you know, the Trevor Project, PFLAG, and also GLSEN, there’s all these different resources, you can do small things as just putting something on your doors, saying that you’re an ally, and people can talk to you, or you can actually start a club at your school. It’s absolutely doable.
Should you be inclined to think you misunderstood Arellano here, he reiterates this point later in the talk:
Okay, so our next article that we're sharing with you is called ‘Helping Families to Support Their LGBT Children.’ So, this is a really wonderful resource guide and kind of a primer on how we can help support our families and a little bit also of statistics. And so basically, the main takeaways for myself with this article is really talking about the critical role that families play in working with their children, and especially LGBTQ students. And what he talked about his early support, early support early on, so people talked about ‘is elementary school too early?’ It's not too early when folks are thinking about sexuality, on having these kinds of feelings as early as age seven—it’s not too early. So, it talks a little bit about getting early support on from their parents and from their loved ones, and also from the adults around them.
Go ahead, rub your eyes and read that again: In the view of these teachers, kids as young as seven need “early support” from “the adults around them” regarding their sexuality. Let that sink in. There is no mention of allowing the first-grader’s parents to decide whether they think the “adults around them” should be initiating sexual discussions with their seven-year-old.
In the view of some teachers, kids as young as seven need “early support” from “the adults around them” regarding their sexuality. Let that sink in.
My goal with this reporting is not to lecture parents or alter their values. I uncovered and authenticated information and sought to report accurately on what I found. What parents do with that information—provided they proceed lawfully, constructively, and peaceably—I leave to them, with the understanding that policy responses will differ. Some will disband LGBTQ clubs in middle school and preserve them at the high school level. Others may preserve them all and simply insist on transparency with parents. And – who knows – a handful may even encourage the work of activist teachers in their school system. We live in a large, ideologically diverse country.
Nonetheless, the Chronicle attempts to paint me as a “conservative writer,” that is, one with a political ax to grind. And LGBTQ News wrote a follow-up piece, variously defaming me: “Anti-trans author is petitioning to have two teachers fired for supporting LGBTQ students: Bigoted author Abigail Shrier has falsely accused two California teachers of ‘recruiting’ students to a school’s gay-straight alliance, imperiling their livelihoods and safety.”
I’ll address this lie head on: I have never petitioned anyone to fire these teachers. I reported on the content of their October speech to the CTA because they were instructing teachers state-wide at a major conference. The questions I ask myself when I get information like this are: “Is it true?” and “Is it newsworthy?” What Spreckels Union School District, or the broader community, ultimately decides to do with this reporting is up to them.
The questions I ask myself when I get information like this are: “Is it true?” and “Is it newsworthy?” What Spreckels Union School District, or the broader community, ultimately decides to do with this reporting is up to them.
As for the claim that this is a “conservative issue”—no, it really isn’t. Parents across the political spectrum oppose activist teachers having secret discussions with their elementary and middle school children about sexuality and gender. Far from this being a “divisive” culture-war topic, it’s close to a consensus. Conservative parents and liberal parents—and for that matter, straight and gay parents—tend to speak with one voice here: They do not want activist teachers shaping their elementary school children’s ideas of gender or sexuality without their knowledge, permission, or oversight. This is true, even as all decent people want same-sex attracted and gender-questioning adolescents to have a safe, happy, and productive middle school experience.
Religion provides a useful analogy. Public schools should support religious kids, employ teachers of all faiths, and nobody ought to insist that a teacher need deny her religious affiliation to her students. But we’d never allow a religious teacher—LDS, Evangelical Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or Scientologist—secretly to hold meetings with middle school kids they believed would be receptive to their message without the parents’ permission. Nor would we countenance deceitful recruitment strategies. This has nothing to do with being “anti-religious” and everything to do with the refusal to allow a realm of secrecy to exist between teachers and young students on matters as private and personal to families as faith.
Sexuality and gender are every bit as intimate and value-laden as religion. It’s natural, even necessary, for parents to be suspicious of adults who initiate sexual or gender-related conversations with their children behind their backs. This is irrespective of whether the adult initiators are straight, gay, or transgender. Had these conversations been initiated under the banner of “heterosexual sex positivity,” we would have demanded to know why on earth adults were initiating these conversations with middle schoolers in secret clubs. It was only out of a feverish desire never to appear unsupportive of LGBTQ that we allowed these conversations to careen as they have, like a drunk on the highway who respects no lanes and thinks nothing of the passengers trapped beside him.
Far from this being a “divisive” culture-war topic, it’s close to a consensus. We do not want activist teachers shaping our elementary school children’s ideas of gender or sexuality without our knowledge, permission, or oversight.
Having been caught engaging in the deliberate deception of parents, in the Chronicle article, Caldeira and Baraki perform the now-familiar two-step of activist teachers. First, they claim the reason secret LGBTQ clubs are necessary because without these clubs, LGBTQ students will be unable to find support from anyone around them—they may not “even know that a queer adult exists,” as one activist middle school teacher put it on TikTok.
Caldeira expressed the concern this way to the Chronicle: “Seriously, we have kids in our club right now who are out at school, [but] they’re not out at home. The only two teachers that they have ever spoken to have been taken away. I’m sure they’re terrified because where are they going to go and who are they going to talk to, you know?”
Then, once their deception is exposed, the activists claim that all this LGBTQ stuff is actually old hat to the kids. As Caldeira told the Chronicle: “Our conversations were always student-led, which is why they frequently surrounded LGBTQ topics. Because the kids have questions. Their parents think we start the conversation, but we don’t. TikTok starts it, Snapchat starts it, Instagram starts it or their classmates start it, and then we just try to answer the questions as honestly and fairly as we can.”
But in what sense are these clubs “student led?” After all, in their October speech, Caldeira and Baraki openly admitted that the club struggles to attract and retain students. In several of the CTA webinars I reviewed about LGBTQ clubs, teachers admit the same: with LGBTQ clubs, maintaining student membership remains a constant challenge. As Caldeira put it:
We have LGBTQ kids who come to us, and they come and spend a year with us and they get all the love and the affirmation that they need. And we give them tools to be powerful and brave and bold [but then they] go hang with their friends at lunch. And they do their things. And we love them for that, but we miss them when they don’t join us. So we saw our membership numbers start to decline.
So despite the allure of social media influencers and the stratagems of their teachers, kids would rather play outside with their friends than sit around with a bunch of middle age teachers discussing their sexuality. It’s the most promising sign I’ve seen of good adolescent mental health since the start of Covid. Only activist teachers could possibly regard this as a catastrophe.
Despite the allure of social media influencers and the stratagems of their teachers, middle school kids would rather play outside with their friends than sit around with aging teachers discussing their sexuality.
Demanding transparency when teachers engage conversations with minors in matters so private is simply good sense that respects family boundaries. Only the shrillest activist would dare call this bigotry.
Think back to your own experience of middle school and the attempts made by students to tempt teachers across a boundary. I can remember girls in our class trying to lure various teachers away from the lesson with questions about a boyfriend, girlfriend, wife or husband.
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
“Where were you last night—with your boyfriend?”
“Is he going to propose?”
Had any of these teachers ever reached for this bait, every textbook in the room would have slammed happily shut.
Our teachers predictably demurred. Married, dating, whatever—our best teachers uniformly regarded their private lives as none of our business. And any teachers—of any gender identity or sexual orientation—could easily do the same without pretending that amounted to self-abnegation. If a transgender teacher is asked about her biological sex or gender identity by a student, there is an appropriate response: “My name is Ms. Forrester, I’m here to make sure that you learn pre-algebra, and that’s all you really need to know about me.” No middle schooler needs to know if you’ve variously identified as genderqueer, polyamorous, pansexual, asexual or demisexual. You have absolutely no business sharing this information with them. The existence of a flag representing your recently-discovered skoliosexual identity does not magically transform it into a subject appropriately discussed with 11 year olds.
However the Spreckels Union District decides to resolve this matter, educators can learn a great deal from this wrenching episode. Those wishing to avoid this debacle in their own communities will hopefully land upon a common-sense solution: with regard to matters of deeply-held values—sex, religion, gender and the like—how ought they to proceed with other people’s children? Humbly and with complete transparency.
That might not be a bad way for any of us to enter the New Year.