Close up of books on desk in library.

Top Alabama Education Official Fired Over an 881-Page Guidebook That Mentions Race & Equality Twice

Alabama’s Director of Early Education Barbara Cooper has become the newest casualty of right-wing America’s War On Education. Her crime? Introducing “woke concepts” to schools. This is far from the first time that Republicans have taken umbrage with what they deem to be “woke.” The Florida legislature recently introduced the “Stop Woke Act” and the “Reverse Woke Act,” which target discussions of critical race theory and related topics in schools, and the availability of transgender healthcare respectively. The “Stop Woke Act” is an especially draconian attempt to eliminate all conversations around systemic racism in classrooms, which Republicans say have no educational value to American students. The bill also threatens the removal of educators who teach these concepts in classrooms and challenge the conservative status quo.

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Barbara Cooper was fired for much less.

Cooper is not a teacher, she is an administrator who served as the head of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education. She doesn’t deal with students on a day-to-day basis. Until recently, her current duties involved providing a guidebook for early educators. This guidebook is not a curriculum meant to be taught to children. The guidebook was not even penned by Cooper herself, but rather a nationally recognized education group. And yet two mentions of “taboo” concepts for Republicans within this 881-page tome were enough to merit her immediate dismissal.

When explaining the decision to oust Cooper, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey referenced two examples from the book that drew conservative ire. One example discussed white privilege and said that “the United States is built on systemic and structural racism” while the other teaches LGBTQ+ inclusion to 4-year-olds, according to Ivey’s office, per NPR.

“Early childhood programs also serve and welcome families that represent many compositions. Children from all families (e.g., single parent, grandparent-led, foster, LGBTQIA+) need to hear and see messages that promote equality, dignity, and worth” said the latter section. So yes, the parenthetical inclusion of the term “LGBTQIA” was deemed to be inappropriate for children by Ivey’s standards.

The section on racism stated that “systemic and structural racism … has permeated every institution and system through policies and practices that position people of color in oppressive, repressive, and menial positions. The early education system is not immune to these forces.” The section goes on to say that children “begin to see how they are represented in society” in preschool, and that the classroom should offer “affirmation and healing” to children who are especially vulnerable.

“The education of Alabama’s children is my top priority as governor, and there is absolutely no room to distract or take away from this mission. Let me be crystal clear: Woke concepts that have zero to do with a proper education and that are divisive at the core have no place in Alabama classrooms at any age level, let alone with our youngest learners,” said Ivey in a recent statement. Ivey’s office said that the governor asked Cooper “send a memo to disavow this book and to immediately discontinue its use.” Soon after, Ivey made the decision to replace Cooper. As of now, Cooper has not released any statements regarding Ivey’s decision, but has tendered her resignation as the head of the Department of Early Childhood Education.

Cooper is a board member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, an accrediting board that works to provide top-quality education materials to children. In a statement on the NAEYC’s website, Cooper defended the book saying it taught “applicable skills for teaching through developmentally appropriate practices that build brains during the critical first five years of life.” In a statement to the associated press, the NAEYC said the book is a “responsive, educator-developed, educator-informed, and research-based resource that has been honed over multiple generations to support teachers in helping all children thrive and reach their full potential.” According to the organization, the book has been in use for “over four decades” and has “served as the foundation for high-quality early childhood education across all states and communities”.

Alabama’s First Class pre-kindergarden programs have been awarded with high ratings from the National Institute for Early Education Research, and currently operate over 1,400 classrooms across the state. I wonder how those ratings will fare with regard to Ivey’s recent decision. Not well, I imagine.

(featured image: jovan_epn/Getty Images)

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Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.