Indoctrination task force talks social justice, stirs dissent in first meeting

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, left, and Rep. Priscilla Giddings speak during Thursday’s Education Task Force meeting at the Idaho Capitol. Nik Streng/Idaho Education News

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s “Task Force to Examine Indoctrination in Idaho Education” got off to a long start in an inaugural meeting Thursday.

The nearly five-hour meeting was dominated by presentations on social justice ideology. Committee members catalogued allegations of indoctrination in U.S. schools, wrote down their understandings of critical race theory and listened as hardline conservatives leveraged critiques against alleged left-leaning curricula.

An audience of a couple dozen McGeachin backers and progressive protesters filled the Idaho Capitol’s Lincoln Auditorium, giving way to a handful of raucous reactions and exchanges.

Anna Miller, education policy director for the Idaho Freedom Foundation; Scott Yenor, a Boise State University political science professor and Claremont Institute fellow; and James Lindsay, a big-name opponent of critical race theory, took center stage, deriding schools’ alleged focus on social justice.

“The vision of social justice in our education system is … a deliberate attempt to make sure that students think only in terms of cynical and pessimistic ideology,” Miller said. “And this is happening all over the country, with many universities and schools that are much farther along than Idaho. But we should not want Idaho to be on that path at all.”

The task force’s goals — and rules — didn’t go unchallenged.

Ten or so teenage protestors attended the meeting. The committee’s co-chair, state Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, asked them repeatedly to remove signs from the committee room. One protestor, asked to remove a sign that said “EduKKKation Task Force,” later returned with a different sign showing a picture of McGeachin with members of the Three Percent militia group. The protestor again left after Giddings asked security to escort him out.

As the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s Anna Miller speaks about critical race theory in schools, two protesters hold signs behind her.

Both departures came to the cheers and applause of the audience, whom Giddings repeatedly quieted.

With only two elected officials among its ranks and no representation from the State Department of Education or State Board of Education, it’s unclear how much material change the committee will be able to make.

State Board President Kurt Liebich has said he’s seen little evidence of widespread “indoctrination,” and Gov. Brad Little has knocked the “anecdotes and innuendo” that have birthed legislation targeting social justice.

Still, three more meetings are planned for the last Thursdays of June, July and August. The next two will focus on examples of social justice ideology in K-12 education and in higher education, respectively. At the final meeting, “we’re going to come together as a committee and really focus on some courses of action and some recommendations that we have,” Giddings said.

‘Listening to all sides’

To close the meeting, McGeachin invited the public to recommend future presenters with “differing views” amid criticism of the task force’s membership.

“What we tried to do is get representation from across the state, and also representation from different walks of life,” she said.

McGeachin chose 15 people, herself excluded, for the task force, but more than 40 people showed interest, she said Thursday. And that process is taking heat from the Idaho 97, a group opposed to far-right politics in the state.

“The task force is made up of people who already agree and have already made up their minds that racism is not a problem, for them,” director Mike Satz wrote in a prepared statement. “The problem is that from the lieutenant governor down, the members of this committee are highly ideological, far-right actors in Idaho who want to control and destroy public education as we know it, to silence teachers and students and especially people of color across Idaho, and to undermine our precious democracy.”

EdNews reported last week on the backgrounds of most of the members, but some remained unidentified until today:

  • Michael Nelson said he’s a former police officer who worked a 25-year career in the San Francisco area.
  • Ryan Spoon, who said he’s a West Point graduate and father, expressed worry about critical race theory being taught at U.S. military academies.
  • Mark Hand, a retired Marine, said he joined the task force after he “had to sit through a privilege and oppression class” while attending school for social work in Washington.
  • Laura van Voorhees recently moved to Kootenai County from California. She spoke of a rift between her and her daughter, which she attributes in part to critical race theory teachings at her daughter’s former college in California. “We are in a Marxist takeover, a communist takeover (in) this country. And this is a manifestation of it in our face. It’s in our homes,” she said.
  • Janet Adams is a retired Coeur d’Alene lawyer.

    Scott Yenor gives a presentation to the Education Task Force during Thursday’s meeting at the Idaho Capitol. Nik Streng/Idaho Education News

Lindsay’s prior listing as a task force member was an error, McGeachin’s chief of staff told EdNews by email Thursday.

McGeachin’s and Giddings’ co-chairing of the committee comes shortly after they announced runs for governor and lieutenant governor, respectively. The meeting also came hours after McGeachin, as acting governor, signed an executive order banning mask mandates statewide.

With Little out of state, McGeachin was temporarily in power. Little was expected back in Idaho by Thursday night.

“Today, it’s Gov. McGeachin,” Giddings said, opening the meeting to yells from supporters.

The task force meets next June 24.

Blake Jones

Blake Jones

Reporter Blake Jones covers the politics and policy of Idaho's K-12 public school system. He's a lifelong Idahoan, and holds degrees in Creative Writing and Political Economy from the College of Idaho. Follow Blake on Twitter @jonesblakej. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday