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School teacher sounds alarm on DHS-funded program

via CBS
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An educator in Rhode Island has raised concerns about the DHS-funded program “Courageous RI,” which is aimed at promoting media literacy but is criticized for allegedly indoctrinating children.

The program, funded by a $700,000 DHS grant, has been accused of focusing on criticizing former President Trump and right-wing extremism while ignoring left-wing extremism.

“Starting in September 2023, I attended a twelve-week online training through  ‘Courageous Rhode Island’ at the University of Rhode Island, funded by a DHS grant of over $700,000,” high school teacher Ramona Bessinger wrote.

The curriculum also targets Republican elites, including Trump, for spreading conspiracy theories.

The educator fears the program could lead to increased surveillance of political speech in schools and promotes left-wing news stories and performative activism.

“The program is for K-12 teachers and is promoted as ‘media literacy.’ But it’s so much more than media literacy, and the impact of the training turned to teacher interaction with students and how students could be utilized as reporting sources,” Bessinger said.

Courageous RI’s website states that they receives “support from the Department of Homeland Security,” claiming it “works to prevent rising violence and extremism in Rhode Island with authentic and respectful conversation.”

“Confront the many forms of disinformation, hoaxes, and propaganda that are part of everyday life. Experience the practical power of strategies for critically analyzing media messages that shape public opinion about education. Consider the power of media literacy as a civic skill and examine how people of all ages learn to spot disinformation and hoaxes,” the “Courageous Conversations” curriculum states.

“In the breakout sessions and project sessions, some teachers complained about their students with opposing views. According to one facilitator, these students were part of the ‘outer-group’ and would need to be brought back into the ‘inner-group’ specifically conservative students that may have outwardly expressed support for Trump,” Bessinger said. “These students were considered ‘violent extremist MAGA Republicans’ in the making.  At every juncture, Trump was attacked and used to make the point that ‘violent extremism’ and “disinformation” were a result of ‘influencing entrepreneurs’ like Trump.  When I asked for specific examples illustrating their point, none were forthcoming.”

“The last five years have witnessed Republican elites in government and media (most notably Donald Trump) utilizing conspiracy theories in a way unprecedented in the last half century of American politics, and with severe, deleterious consequences for democratic institutions,” the curriculum states. “This alone has encouraged renewed conjecture about an asymmetry in conspiracy theory beliefs. However, elites are an imperfect reflection of the public––they have different goals, incentives, and knowledge about politics. Moreover, elite rhetoric rarely changes predispositions, such as conspiracy thinking, so much as it activates predispositions and connects them to salient political choices… In other words, while Republican elites may have recently activated conspiratorial predispositions among supporters in the mass public––where they exist––in a way that Democratic elites did not, they are unlikely to be able to cause once non-conspiratorial supporters to become highly conspiratorial.”

Bessinger said the cirriculum promotes “Performative Activism and Protests,” pushing educators to “instruct children on how to stage student walk-outs and protests.”

Critics argued that such programs funded by the government could turn educators and students into informers, sparking debates about the implications of anti-disinformation campaigns.

“Ms, Bessinger raises very serious issues as to the propriety of a federally-funded, DHS-administered ‘anti-disinformation’ program that reaches down to teachers and students,” Cornell law professor William Jacobson said. “DHS previously had to shut down its Disinformation Governance Board after public outrage. Yet similar ‘disinformation’ tactics are being implemented under the guise of media literacy training. I call on the House of Representatives to investigate this DHS program.”

“Whether that was the intent or simply the implication, it raises substantial questions as to why the federal government is paying for and implementing such a program,” Jacobson said. “Legal Insurrection Foundation, which is devoted to protecting our individual liberties, is concerned about the weaponization of politicized ‘anti-disinformation’ campaigns, particularly when funded by the government. By bringing forward Ms. Bessinger’s personal experience with the URI program, we hope to spark a much-needed debate over whether anti-disinformation campaigns have become a source of disinformation.”​

The DHS stated that the program aims to prevent violence and terrorism without discrimination.

“Violence prevention is non-partisan and ideologically agnostic. The TVTP Grant Program and grant recipients are legally and ethically required to adhere to policies and procedures that prohibit discrimination based on any protected class or belief,” a DHS spokesperson said. “The TVTP program’s purpose is to provide communities with educational, technical, and financial support to help them establish and expand networks and resources that prevent targeted violence and terrorism of any kind, for any reason.”

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