Right-wing parent groups are organizing against school mental health programs on Facebook, claiming they are a “Trojan horse” for “critical race theory”
These groups and similar right-leaning Facebook pages have fervently opposed “social-emotional learning” programs for students, even as some blame school shootings on mental health
Right-wing parent groups — and right-leaning pages — on Facebook have attacked existing school mental health programs, such as social-emotional learning, falsely claiming that the programs are “indoctrinating” and “grooming” children and sometimes conflating the programs with “critical race theory” or with inclusion of LGBTQ families. In fact, Media Matters found that between January 1 and May 31, right-leaning political pages in the U.S. posted at least 108 times about SEL, earning over 240,000 interactions in total and often maligning the program.
These attacks from right-leaning groups and pages also sometimes come in response to discussion of mass shootings, such as the recent massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
Mental health programs like SEL have become more popular in recent years, as schools try to address increased student stress and anxiety related to the pandemic. Allie Teller, an elementary school counselor, told The Hechinger Report that she’d “seen a reduction in behavior issues and incidents in the several years since her school started using” Second Step Curricula, one of the nation’s most popular SEL programs. The group behind Second Step has explained that its curricula “does not include sex education or critical race theory.”
But right-wing parent groups on Facebook, including some based out of Texas, have been amplifying misinformation about these programs and working to eliminate them. Some right-wing media figures have cheered these parents’ efforts, though neither group has proposed or endorsed any plausible alternatives for improving students’ mental health.
On Facebook, right-wing parent groups, including some Texas-focused groups, attack efforts to improve student mental health and address bullying
In right-wing parent groups on Facebook, users have falsely claimed that SEL and other programs related to mental health involve teachers brainwashing or “psychological[ly] grooming” children with Marxist, “woke” ideology to reject “religious beliefs” in favor of socialism.
Users have shared purportedly educational resources created by so-called parents’ rights organizations claiming that SEL is a “Trojan horse” for progressive agendas and have also shared videos of conservative operatives testifying to the supposed dangers of SEL.
Some Texas-focused parent groups, in particular, are rife with misinformation about mental health initiatives in schools, with many users falsely claiming that SEL is an attempt to indoctrinate children, and is similar to critical race theory and “LGBT ideology.” Users in these Texas parent groups are also celebrating and rallying around other parents across the country for their efforts to eliminate these mental health programs from schools.
On Facebook, right-leaning pages attack SEL
Media Matters compiled and analyzed posts about SEL that were posted between January 1 and May 31 by Facebook pages that post about U.S. political news, and we found that right-leaning pages posted at least 108 times about the program, earning over 240,000 interactions.
Many of these posts linked to articles from Ben Shapiro’s The Daily Wire, which fearmongered about SEL and highlighted Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ rejection of math textbooks that he claimed included SEL and critical race theory. Another article shared on Facebook celebrated the recent victories of school board candidates in Texas who, it claimed, ran in opposition to “woke ideology” like “gender fluidity” and “social emotional learning.”
Right-leaning pages including The Daily Caller, BizPac Review, American Wire, and the Washington Examiner also shared articles attacking school mental health programs.
In April, conservative conspiracy theorist Glenn Beck shared multiple videos to his Facebook page that fearmongered about SEL. One of his videos, in which he warped reasonable concerns about student data privacy into outlandish accusations that these programs are being used to “control” children, earned over 100,000 views.
Right-wing parent groups have exploded on Facebook in the past year, driven by misinformation and inspired to push an agenda against masks, vaccines, “critical race theory,” and LGBTQ rights. In the aftermath of the Uvalde school shooting, as the vast majority of Americans were pleading for lawmakers to pass commonsense gun control legislation, right-wing media maintained their shameless legacy of rushing to shift blame for deadly mass shootings from guns to mental health. Facebook users in right-wing parent groups, meanwhile, amplified false claims originating from fringe sites that the shooter was trans, arguing that being trans is itself a form of mental illness.
Using CrowdTangle, Media Matters compiled a list of 1,773 Facebook pages that frequently posted about U.S. politics from January 1 to August 25, 2020.
For an explanation of how we compiled pages and identified them as right-leaning, left-leaning, or ideologically nonaligned, see the methodology here.
The resulting list consisted of 771 right-leaning pages, 497 ideologically nonaligned pages, and 505 left-leaning pages.
Every day, Media Matters also uses Facebook's CrowdTangle tool and this methodology to identify and share the 10 posts with the most interactions from top political and news-related Facebook pages.
Using CrowdTangle, Media Matters compiled all posts for the pages on this list that were posted from January 1 through May 31, 2022, and were related to social-emotional learning. We reviewed data for these posts, including total interactions (reactions, comments, and shares).
We defined posts as related to social-emotional learning if they had any of the following terms in the message or in the included link, article headline, or article description: “SEL,” “social emotional learning,” or “social-emotional learning.” We removed irrelevant posts.