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Alabama Governor Expels Education Official Over “Woke” Teaching Guide

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has appointed an acting secretary of the Department of Early Childhood Education after director Barbara Cooper’s resignation.

Alabama state capitol building. Image: Shutterstock/Natalia Bratlavsky

Barbara Cooper, Alabama’s director of early childhood education, has resigned after being ousted by Governor Kay Ivey over Cooper’s use of a teacher training resource book. According to a news release that Ivey’s office made on Friday, the training manual features “woke concepts,” arguing that there are “larger systemic forces that perpetuate systems of White privilege” and that “the United States is built on systemic and structural racism.”

Ivey’s Statement

The press release suggests that Ivey replaced Cooper out of concern over the appropriateness of the material being taught in pre-K classrooms. The training book—the fourth edition of Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs—is a guide for early childhood educators, not a curriculum being taught to children. However, in her statement, Ivey writes that “woke concepts” are “divisive” and “have zero to do with a proper education” for young children. According to the statement,

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…  I thank Dr. Cooper for her service, but I believe it is best we continue this historically strong program on its forward trajectory under new leadership.

Statement from Governor Kay Ivey’s office

In the press release, the governor’s office cites an example from the 881-page training book discussing white privilege and suggesting that the United States is built on structural racism. The statement also refers to a passage that Ivey’s office claims introduces LGBTQIA+ inclusion to 4-year-olds. According to NPR, these sections from the book “discuss combating bias and making sure that all children feel welcome.” Meanwhile, a passage from the book states,

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.

Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs
Alabama governor Kay Ivey gives a speech after tornadoes hit Fultondale, AL, on January 27, 2021. Image: Shutterstock/Phillip Foster

Cooper’s Replacement

The governor’s office first sent a memo to Cooper asking her to disavow the book and discontinue its use in teacher education. Although Ivey’s office did not say how Cooper responded, a new release from Friday, April 21, states that Ivey had appointed Dr. Jan Hume as acting secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education.

Ivey appointed Cooper as head of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education in 2020. Cooper worked in education for over thirty years before her position with Alabama’s Department of Early Childhood Education. She is a member of National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), which produced Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs. Quoted in a press release from July 1, 2020, announcing Cooper’s appointment to the role, Ivey said,

Dr. Barbara Cooper has spent her professional career dedicated to helping students achieve their greatest potential. She and I share the same goal, and that is to make Alabama a better place, which begins with our youngest citizens. With her vast experience in various administrative positions, Dr. Cooper is more than qualified, and I have no doubt that she will continue the impressive work of the Department of Early Childhood Education.

July 1, 2022, press release from Governor Ivey’s office

Other Red States’ School Curriculum Changes

Ivey’s decision to replace Cooper comes in the wake of a number of recent examples of politicians changing or rejecting school curricula on the grounds of “wokeness.” Last week, Florida expanded its “Don’t Say Gay” Bill to affect all K-12 schools in the state. The bill restricted teachers’ ability to discuss “sexual conduct,” which includes gender identity and other LGBTQIA+ issues, in schools through the third grade.

Representative Barbara Drummond, a Democrat in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2014, told the Montgomery Adviser that she believes Alabama’s quality of early childhood education speaks for the success of Cooper’s work, and that Ivey’s choice to replace Cooper does not seem to reflect Cooper’s qualifications. According to Drummond,

I certainly think that before such a measure was taken, we should look at the success of our pre-K program. The data shows that that is an asset to the state of Alabama and Dr. Cooper is an asset to the state of Alabama.

Rep. Barbara Drummond, Alabama House of Representatives
Written By

Hi! I'm Ava (she/her) and I'm a Columbia University student studying English! I'm originally from Los Angeles, and I love writing about breaking news, politics, and social and feminist issues.

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