R. Tolteka Cuauhtin, the original co-chair of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, developed much of the curriculum’s material on early American history. The curriculum cites Cuauhtin’s book Rethinking Ethnic Studies, in which he argues that the United States was founded on “Eurocentric, white supremacist (racist, anti-Black, anti-Indigenous), capitalist (classist), patriarchal (sexist and misogynistic), heteropatriarchal (homophobic), and anthropocentric paradigm brought from Europe.”
The ethnic studies curriculum claims that whites began “grabbing the land,” “hatching hierarchies,” and “developing for Europe/whiteness,” which created “excess wealth” that “became the basis for the capitalist economy.” This white “hegemony” continues to the present, and it allegedly subjects minorities to “socialization, domestication, and ‘zombification.’”
The curriculum singles out Christianity for particular demonization. Cuauhtin claimed that white Christians committed “theocide” by killing indigenous gods while replacing tribal cults with Christianity. White settlers established a regime of “colonially, dehumanization, and genocide,” characterized by the “explicit erasure and replacement of holistic Indegeneity and humanity.”
According to the ethnic studies curriculum, the solution is to “name, speak to, resist, and transform the hegemonic Eurocentric neocolonial condition” through a posture of “transformational resistance.” This Marxist resistance aims to “decolonize” American society and establish a new regime of “countergenocide” and “counterhegemony,” to displace white Christian culture and spark a “regeneration of indigenous epistemic and cultural futurity.”
Beneath all the academic language, this entails an effective return to worship of the pagan gods of pre-Columbian America. The curriculum suggests an “ethic studies community chant” complete with invocations of indigenous American deities.
The curriculum urges teachers to lead students in a series of indigenous songs and chants, including the “In Lak Ech Affirmation,” which appeals directly to the Aztec gods. Students clap and chant to the god Tezkatlipoka—whom the Aztecs worshipped with human sacrifice and cannibalism—asking him for the power to become “warriors” for “social justice.” Then the students chant to the gods Quetzalcoatl, Huitzilopochtli, and Xipe Totek, seeking “healing epistemologies” and a “revolutionary spirit.” Huitzilopochtli was the Aztec god of war who inspired hundreds of thousands of human sacrifices.
The chant ends with a request for “liberation, transformation, decolonization,” after which students shout “Panche beh! Panche beh!” in a quest for “critical consciousness.”
As Rufo noted, the curriculum’s support for chants directly appealing to Aztec gods almost certainly violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. If that clause prevents public schools from leading Christian prayers, it must certainly forbid the exact opposite.
Yet in the eyes of Marxist critical theorists, such a religious subversion of Christianity may not even seem religious at all, but merely a reversal of “oppression.”
Yes, Marxist critical theorists are so obsessed with throwing off the “white” Christian “oppression” that they will defend even state-sanctioned prayers to the Aztec god of human sacrifice. Never mind that there is nothing inherently “white” about Christianity — Jesus commanded His disciples to preach to all nations, and representatives of people from across the Roman Empire, including Persia and North Africa, were present at the first Pentecost.
This curriculum uses a pagan power matrix to analyze Christianity, which explicitly rejected the idea that the gods of conquering people proved their superiority through conquest. While pagan tribes and kingdoms set up hierarchies, allowing oppressed people to worship their subservient gods so long as they acknowledged the preeminence of the rulers’ god, Jewish prophets taught that the all-powerful God who created the universe allowed His people to be conquered, but that did not make the pagan gods of the conquerors superior to Him. Jesus taught that His kingdom was not of this world, and Christianity stressed inward conversion of heart, not outward conquest of land.
When I traveled to Peru last year — just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut that country down — I saw the great monuments of the Inca empire, and I felt the keen sense of loss in the fact that the Spanish destroyed much of the Incas’ architecture. Yet the Spanish also brought an end to the horrific practice of human sacrifice — which sometimes involved the ritual killing of children.
European powers did oppress indigenous people and the slaves they purchased from Africa, but before them, the indigenous empires carried out horrific oppressions of their own. The Aztecs conquered native tribes explicitly for the purpose of capturing enemy warriors for human sacrifice. Many tribes in Peru rose up against the Incas when the Spanish arrived — because they opposed Inca oppression.
Over time, Americans threw off the yokes of European powers, freed the slaves, and fought racism. Inspired in large part by Christianity and Judaism, the United States has helped create a global order and economy that has lifted people out of the grinding poverty and oppression that defined centuries of human existence. California’s ethnic studies curriculum would demonize those accomplishments in the name of centuries-old victims who themselves were perpetrators of a different kind of oppression.
This isn’t just dangerous and likely unconstitutional, it’s arguably demonic. California parents should raise a ruckus, and Americans as a whole need to oppose the threat of Marxist critical theory — the same ideology behind the destructive Black Lives Matter riots last summer, the 1619 Project, and even the condemnation of Dr. Seuss. Democrats defend critical race theory as a matter of “sensitivity training,” but this noxious ideology encourages an aimless violent revolution, false smears against American history, and now even worship of pagan gods.
Critical theory does not belong in boardrooms, universities, or the government, and it certainly belongs nowhere near America’s children.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.