“A long time ago, way before you were born, a group of white people made up an idea called race. They sorted people by skin color and said that white people were better, smarter, prettier, and that they deserve more than everybody else.”

This is an excerpt from the picture book Our Skin: A First Conversation About Race. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) recommends this book, along with several other divisive books on race and culture, as a way to enhance learning in dual language preschool classrooms, which usually serve children under age five.  

NAEYC is a professional organization “that works to promote high-quality early learning for all young children, birth through age 8, by connecting early childhood practice, policy, and research.” It publishes a journal on early childhood education, the Young Child, offers professional development workshops for early childhood educators, and advocates for policy priorities, such as increased funding for Head Start. 

It’s also a major accreditor of early childhood learning programs. All federally-funded Head Start programs are accredited by NAEYC, as are all early childhood centers located on military bases or in federal buildings. According to the Federation of Early Learning Services, “An early childhood center that attains NAEYC accreditation is among the best. Accreditation is a symbol of quality, an indication that the center offers exceptional programming for children, with qualified teachers in a safe and nurturing environment.” Less than 10% of centers have sought and obtained the rigorous accreditation and parents are often drawn to the assurance of high-quality programming for their young children 

But the organization is coming under increased scrutiny for its warm embrace of controversial views on race and gender ideology. 

In an article on “Exploring Gender and Enacting Anti-Bias Principles,” NAEYC recommends books such as “I Am Jazz,” an autobiography of a transgender-identifying biological male, “Jacob’s New Dress,” a story about a boy who loves to wear dresses, and “Who Are You? The Kid’s Guide To Gender Identity.” It also suggests that teachers remove “gendered toys” like pink dolls and replace them with “toys and objects with neutral color palettes, such as an unpainted wooden doll house with gender-nonspecific figures,” so as not to reinforce gender expectations. 

Another article, “Focus On Ethics: Gender Expression and Identity,” concludes that teachers have an ethical responsibility to refer to children by their chosen name and pronouns, even when it goes against the wishes of the parents. Analyzing the hypothetical case of Michael, a boy who enjoys dressing up and wants to go by Michelle despite his parents’ concerns, the article warns of the “potential lifelong consequences of respecting or refusing to respect Michelle’s view of herself” and advises the teacher to instruct parents on “knowledge of child development, specifically identity development as it relates to concepts of gender.”

Senator Bill Cassidy, appalled by the emphasis on racial and gender ideology within the NAEYC, recently sent a letter to the organization in which he expressed concern with its teaching recommendations and demanded that NAEYC submit detailed answers to a list of twelve questions by September 5, 2023.

The first several of Senator Cassidy’s questions inquired about NAEYC’s guidance on parent involvement in their child’s education. “How does NAEYC advise child care centers to collaborate with parents who disagree with certain topics being taught or presented in NAEYC-recommended books?” “Does NAEYC recommend that parental consent be obtained prior to socially complex topics being taught to young children?” “Does NAEYC make recommendations for accredited centers regarding how a teacher should refer to a child by different pronouns than those accompanying their biological sex if that child’s parent requested otherwise?”

At such a young age (many NAEYC-accredited education programs serve children five and younger), it is vital that parents have control over when and how their children are introduced to difficult social topics. But if the NAEYC pushes its accredited centers to prioritize progressive ideology over the perspectives and viewpoints of parents, parents might be undermined in their ability to impart their values and worldview to their children. It could also create unnecessary confusion and division if children are taught one thing at their preschool and another thing at home. 

Other questions focused on accreditation, such as “Are child care centers required to include NAEYC-recommended books in their curriculum in order to achieve accreditation?” and “Are early childhood learning centers that are religiously affiliated required to include books or other resources that are in conflict with their closely held religious beliefs to achieve accreditation?” 

Depending on the answers, parents might be at a loss to find an accredited program that aligns with the way they want to raise their children. Additionally, if NAEYC is found to discriminate against programs that conflict with the organization’s social views, it could pose a legal challenge as all federally-funded early childhood education centers are accredited by NAEYC. 

Controversial topics seem to have weaved their way into every crevice of public life, even the instruction of toddlers. NAEYC accreditation is meant to guide parents to the most reputable centers of early childhood instruction and for parents enrolling their children in preschool through a Head Start program, NAEYC-accredited centers are their only option. But depending on the answers Senator Cassidy receives, parents who just want kids to be kids, without complex racial and gender identities thrust upon them, might need to be more careful about who watches their kids.