Saturday, January 25, 2014

About Race

There's an article by Joel Connelly in the PI that there was some irony that one of the first acts of our new mayor, Ed Murray, was to go to see the Race exhibit at the Seattle Science Center.  (It has now ended.)   (Thanks to Johnny Calcagno for the heads up.)

The irony is that just across the way at Seattle Center is Center School where Seattle Public Schools allowed one family to upend a vital conversation about race and privilege in one teacher's class. That teacher is Jon Greenberg. It is a great article and a great topic.  From the article:

Because of what happened at Center School, a fear of being “Greenberged” weighs on teachers who would have students weigh in on subjects, and personal experiences, that make some people uncomfortable.  The curriculum for Greenberg’s Citizenship and Social Justice class sits unused in the teacher’s garage.

“The credibility of the district to navigate race is on the line,” Greenberg warned the board.  “Teachers across the city are afraid to broach the topic because of the example that has been made of me.”

As Greenberg put it bluntly in his letter, “Rather than punishing educators for teaching issues of race, you should be training more teachers to do this important work.”

Minority parents at Center School have reacted as if slapped in the face.

“Silencing the discussion on race and gender, as a society, effectively returns some of us to the back of the bus,” wrote Rachel Delvillcer.

“Suspending the curriculum on race, especially based on only one family’s complaint, sent a very powerful negative message to students, particularly students of color, about who has power,” Patricia Lee added in her letter.


 The involuntary transfer of Greenberg is going to arbitration, which the district is at least a 50-50 bet to lose.

The investigation has left the district vulnerable to Greenberg’s appeal.   The clumsiness of district bureaucrats’ actions precipitated an uproar, albeit a polite uproar.

On top of this, Center School has experienced an alarming faculty turnover over the last couple of years.  Greenberg was an anchoring presence.  Citizenship and Social Justice had been in the curriculum for a decade.

It's difficult to know what to say without someone getting upset.  But, as was pointed out in both this article and in my thread about this blog, some conversations ARE uncomfortable.  That doesn't make them wrong.

My experience is that the topic, depending on who you are and your own background, can be a hard conversation to start.  Everyone comes it with their own experience, their own ideas and, most of all, their own way to talk about it.  I think it is a good idea to have someone with an established curriculum and skillset who is able to help people navigate  that conversation.

To me the most difficult hurdle is to get away from finger-pointing of "you people" or starting from "everyone is a racist but me" with "racist" being a hugely spine-stiffening, mind-closing term or sitting with your arms crossed and smugly believing, "not me."   

The big difference is in educating people on what racism feels/looks like to others rather than just labeling people. 

It's interesting because people want public schools to do so much.  Social work, health care, socialization and yet the one thing that could do the most to change lives - talking about race and relationships - the district will not do in any real way.   You never see this on the list in the Strategic Plan. 

All this on the heels of Richard Sherman (of the Seahawks, if you aren't keeping up) and his 15-second emotionally-charged outburst after the AFC Championship game that has kept sportswriters in business and may provide the narrative for the Super Bowl. 


LG said...

I also credit the principal for the departure of many excellent, long-time staff.

-TCS parent

Anonymous said...

Greenberg is the tip of the iceberg.

Word is TCS is becoming known as a hard to staff school because of oppressive leadership.

Hopefully somebody is paying attention because the students education is being compromised.

another TCS

Anonymous said...

We saw the exhibit. More fascinating (and troubling) than the exhibit itself, were the handwritten comments on index cards attached to each display. As this is a traveling exhibit, not all were from Seattle, but many writers gave their names, location and age.

The number of index cards with slurs against African Americans was staggering, and there were quite a few from Seattle residents. Worst of all were the ones from young people. We like to tell ourselves that we're "post racial", but that is not the case. And people like Amy Chua (see above blog post) simply perpetuate the divide. And a new generation grow up believing they're better than others.

Nota fan