Sunday, March 12, 2017

Ethnic Studies in Seattle Schools

Update: there is to be a rally during (?) Wednesday's School Board meeting for ethnic studies in Seattle Schools.   Not certain how that will work but that's the plan being put forth.

There is also a petition for ethnic studies in SPS but it has no author or sponsor noted.

end of update

Update 2: See end of thread for information on this topic from last month's Curriculum and Instruction meeting.  The C&I committee meets tomorrow.

 (Editor's note: you are welcome to chime in with ideas, feedback, whatever.  You are welcome to disagree with my viewpoint.  You are not welcome to personally attack me.  I should not have to say that but there are a few people who have made it their mission to deny my own ethnic background for their own purposes.  This thread is about this subject, not me.)

You may have seen the article on KUOW that the district is considering a proposal from the NAACP for ethnic studies throughout Seattle schools and that it be a graduation requirement. 
"In Washington state, it’s mandatory that you have to teach Native American history, but it’s not mandatory that you have to teach ethnic studies for other cultures," said Rita Green, the NAACP Education Chair. (Tribal history became mandatory in 2015.)
Given that Native Americans were here for a much longer time than anyone else, that 2015 date is not all that impressive. 
The NAACP proposal does not strictly define ethnic studies, but the subject is often described as an interdisciplinary study of power, race, ethnicity and national origin, often including gender and sexual orientation, from the perspectives of marginalized groups.

Last year, Portland Public Schools made ethnic studies part of the required high school curriculum. And there’s a bill in the Washington state legislature to create a model ethnic studies curriculum for middle and high school students. That’s something California will soon do for its high schools.

The NAACP’s model would go further, and make ethnic studies part of required courses at every school in Seattle, and a graduation requirement. The roll-out would begin in 2017, and be in full effect in 2019. 
Director Rick Burke, Chair of the Curriculum and Instruction Committee, has said the committee will review the proposal.

I totally agree that the history of our country and our state should have ALL its history - the good, the bad and the ugly -the contributions and the challenges and the sorrows and injustices.

But I believe that it should be embedded in history classes and not as a standalone course.  Why?

1) Teaching history is not going anywhere.  It is my observation that whenever you add on courses, those are the first to go when money/time get scarce.  This is too important to allow that possibility.  Embed it into the history curriculum and it's there to stay.  It absolutely should happen but in a way that sustains it.

2) I've gotten pushback on my stance because there isn't good embedded history curriculum with ethnic studies.  I also observe that teachers have been creating curriculum since teaching started.  There are good books out there and I believe it can be done. 

The KUOW story reports on teacher Jon Greenberg's social justice and civic engagement class.

Again, I see this growing pattern in the district of equating issues like ethnic studies and racial equity as being the same thing as teaching about social justice.  Surely the former are part of the latter but they are not the same things.  

Other good reading on this topic comes from The Atlantic, The Ongoing Battle Over Ethnic Studies.

The article starts from what I knew had happened in my home state of Arizona, where there are very large numbers of Mexican-Americans and a long and deep history with Mexico. 
In Tucson, Arizona, Che Guevara posters and Paulo Freire’s The Pedagogy of the Oppressed are the spark that set off a heated conflict over ethnic studies that has made national headlines for years. For critics, including two former state schools superintendents, the Mexican American studies program in the Tucson Unified School District is little more than divisive propaganda: “ethnic chauvinism” with a “very toxic effect … in an educational setting.” For supporters, reading literature on Chicano history in America and critical race theory is intended to close cultural gaps in the curriculum—and to close academic gaps for the district’s Hispanic students.
I would be highly suspicious of anyone who did not want students to know the full history of our country/state.

But, I can see how pushback could come from those who would want ethnic studies presented in a dispassionate manner i.e. not blaming.    I'm not sure the history of any country can be given dispassionately but I think it can be taught in a manner that informs and not accuses.  There is blame aplenty to go around for what our country has done to minorities but the goal must be clear about what the class is to achieve.  The why and how should be made clear.

 No matter how you do it, it is likely some students will be uncomfortable and/or challenged.  (That is learning in a nutshell, although this may be more personal than the discomfort of challenges of alegebra.)
Ethnic-studies courses dispel myths, Brooks said, and build connections among students as opposed to divisions. “Similar to students of color, white students have been miseducated about the roles of both whites and people of color throughout history,” she said, and culturally relevant lessons allow white children to “not only learn about people of color, but also white people’s roles as oppressors and activists fighting for racial change. This is very important because often whites feel there is nothing [they] can do to change racism.”
From the article on history around ethnic studies and recent studies:
In 1994, Berkeley High in California became one of the first high schools in the country to offer ethnic studies, the program facing opposition even in a town known to be a bastion of progressive thinking. More recently, Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest school district, added an ethnic-studies course to its high-school graduation requirements.

Yet even as enthusiasts have called for more ethnic-studies programs—and the debate rages on over making the identities of black, Asian, Native American, and Latino students the centerpiece of class instruction—notably absent was data linking culturally relevant pedagogy specifically to measurable student gains. This changed this year with new research that shows ethnic-studies classes boost student attendance, GPAs, and high-school credits for a key student group—a pivotal finding that brings hard evidence to the dispute over adding these courses in public schools.
The improvements were significant: Attendance jumped by 21 percentage points, grade-point average by 1.4 points, and students in ethnic-studies courses covering discrimination, stereotypes, and social-justice movements earned 23 more credits toward graduation. Overall, the largest gains were found among boys and Hispanic students, and in the subjects of math and science.
 Minutes from C&I meeting from last month on the NAACP resolution:

Special Attention Item
Ethnic Studies Resolution discussion

Rita Green, John Greenberg, Tracy Gill and Tess Williams on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) presented a Resolution to the Seattle School Board regarding Ethnic Studies. Ms. Green noted data showing that ethnic studies will close the gaps. She noted the feedback that she has received from students is that the curriculum is not something they can identify with. Mr. Greenberg noted a Stanford study that showed attendance, grades and test scores increased when ethnic studies were incorporated in the curriculum. Ms. Williams noted that when students are engaged, that there is less classroom disruption. Ms. Gill noted ethnic studies can be incorporated in to current courses already taught within the district. Mr. Greenberg noted that there are thematically based classes that ethnic studies can be imbedded in to. 

Ms. Gill noted that she teaches 6th grade ancient civilizations. She incorporates ethnic studies by comparing ancient issues to modern day issues. Ms. Gill noted other teachers who incorporate ethnic studies within science and math in the outlier schools. Mr. Greenberg noted working with the community to build partnerships by creating the curriculum together. 

Dir. Burke thanked the group for bringing this forward and noted that this aligns with a lot of the work that the Board is doing. He noted it is an amazing body of work. 

Dir. Patu noted that ethnic studies used to be taught at Rainier Beach as students wanted to hear about what is happening now in our country and our state. The students refused to go to class unless the curriculum was taught. She noted that the students want to learn about other students that are in class with them. Mr. Tolley noted that staff has researched our current curriculum and the sequence of courses that are required in the district. He noted partnering with our community to see what they are asking for. Mr. Greenberg noted that this is a part of the civil rights movement, and it is not just wanted from the ethnic students, but from the white students as well, as there is so much going on in our communities. Ms. Gill noted that it is about justice, not just race, and that all students are interested in learning about this. She noted that teaching ethnic studies creates a place of empathy that can start in the classroom. Mr. Greenberg noted that to create a community you have to honor pieces of culture. 

Dir. Geary asked for links to the studies that they are referencing to assist in creating something bigger. She noted that we need to run this resolution through our internal race and equity process, and through the community engagement tool. Dir. Geary noted her own experiences of learning the history that was taught to her from a humanistic perspective. Ms. Green noted the endorsements from the community that they have received, and they continue to collect. 

Dir. Harris noted the teach in on Saturday at Garfield High School and noted that she would have liked to have seen more people there, but as it was a Saturday and on their own time there was a lower turnout. She noted the funds needed for professional development in order to deliver this type of training to teachers. Dir. Harris noted brainstorming to have curriculum on the intranet to have provide more access. She noted that not all teachers have been trained the Since Time Immemorial curriculum, which is state mandated. Dir. Harris noted the need to find a grant to brave these issues to get a stronger professional development for our teachers. Mr. Greenberg noted work with the Center for Race and Equity to find ways to get this information to the union members. 

Dir. Burke emphasized a lot of wishes and a lack of funding, and that there needs to be work around civics that can work toward. He noted that the community engagement process that staff will look at through our tool, and the race and equity tool. Dir. Burke commented that ultimately we need to come up with a plan to move the work forward, and do an inventory of the work that is currently being done across the district to understand where we are now, and figure out how to enhance it from there.

He noted working with Dr. Kinoshita and Kathleen Vasquez. Dr. Kinoshita noted existing channels of professional development that will continue even with our current budget and will be looked in to.
Dir. Harris asked for the next step. Dir. Burke noted that this is a resolution, although not an SPS resolution. He noted that to adopt such a resolution, Directors and staff would have to take this material and run through the internal process. Dir. Burke asked if the Directors want to move forward with this. Dir. Geary asked that staff look through this and see what areas will capture the goal and not create conflict and align the work to the policies. Dir. Burke asked if this could be brought back to committee next month. Dr. Kinoshita noted the process has already started on the inventory piece.


Anonymous said...

I feel concerned about "gender studies" as I feel like the current trend is to conflate sex role stereotypes with gender, which is a cultural construct. There is no such thing as a pink lady brain and blue man brain. I think this part of the curriculum does not belong in ethnic studies (unless it relates to the handling of the issues in different cultures), but in biology and psychology and health classes.


Anonymous said...

How would another graduation requirement square with Core 24? With the current schedule students already have significantly reduced flexibility, and a new requirement would cause more problems.

By the way, my student had Jon Greenberg that year he was at Hamilton. His LA/SS class was very focused on race and gender and social justice, to the point that my student and their friends were sick of it. They hated the constant preaching and perceived self-righteousness, and thought he pushed his point way too hard. Maybe he was used to working with students who require a lot of repetition, or maybe students who don't think about the world as deeply or something, I don't know. In any case, he turned many of them off, and made my own kid resentful. There's a fine balance between teaching and preaching, and not many teachers can get it right. We would need a well-vetted curriculum and some strong teacher training to make this work.


Anonymous said...

Native American curriculum: Mandated. Not funded. Textbooks still barely mention Tribes. Does your school?

…In May <2015>, Governor Jay Inslee signed a groundbreaking piece of legislation that mandates Washington kids learn history, culture, and government with input from the state's 29 federally recognized tribes. It goes into effect July 24, just in time for the start of the next school year.

… Washington's law didn't set aside any funding. Whatever funding there is comes from the tribes themselves, private organizations, and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction's internal budget.


Anonymous said...


I was at Hamilton that year and he was not used to teaching Middle Schoolers and while the staff liked him they were happy to see him go. He is that way and that is what led to the entire drama at Center School.

He is a Teacher you love or not. Period. That is the case with many Teachers it does not make them bad or good just well normal. Sometimes playing to the middle is not easy and in High School that personality works well, less so in Middle School which requires half elementary and half not. It is a tough balance

Frankly I find Greenberg annoying but as a Teacher at Center School I think he was quite effective. I can separate personal from professional but that is not something SPS or Seattle does well. We like everyone to be just like us!

- Old Timer

Anonymous said...

I'd suggest the concerns went beyond the personal and were just as much about what wasn't taught (a significant amount of history) as what was taught.

-lost year

South Mama said...

According to a recent Atlantic article, "If a hypothetical classroom of 30 children were based on current demographics in the United States, this is how the students in that classroom would live: Seven would live in poverty, 11 would be non-white, six wouldn’t speak English as a first language, six wouldn’t be reared by their biological parents, one would be homeless, and six would be victims of abuse." We should add to that that five of them would need advanced learning services. And at least three of them would be gay. Two of them would have diabetes. Four of them would have IEPs. Seven of them will drop out, and 23 will graduate high school. 18 of them would go on to take at least some college classes

I completely agree that ethnic studies should be taught to all SPS students. Ideally it would be part of language arts and history and social studies. Because ideally, the district would be selecting inclusive texts. But until we can diversify our teachers and our curricula, we should definitely include this as its own course. Because our students are already diversified. And this is too important not to include while we wait until it can be done just right.

If only the district had spent the time it devoted to dismantling Spectrum working on this.

Anonymous said...

Why only incorporate ethnic studies? When I was in college we had race, class, gender etc. classes. It was not just ethnic studies. What about gender, 50% of students are female? What about socio-economic class? What about gender identity? People who check the white box may also come from ethnicities (Jews, S. Italians/Sicilians,Greeks, Maltese, Turks, N African/Middle Eastern) who were marginalized and experienced discrimination in the US. Will it also include their histories? We are currently experiencing hateful language about Jews and the holocaust written on synagogues in Seattle. How much education do kids get about diverse ethnic groups?
- Too narrow

Melissa Westbrook said...

Too narrow, well, the NAACP does point out that some ethnic studies do include beyond race. Again, that's part of the whole issue. You can say you want ethnic studies and then you have to define it.

Anonymous said...

The district is in absolutely NO position to add a new graduation requirement when they have already delayed plans to figure out how to deliver classes that will meet the new 24-credit graduation requirement. The first cohort subject to that requirement starts high school this fall, with no plan on the horizon. If SPS can't manage to deal with the state-required stuff, how could they possibly start adding new requirements instead?

Or is this all part of the plan to increase equity by limiting access to advanced courses, making kids take a GE ethnic studies class instead of an AP history class?


Anonymous said...

We're actually 3 recent mandated SS classes behind already. The "Since time Immemorial" is hardly present yet and the WA state history H.S. requirement is being taught in Middle School since it couldn't be fit in any other way. You're out of luck if you transfer into H.S. from elsewhere or fail the test back in M.S. In addition, the state added another .5 credit of required Civics on just last year bringing the total up to 3 years.

I don't think there is any slack in the schedule to add yet another mandated additional class on (and the WA state history should be first in line since its crazy for a state requirement to not even be offered.) I'd argue these topics are best situated in a a general US history class anyway as part of the curriculum during the entire year.

Anonymous said...

I think this agenda is already being informally pursued in SPS. My Hamilton kid came home from school the other day and asked me "Why are white people so bad?". When I probed a bit to understand where this was coming from, I found out that one of the kid's teachers is well known for ranting about white Christians being responsible for the majority of the worlds' problems.

And people wonder why Trump was elected.

Fed Up with PC

Outsider said...

I would recommend a recent article by Andrew Sullivan entitled "Is Intersectionality a Religion?" ( Sullivan is writing about the recent attack on Charles Murray and his hosts by a PC mob at Middlebury College. It's relevant to the topic here.

Anonymous said...

Outsider-- Good article. My concern is that these issues which are actually really complex in nature, grey etc. get over really over-simplified in the discourse. In addition lumping groups of people into a category (for example "white"), assuming people share identical cultural, economic etc histories etc is highly inaccurate. I have an undergraduate and graduate degree in the social sciences. It is much more complex.
- HD

Anonymous said...

I am very progressive (in that I believe in a strong public safety net, fully funded education, healthcare for all, ending the school to prison pipeline etc.. and I am concerned with the movement mentioned in the article above. Here is a video that discusses how it is impacting feminists and lesbians, if I were to post this under my own name I feel like I would be vilified and possibly harmed, now that apparently threatening violence is preferred to continuing the discourse. I really worry about the transing (and sterilizing) of young women who may likely to be lesbians or otherwise non gender conforming. I think I would have been transed if I was a teen now.


Melissa Westbrook said...

HD, I agree. I understand that being white in this country gives you a different security level which is huge. But, despite trying to act like there is no class system in the U.S., we all know there is. I think poor/lower middle class white people are why we have Trump. They see the world changing without bringing them along.

Everyone worries for their children and their future and their opportunities. Poor white people are no different.

Pink, having raised two teens and, of course, having been one, I can say I think the world is different for teenagers. It is more broadly-based with opportunities to learn in all directions. In some ways I believe this is great. In others, I think it can invite confusion at a confusing time. I wish all parents the strength and patience and skillset to figure that out for today's teens.

Anonymous said...

One of the cited benefits of ethnic studies courses is that it increases outcomes for minority students who have tended to be lower performing in school. I guess the theory is that if you teach them about their own people they will be more engaged, thus more likely to attend school and do what's needed to succeed. The ethnic studies class is validating in some way.

If that's the case, what we we do here? Would we try for a single, all-in-one ethnic studies class that addresses African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans? Would we have a variety of classes, and people could pick and choose? Would we have an Asian American studies class, or would people be opposed to that since Asians, overall, tend to do well in SPS? What about White studies--or is the presumption that everything else taught at school is already white studies? (Is that a valid presumption? My student's English class read mostly non-white authors, but that was in another district.)

Then there's all the non-race stuff, like gender, sexuality, religion, ability, etc. It's complex, and from what I've seen, our teachers and schools aren't really prepared to handle that level of complexity.

Why not try to work more diversity into existing classes? Require that history classes, for example, teach more than one side of an issue. Require that English classes adopt reading lists that reflect diverse authors and viewpoints. Add art classes that focus on ethnic or multicultural arts. Foreign language classes already include cultural components, and students will be taking more of these under the new graduation requirements already. We don't need another separate requirement at this time.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Oy, the minutes from the last C&I meeting where some teachers came in to discuss this quoted them as saying that they had been incorporating this into their classes so apparently, it can be done.

Anonymous said...

Oy-- I agree that should be the direction, and I do also think many teachers are already doing this as well.

Anonymous said...

What is next for this proposal given budget realities? Will this be looked at along side all the other "opportunity gap/diversity and inclusion" efforts and incorporated wisely so there is a thoughtful plan across the k-12 system, or is this going to be another one-off effort sucking budget away from any possibility of a thoughtful districtwide strategy to move the needle? What bad programs will die so this can happen? What good programs will end so this can happen? What programs that have been promised for years will be pushed lower on the priority list so this can happen? Has this been vetted?

Headless Chickens