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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

District Statement on The Center School Race and Social Justice Class

 Statement from Superintendent Banda on The Center School race and social justice curriculum class (partial):

On Dec. 21, 2012, we received a complaint from a family at Center School alleging that the instructional activities used in the Citizenship and Social Justice: Advanced Placement Language and Compositions and Social Studies class included intimidating and discriminating actions, attitudes and classroom environment.

Our Human Resources Department then launched an investigation of this complaint, as is our process. At the request of the Superintendent, the Teaching and Learning Department reviewed this particular course, convening an ad hoc committee to examine the curriculum.

In the meantime, the class continues to meet and we’re reviewing how a portion of it – a six-week race unit that has since ended – will be taught in the future.

 
Regarding the first issue, the Human Resources department found that the way in which the race unit at the Center School was taught did create an intimidating educational environment for a student.

Based on the Human Resources finding, Superintendent Banda requested the Ad Hoc committee meet to review the curriculum. 

In the second issue, the Teaching and Learning team is reviewing the Ad Hoc committee’s recommendation and making a decision on how the race and other course units are taught in the future.

Seattle Public Schools strongly believes that race and social justice should be taught in our schools. These are important conversations for our students and staff. But we don’t want to put any child into a situation where he or she feels so intimat
ed by the manner in which these issues are taught that the course is no longer effective.

I find a couple of things odd:

- who was on the ad hoc committee (it would have been nice to know)

- I'm not quite sure this statement makes it clear how this really played out.  I believe, based on the teacher's statement, that he had to suspend that portion of the unit, not that it "has since ended."  I don't know why that was not stated if this is public record. 

- it also doesn't say that this is a long-time class that has used this curriculum before.  So one complaint and that makes it wrong?  I'm not saying the committee is wrong in its ruling but was that issue of past usage taken into account at all?
 
- T&L is reviewing the decision to make a decision on how race and other course units are taught in the future.  Really?  Because the Board directed district staff, after the Brave New World issue, to review materials that involved race and social justice.  Did that not happen?  Shouldn't this be a bigger effort with the SEA and teachers weighing in and not just the "T&L team?"  This is going to influence how many teachers teach, not just in social studies but in LA as well.

32 comments:

mirmac1 said...

From the Stranger comments:

"My wife and I are the parents who filed the complaint you referenced in this article. I'd like to clear up a couple of misconceptions and misdirections here.

First, our complaint was filed against Mr. Greenberg for his personal actions in the classroom, not against the curriculum. We couldn't care less whether the Center School has a teaching unit on race and gender or not. That was not the issue in the complaint, as we made explicitly clear not only to Mr. Greenberg in our original meetings with him, but also with the District when we filed the complaint, and later with the investigators who handled the case.

This is about the highly-inappropriate behavior of a teacher in the classroom, not the content of the class he is teaching. The result of the District's investigation was that all of the claims we stipulated in our complaint were substantiated. As you note, Mr. Greenberg was found to have created a hostile, intimidating learning environment in his classroom. This was not just for one student as you imply.

The District undertook a review of the curriculum as a matter of policy, and I expect they will probably allow it to continue. I would like to point out that District claims that we, as the complainants, have been part of the curriculum review or its committee are false. We have not been part of any such process and have not been made privy to its deliberations.

Our objection, on the other hand, was to Mr. Greenberg's behavior. The District has not seen fit to discipline him appropriately for this, which we soon hope to remedy.

In the meantime, media exposure such as this and the KIRO piece are simply allowing the pattern of intimidating behavior to continue by proxy. We would appreciate it if you would refrain from pursuing stories like this without first determining what is at issue.

Po3 said...

"media exposure such as this and the KIRO piece are simply allowing the pattern of intimidating behavior to continue by proxy. We would appreciate it if you would refrain from pursuing stories like this without first determining what is at issue."

We have the complainants attempting to control press coverage and a petition that has almost 650 signatures and dozens of positive comments about the teacher.

Something does not add up here.

LG said...

"We couldn't care less whether the Center School has a teaching unit on race and gender or not."

That also seems very strange to me.

"The District has not seen fit to discipline him appropriately for this, which we soon hope to remedy."

How do they know what is appropriate?

What could have possibly happened that has made them out to get a teacher that is generally so well-regarded?

It seems very arrogant to me.

Anonymous said...

Well it doesn't suprise me that there are families who might not see eye to eye with a class on social justice much less a need for one. My kids went to a school with one of the lowest FRL & ELL population and highest number of white kids yet to hear the parents go on about diversity, it's as if we are in NYC (not!). Besides no guilt here because a lot of our PTA money goes to help those kids already because they are the ones who need the extra tutoring (not true, goes to tutoring more struggling white kids given the school population). It's also a neighborhood that will start a neighborhood thread with calls to SPD about suspicious people if they see an AA or brown possibly dark skin Latino/Latina or Asian Islander walking in the neighborhood. Of course, on one occassion it turned out to be me and my visiting relatives walking to a local park from my house. OOPS! But hey to hear my fellow PTA moms tell me, nope, no there is no such thing as racial prejudice here. If you think that-- then you are looking for it because they have never seen it or experienced it. So nope it doesn't exist here because we live in ultra liberal Seattle and gosh, voted for Obama and sam sex marriage!!! It's after all a very diverse neighborhood with Japanese teriyaki, Thai, Mexican, and lots of Italian restaurants. Ha, Ha, Ha!!!! So really a class on Social Justice and Race. Ye gods! That's just stirring the tempest pot and for people who don't know how to get along.

Just Smile

Melissa Westbrook said...

I would like to know what - in specific - did these parents object to that the teacher said or did in the class.

The SPS statement said this:
"Regarding the first issue, the Human Resources department found that the way in which the race unit at the Center School was taught did create an intimidating educational environment for a student."

Okay, what was it? Because it seems this class has been taught by this teacher for quite a long time and successfully so. Has the principal had past complaints? I know a syllabus goes home - that the parents have to sign - that explains the class. So what happened that was over the top for these parents?

The commenter at the Slog who said they are the parents said this:
"In the meantime, media exposure such as this and the KIRO piece are simply allowing the pattern of intimidating behavior to continue by proxy. We would appreciate it if you would refrain from pursuing stories like this without first determining what is at issue. "

Well, it's hard to cover the story if you can't talk directly to the parties involved. But they won't talk so how is The Stranger or any other media source to do a through job?

To "determine what is at issue" would mean -for a good journalist - to talk to BOTH sides. That means the parents need to step up because their actions are now sending into motion a review of ALL classes that deal with race and social justice and that's not social studies but language arts as well.

They also go beyond wanting the class to change and want the teacher disciplined. Again, for what?

Sorry folks, you don't get to upend things and then cry foul.

Charlie Mas said...

This is all so curious.

How could it be that a student was intimidated and discriminated against in a class that is intended to heighten awareness of exactly that, but no one in the class noticed it?

Anonymous said...

You know I can see it if you have a minority voice that may feel like it's not being heard or being rejected. And the point that I want to make is the "feeling" part. You try to create an atmosphere ( you may never be able to because of the feeling part) that allows for differences, but it can be tough if you are the lone voice that speaks out and is NOT comfortable being the lone voice. So a person may feel intimidated. Being a lone voice is lonely and you may feel vulnerable. But one thing I've learned about being a lone voice is that I might feel all that, but it's also empowering when you use your lone voice. So it depends on the take of the kid and his/her family. This course can be a winning one because it can teach kids (and a lot of adults out there) what it's like to go against the grain, to be ok with it, and to be different. To be respectful while disagreeing over a volatile topic.

In the real world though, it's a tough thing even with adults. At my job, I get to handle these awkward conversations and yeah, I never know what will blow up in my face because I don't know what stuff people bring to the table and I'm not always on my best everytime. When you are dealing with your kids, you want to protect them from feeling hurt, rejected, etc. But you can't really because kids as they grow up have to go through this at some point of their lives and have to learn to deal with that feeling on their own. I like to think a course like this teaches people to understand there are times they may feel to be the lone voice, but not be afraid to speak up or act. I would also hope for the kids who are of the majority voice, to realize how hard it is for a lone voice to voice itself and be respectful of that. I wish we had more classes like this.

just smiling

mirmac1 said...

Melissa,

But that is the nature of these witch hunts, no one is to know the actual allegations until the target rides out on a rail at sunset...

Jan said...

I can't tell exactly from either the Stranger article or the parents' comment what happened. I do get (now) that it is NOT a curriculum content issue. It instead has something to do with the WAY the teacher teaches the content -- or more generally, with the teacher's classroom actions.

I don't know this teacher. I have seen situations like this where I felt that the complaining parent was wrong -- where they were thin-skinned or unreasonable, or worse. I have also been in situations before where teachers who know they are well liked, and whose classes are popular, have been at fault -- where a sort of "cult of personality" has grown up that protects them, for too long, from being challenged to examine their classroom behavior (and its effect) towards certain kids.

I have no opinion here -- for all I know, Mr. Greenberg walks on water. He is certainly well-liked, it appears. But the situation described above does occur. I hope everyone evaluating this situation is able to drop the hype on BOTH sides and take a clear, objective yet compassionate look at the circumstances. I don't want to see a good teacher unfairly dinged. I don't want to see a great course strangled or eliminated. But I also don't want to see a student (who has way less power than a teacher in a class) unfairly intimidated by a teacher whose general popularity may be blinding both him and others to issues in his teaching style or behavior that need to be addressed. I hope it all works out to the good for all of them!

dj said...

I think I am still not understanding procedurally what happened here. If this is an issue with a teacher's classroom conduct, but not the curriculum the teacher is using, is the standard thing to do to form an ad-hoc committee to investigate the teacher's classroom conduct?

Anonymous said...

Jan you stated-quite eloquently- what I have been thinking about this.

Thanks,
MC

Anonymous said...

Jan, you are a voice of reason. Thanks for weighing in.

-Garfield Mom

Elizabeth W said...

I appreciate Jan's comment as well.

I also think we should consider the possibility that the parents are trying to protect their child's privacy. What would you do if you felt your senior-year student was subjected to a hostile learning environment just as college recommendation letters were due?

Anonymous said...

How could anyone disagree or feel uncomfortable or intimidated in such a class? Oh, what's the topic again?

Oh dear...Nevermind.

Emily Latella by WSDWG, surprised we don't hear more such complaints in such classes, given the sensitive topics. Is it supposed to be cut & dry?

WSDWG

n said...

As a teacher who gets loud and noise myself sometimes, I can understand Greenberg's style. Sometimes a teacher needs to shake kids out of their torpor. Yes, they think they're listening . . . thinking . . . analyzing. But they are giving lip service and sort of attending in a milquetoast manner. We've become something of a pc milquetoast society except for the extreme right and we never really call them out for what they are: corrupt, greedy, and often ignorant.

Teaching requires that you shake up the neurons. That takes an energy that many teachers don't have or don't have the courage to show. A class such as this one requires even more. Greenberg cannot teach a class like this successfully without shaking up the neurons and the emotions. You have to feel to learn and understand and - most importantly - question.

I am not at all confused or in the dark about the complaints now that I've read the parents post. He sprinkled pepper and shook up the emotions. That child who was intimidated and whose parents have clubbed Greenberg will be changed. Oh, the horse at least left the barn. That child is changed. I'm sorry it came at the expense of such a great teacher. Greenberg will have to teach now like the average holding back his passion; no longer changing minds or hooking students into profound and life-changing awareness. When I read the testimonials from previous students, I no longer need to question Greenberg's methadology. I only smile and thank god he was able to do what he did for as long as he did.

n said...

BTW, anyone else remember the blue-eyes/brown eyes experiment a first-grade teacher did in the fifties (I think fifties)? That would never be tolerated today. What a shame.

Think about how much Americans have changed: WW2 we were the preferred capturers by POWs . . . remember why? Remember Nuremberg? Oh, how we've changed. I'm glad I'm old. I don't like us very much anymore.

Anonymous said...

I am a teacher currently under scrutiny for making a "culturally insensitive remark". At he beginning of the school year I had privately asked a Latino student if it would be at all helpful to have copies of the district approved curriculum in Spanish. My thinking was that it would help the parents be involved in what the student was working on. The student did not get the grade he wanted for the semester so has complained to administration. And here I thought I was making an effort to take into account the cultural/language barriers that some parents might have
Salander

mirmac1 said...

Salander,

I can see how these spurious complaints arm despotic principals, and feed into an HR that is (thanks to the Alliance and LEV) hell-bent on driving good experienced teachers out.

I define good at the HS level as old-school, no excuses, do the work and ask questions and your grade will reflect that.

Po3 said...

Jan -

You have a good point and believe that sometimes the “cult of personality” can protect a teacher. However let’s look at the facts of this situation: There was a complaint and an investigation where the teacher was found to have created an intimating environment and has or will be disciplined.

Curriculum was suspended leaving an entire class left without a curriculum, based on the one parent complaint. Students started a petition to have the curriculum reinstated so they can get back to learning; not to remove any discipline action against the teacher.

Over 700 people signed the petition and many comments supporting the teacher were added. None of the comments ask to have any discipline action removed.

We also know that the parents think that, "The District has not seen fit to discipline him appropriately for this, which we soon hope to remedy."

We know that there are defined discipline procedures set forth in the union contract that the district must follow. But in their opinion, the discipline guidelines are not appropriate and are looking to “remedy” this.

At this point (in my opinion based on all the facts) it is the parents who are the source of intimidation. And it leaves me wondering how much they have been manipulating the situation all along; at their childs expense

TCS parent said...

I saw this comment today on one of the slogg posts. To my mind its speaks with authority to the complete picture. (121 refers to the "parent's" post). I was a involved parent ar TCS for four years and don't keep Greenberg on any pedestal but teaching this class would be terribly difficult and he does it as well as we can expect from anyone.



@121

Big deal. I took that class. I spent a lot of my time annoyed with my teacher not just because I had disagreements at certain intersections, but because of the somewhat overbearing tendency to create a charged atmosphere that yes, a student mind find intimidating if they excepted their feelings to be handled like glass. A student expecting to go on to university, where professors often operate on a mandate whereby they do not have to care at all about the feelings of their students.

Jon Greenberg has a powerfully, aggressively, loud mouthed, obnoxious, hyperactive and slightly maniacal tendency towards the emphatic, and the reason for this, so far as I have been able to tell, is not to underscore a dominant paradigm or make students fearful of questioning authority, it is a technique that is employed with the aim of creating a theatre of ideas. And also because the man is just high energy- and to my mind, it functions. The ideas and concepts are retained, the imprint is lasting, and you may have discovered you've stirred a nest of snakes in the form of former students, not all of whom saw eye to eye with Mr. G, but all of whom have a passionate vibrant example on which to base their objections. If your student wasn't so mollycoddled by "concerned parents", as is apparent, maybe they would learn that the issue at hand is not being intimidated by loud noises, but learning that loud noises are permitted, should be permitted, encouraged, and expressed.

This is a lesson your kid needs to learn now: not all teachers are easy to get along with, not all teachers are nice, not all of them are personable, tranquil or calm in their demeanor, or academically equitable- but your kid is old enough to have a job, to be forced to tolerate an obnoxious employer on a minimum wage job (are you going to show up there, and tell that kid's boss they need to be nicer?) old enough to probably move out and try and make a go of it in a pretty intimidating world, so if your kid can't make the proactive effort to communicate their insecurities with their teacher in an equitable setting with out the bureaucracy, if that kid needs you to hold their hand, then you can hardly expect them to ever gain the tools to confront life's challenges.

Anonymous said...

Calculus and AP chemistry were tough classes to slog through, but the classes I truly found the hardest were the ones that provoked and challenged my critical thinking skills, sensibility and beliefs. These classes are the ones that makes you think, listen well, argue, squirm, be passionate while learning how to temperate your passion. These classes are on their way out. They are just too risky. "n" is right. You need a daring and dynamic teacher (and clear classroom code of conduct) because there is risk involved to teach and learn like that. It's a class that is bound to offend. It's a pity because I think our kids need this kind of classes, more so now as technology makes for less face to face engagement and far easier to choose information, news, opinions that reflect one POV. Kids need to learn to deal in a world that is messy, emotional, outside their and their parental control. But it would seem our public schools, curricula, teachers and students are heading toward mind numbing, safe and sanitized, standardized learning. The irony is some private schools (at $27K a year) love this kind of teaching and classes (even when they generate unwanted controversies).

js

RosieReader said...

Yikes. I hope that "n," who apparently thinks that students are "corrupt, greedy and often ignorant" doesn't, won't, and hasn't ever, taught my kids.

I am always skeptical when someone says they have to act out to get others' attention. There are plenty of great high school educators who teach extraordinarily well without histrionics, belligerence, etc.

I'm a combative person, so I don't cringe under the sort of management style that folks are saying the Center School teacher employs, or than "n" apparently favors. But many, many people do. Please don't tell me that you're hardening them for the future, or forcing them to somehow "grow." Instead, WHat you are really doing is shutting them down, and eliminating any chance that they will learn anything in your class. Far from preparing them for the adult world, ready to stand up for themselves, you're socializing them to be quiet when they find themselves with a bullying/domineering boss.

I'm glad the District looked into this, and I'm glad one family stood up for their student.

DemocracyMom said...

Lot of great comments here. There's one I haven't seen, and that's the irony of the district taking action when a student is intimidated by conversations about race and gender, while the students who are intimidated daily due to racism and sexism get ignored. Of course, if a previous commenter is right that it is about the teacher being "has a powerfully, aggressively, loud mouthed, obnoxious, hyperactive and slightly maniacal tendency towards the emphatic" then that's something else altogether.

Anonymous said...

Rosie, "n" was calling the "extreme right" as "corrupt, greedy, and often ignorant". Not students. This is what "n" wrote:

"We've become something of a pc milquetoast society except for the extreme right and we never really call them out for what they are: corrupt, greedy, and often ignorant."

js

Anonymous said...

So, does that make the comment any better??

Charlie Mas said...

All of this has me harkening back to days long past when Colleen Stump was in charge of Advanced Learning and would define "rigor". Part of that definition had something to do with challenging personal beliefs.

Jan said...

Po3: you may well be right -- and the parents' followup comment "The District has not seen . . . " was pretty chilling. On the other hand, any parent (especially of a sped kid -- but not exclusively those parents) who has had to go to bat for a child in an educational situation knows that the first thing (well, second -- after claiming your child is lying or exaggerating) the other side will do is paint you as a "babying," "mollycoddling," "interfering" helicopter parent (even though this may be the first run in you have ever had with a school). They will assure you that as a result of your pathetically interfering parenting, your child will never get a job or be able to cope.

And I have also seen great and gifted teachers, whom kids adore (even though at the time they were holding on by the skin of their teeth) leave teaching because they were basically hounded out, because life was simply too short to deal with the drag of clueless, indifferent (or worse) administrators.

Reading these comments -- I still am unable to take sides -- although the existnece of multiple meetings before filing a complaint, etc. tells me there IS (or are) right sides here. This isn't all just some big misunderstanding (which is what I thought the Mudade dustup at TM a few years back might have been). My biggest concern is that I have so rarely seen the public school "review" process work at a high level of intelligence. I don't know who was on the "ad hoc" committee, or what happens to their recommendations -- but my observation is that there are way too few people in SPS administration who care passionately about getting this right -- for both the teacher AND the student -- and way too many who lack the skills and/or courage, or who simply don't care enough about either the kid or the teacher, to get to the right answer. Any parent who has been involved in an even mildly contentious IEP knows that it is too easy to just cover backsides, push papers around,say the "correct" things about what was reviewed and considered -- all the while trying for no higher goal than just making the controversy go away in a manner that is quick, will hopefully stave off a lawsuit, and will not cost them their jobs (or the next promotion).

At their heart, classes on race and gender are classes about power, who has it, how it is wielded, whether people talk honestly about it, how it gets transferred from (or wrested away by) one group to another. My concern is that here we have TWO people with insufficient power -- the student (backed by parents good or bad, as folks will have it, but otherwise without any clout) and a teacher (backed by popularity and reputation, but without much help from a union (if history is any guide), maybe without help from his principal (I couldn't tell) and at risk of having the powers-that-be above him decide to solve this issue at his (or his class's) expense (and now that this complaint is in his file, if some small-minded administrator in the future finds it handy -- it may help to bring him down years hence).

Even private schools get this wrong fairly often, and they are far less bureaucratic and politically byzantine than the District is. I wish I had more confidence that SPS can and will get the resolution of this issue right.

n said...

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, does that make the comment any better??


I'm not sure it is a matter of my comment beubg bad or good. If you disagree with it and have something of substance with which to argue, I'm fine with that. My comment is a result of my experience and yes, reading my comment correctly is important if you expect to have credibility.

The testimony of the kids themselves support my contention. What do you have that counters it?

n said...

make that "being" bad or good . . . looks like a case of finger slippage and poor previewing.

James said...

I am acquainted with the parent in question who filed a complaint against the school. If I recall correctly, the offending action of the teacher was to encourage the non-white students in the class to use racial slurs against the white students.

Clearly, if true, this amounts to institutionalized ethnic intimidation and should not be tolerated.

n said...

That is called role-playing and is used as a strategy to shift feelings from one set to another. Role-playing is a valuable psychological tool. My kids role play around the MLK/Rosa Parks events. Of course they are quite young so the role play is less profound and much less negative. Your conclusion may be right but it may be incorrect as well.

Anonymous said...

I don't want my kids sitting in class having other kids hurl racial slurs at them. My kids aren't racist, and they don't need some fool's idea of an education on bigotry by having other kids insult and intimidate them. Its scary to think there is a teacher hired by this district who thought it would be even a remotely good, safe idea to have immature children insult one another in the classroom.