Sunday, March 4, 2018

That Whole Racism Thing

While the education debates rage, those of us backing public education need to remember, even in the midst of out enthusiasm for public education, that as an institution, we have some issues with racism.

Exhibit A: Racist principal in the Bronx. This twenty-six year veteran thought February was called "Don't Teach Black History Month." This principal allegedly instructed an English teacher not to teach a unit about the Harlem Renaissance, which is not just a critical chapter in Black history, but a critical chapter in the history of American arts and music.

Seriously. This is like telling an English teacher to skip stuff about that Shakespeare guy. I don't know how you even talk about American lit without covering it. I don't know how you talk about American music without talking about it. It's like trying to teach 19th century lit without bringing up anyone who knew Ralph Waldo Emerson, except that of course those guys were white.

The teacher involved said she was told not to teach it because she's not a social studies teacher, which is the kind of thing you expect from dim freshmen ("This is English class, not math class-- why do we gotta use numbers?" David Coleman's dopey theories aside, you can't study literature without studying the context in which it existed.

It's one more example of how it's impossible be racist in the education field without being just plain bad at your job and damaged in your understanding of what education means. Racist instruction is always bad instruction, not just because it's immoral and wrong, but because it's dumb and seriously limited in understanding.

Exhibit B: Huffpost uncovered a 25-year-old whit supremacist teaching in Florida. Oh, Florida. The teacher runs (ran) a supremacist podcast, and bragged about lying to her boss about her attempts to spread her vile crap to her students. And then there's this chilling exchange:

Volitich also agreed with her guest’s assertion that more white supremacists need to infiltrate public schools and become teachers. “They don’t have to be vocal about their views, but get in there!” her guest said. “Be more covert and just start taking over those places.”

“Right,” Volitich said. “I’m absolutely one of them.”

Dayanna Volitich is the young woman's name, and I guess we're fortunate that she's one more person who doesn't really understand how the internet works. Local media have picked up the story and the district that hired her in 2016 is now looking at exactly how its ethics rules could be applied here. Volitich deserves to have her teaching career ended, though it would not surprise me if she ended up in a Florida charter school with fewer rules about who can teach.

We are a country that has a problem with racism, so it would be astonishing if our school system did not reflect that problem. But those of us who advocate for public education need to remember that we have some housecleaning of our own to do, and that it's not always a mystery why families of color want an alternative for their children. We have an obligation to watch out for problematic colleagues-- even the ones who try to be sneaky about it. Meanwhile, fans of choice and voucher systems need to remember that in many states, Volitich would be untouchable in a private school, and we wouldn't even be having a conversation about her.

1 comment:

  1. Peter,
    I strongly agree with your message here but the particulars are not the truth. Exhibit A, is actually a media shitstorm based on unfounded allegations bred in a toxic mire of a rabble rousing UFT Bronx Borough rep. who takes down new principals for sport, a school where 11% of students are on or above level in Literacy and 4% are on or above in math, a UFT connection to Al Sharpton's "National Action Network," a detail-oriented new principal, an ELA teacher who happens to be the UFT Chapter Leader worried she will be fired, hell bent on ousting that principal first and a staff, students and parents stuck in the middle. Said principal had been a math coach in the same school 10 years prior and was expressedly brought in by a superintendent (who just switched jobs, timing is key) as a last gasp effort to raise scores particularly in math. Her 3rd day on the job, the newbie was accused by staff of being a racist, in December of 2016, but the superintendent who brought her in called the staff’s bluff immediately. Now a new super wishes the hot potato would vaporize.

    The majority of staff don't want the change she represents. In a word: rigor. Some don't want to work for a white woman (while the "black/white duality is invoked for the dramatic effect of the story--74% of students identify as hispanic, 24% as African American). Are these expectations "racist " when applied to teachers of color: coming on time to work, leaving a lesson plan when you will be absent, basing quarter grades on more than 2 pieces of work, allowing students to read in English class, ensuring students leave your class with a pass in groups not larger than 3, using an online grading system? They are displeased to be held to these and in fairness many have not worked elsewhere. What they see as racial, I see as opposing school cultures. I have been teaching over 20 years. At each of the schools I've been at over my career, not meeting any of these would be problematic. These are the responsibilities of the profession in schools which are functioning.

    It's a witch hunt that no one will speak out against (I have run it by people in the media I know) because it goes against the tenor of our times to reveal politically unappetizing truth. Real outcries for racial justice are marred when opportunistic folks pretend wokeness to forward their own personal agendas. As a white staff person at the school, I now have students calling me "white bitch" with regularity along with "racist" etc. Besides being white, I had the audacity to publicly claim that facts matter. Now my students are being pressured to sign statements to call me racist, as well. Some of their parents have been contacted by my colleagues to bring their children to school to do this. Does anyone know a racist teacher who would elect to travel to the South Bronx on public transport daily to work in a public junior high school? It is a nonsensical idea. I have worked predominantly with children of color over decades of a joyous teaching career and it seems I am fated to end it, heartbroken.

    Please be more discerning to discover whether allegations are founded as we live in a time where no one seems concerned with reality, even when they are beating the drum which hastens their own demise. For those of us who closely watch how this system works, no crystal ball is necessary.