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Popular Seattle Teacher Forced Out for Teaching Kids About Racism

Society & Culture  (tags: abuse, activists, americans, culture, dishonesty, education, freedoms, media, police, politics, religion, racism, rights, society )

- 1769 days ago -
The battle at Seattle's Center School raises the question--how should schools teach students about tolerance and discrimination?

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Kit B (276)
Saturday June 15, 2013, 6:05 am
Sign: No Racism

As a senior at Seattle’s Center School, an alternative arts intensive public high school with a stellar academic performance record, Zak Meyer was thrilled to land a spot in Jon Greenberg’s “Citizenship and Social Justice” class.

Space in Greenberg’s popular humanities class is coveted. Hundreds of current and former pupils credit the teacher with creating a curriculum that is “life-changing,” “highly transformative,” and “a highlight of lots of students’ time at the school.”

It turned out to be everything Meyer had hoped for.

“We’ve been diving into stuff that I will be dealing with in my freshman year of college, and getting deeply into issues of our society,” Meyer told the Seattle Post Intelligencer. “I am a minority in that I have a disability. The course preaches tolerance of all backgrounds. It opens the world to me, not just from my point of view but in understanding the views of others...”

Students study speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and invite local community leaders to speak in the class. They are prompted to talk honestly about racism, class disparity, and privilege in their day-to-day lives at the start of every session. Assignments include analyzing “the way media and society fetishize both women and people of color.”

But the provocative discussions that Meyer found so revelatory abruptly ended a few months ago when a female white student accused the teacher of creating an “intimidating educational environment.”

The Seattle School Board agreed and have decided to transfer Greenberg to another school next year. The board also banned future use of the Courageous Conversations teaching method employed by Greenberg to address issues of race and gender.

The structure of the curriculum has been an integral part of Greenberg’s class for the last decade.

District officials have revealed little about the nature of the complaint. The parents who filed the grievance against Greenberg have remained silent about what their daughter found offensive.

Seattle Schools Superintendent Jose Banda said, moving forward, parents need to be told ahead of time if a classroom activity could cause “a high degree of emotion for students or potential distress.”

A statement released by the district said: “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 intimidated by the manner in which these issues are being taught that the course is no longer effective.”

Parents and students have rallied around Greenberg and the Courageous Conversations element of the curriculum. Last week, hundreds of Greenberg supporters protested a school board meeting, spoke on his behalf, and called on the board to reverse their decision to transfer Greenberg. Their efforts were not successful.

“Of course, it makes people uncomfortable. The class would talk about ‘white privilege.’ I felt uncomfortable, because I did not know the extent of it,” Meyer said to the Seattle Post Intelligencer‎. Now that he’s taken the class, he said, he’s become aware of the unintentional racism that exists against minorities.

Classmate Rachel Livengood, who is also white, added, “The discomfort was with ourselves, not with the class...Experiencing discomfort is normal.”

Indeed, conversations about race, discrimination and social injustice are touchy and difficult. National conferences, summits, and graduate schools of education devote massive resources to finding the best strategies for addressing these issues with students.

The Courageous Conversations curriculum developed by Glenn Singleton invites teachers and students to deliberately push beyond polite conversation in order to get to the heart of controversial and often incendiary issues dealing with social inequities.

“An indication that we are engaging in an authentic conversation about race is when people can share their racial truths derived from multiple perspectives,” Singleton said. “The fact that we come to the conversation with diverse racial realities and experiences causes us discomfort.”

This is due in part to the fact that many believe racism no longer exists, according to Singleton.

“Others struggle because they see and/or experience racism on a daily basis, and know that it can create great pain and limit opportunities.”

Teachers at the Center School are concerned that the school board’s disapproval of the Courageous Conversations engagement tactics will have a chilling effect throughout the school district.

Doug Edelstein, a teacher at another Seattle public high school, says he worries how it will affect discussions about other controversial topics.

“That it will create a chilling effect is an understatement,” Edelstein told The Seattle Times. “Student discomfort will become the arbiter of curriculum.”

In a keynote address at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education, Melissa Harris-Perry, a political science professor at Tulane University, advised educators to get out of the classroom to teach students about race.

“Race talk often works better when it’s associated with race walks. It’s not just talking, but actually doing things,” Harris-Perry said. “Students want to think about solutions to the problem.”

In 2006 Harris-Perry took a class of Princeton University freshman to help gut homes in post-Katrina New Orleans. She said the experience radicalized them and was probably the most valuable experience of the semester.

“It was for students of such privilege an insight into the definition of what inequality is.”

Building long-term partnerships between students and their communities and allowing community members to do most of the talking is key to teaching about race, said Harris-Perry.

Research shows that the earlier adults and family members help young children begin understanding the realities of race, the better they are at negotiating this phenomenon as they grow older.

Singleton says children notice racial differences and begin asking questions quite early. That is why it is imperative for schools to “intervene and create safe spaces for children to process.”

“We have to answer their questions in such a way that it does not create for them a feeling that they shouldn’t be asking about skin color, or that race is somehow taboo or a problem.”

How do you think our schools should teach students about racism and discrimination?
By: Vanessa Romo | Take Part Magazine |


pam w (139)
Saturday June 15, 2013, 9:27 am
Yup! Racism makes EVERYBODY uncomfortable! Far be it that someone should have to confront unpleasant facts and practices! Welcome to the real world, Chickie!

How else to teach the oppressive nature of prejudice unless we ask students to confront it?

I certainly hope SOMEONE is standing up for the teacher!

Vallee R (280)
Saturday June 15, 2013, 10:26 am
Regurate what you are taught - don't think - that is the American way and it s**ks!

JL A (281)
Saturday June 15, 2013, 12:51 pm
This teacher deserves kudos not a reprimand and perhaps that student and her parents should attend SPLC's teaching tolerance curriculum class to get a clue about their problems.

Terrie Williams (798)
Saturday June 15, 2013, 1:05 pm
Facing TRUTH in a US classroom?.......GASP....cannot let that happen...someone might get educated and then....OMD.....question their own prejudices. I hope the teacher is vindicated or at least sent to a better school.

Elisa F (235)
Saturday June 15, 2013, 6:58 pm
Our children need to be taught about life and that teacher should be supported not reprimanded. Children are our future.

Judith Hand (55)
Saturday June 15, 2013, 7:39 pm
Noted. I have so many thoughts and feelings after reading this article. The school district was idiotic; they have a super teacher and should know how fortunate they are to have him! As for the uncomfortable white kid/s and adults. Give me a break! This is probably the most poorly worded comment I've made all day. The situation makes me angry and I hate to be reminded that this kind of ignorance, reminiscent of the 60s, is still with us today!

Beth S (330)
Saturday June 15, 2013, 7:42 pm
"Regurate what you are taught "

How do you DO that? What is it?

Gillian M (218)
Sunday June 16, 2013, 3:53 am
I'm afraid this is typical of the modern world, don't go to the teacher and say this is what makes me feel uncomfortable and discuss it, go to the school and remove it. I'd love to see how this girl tackles this problem when she is out in the real world!

Darren W (218)
Sunday June 16, 2013, 4:03 am
Wikipedia for one, on this issue, is a hotchpotch of shallow, insular, opinion:

"Racism is usually defined as views, practices and actions reflecting the belief that humanity is divided into distinct biological groups called races and that members of a certain race share certain attributes which make that group as a whole less desirable, more desirable, inferior, or superior."

It's not a "belief" that humanity is divided into distinct biological groups called races. It's a fact.

Racism, like so many other words in the co-called modern world, has been hijacked by the politically correct, and labelled as one of those words you shouldn't even mention, even though, simply, it means one can discriminate between races.

Birgit W (160)
Sunday June 16, 2013, 2:33 pm
This should be a must in each school. We have to make sure that our kids realize that we are all the same.

Beth M (138)
Sunday June 16, 2013, 3:45 pm
So all I have to do is say that any class makes me feel intimated and the class goes away? Basically, one person runs the show for everyone? How about that one child take another class instead or is that above the thinking of that school board?

Lois Jordan (63)
Sunday June 16, 2013, 4:27 pm
Noted. This is an "alternative arts intensive" school where space in this class is "coveted." So, why didn't this complaining girl just take another class? Why did she sign up in the first place? Someone else could've gotten her seat...someone who wanted to be there. I think she and her family are just troublemakers. You know the type. We had an American History class in my high school back in the early 70's, that was taught by a team of 2 teachers. One teacher was considered a bit of a "radical" for the times, but was never reprimanded for anything he said in class, because he taught us, and allowed feedback. He was always a bit "on the edge," but we students all learned so much from him. Not to mention that learning was fun in his class.
The school board was absolutely wrong to end the class and remove the teacher. Sorry, I'm going to take some deep breaths now.....

Tom Edgar (56)
Sunday June 16, 2013, 5:08 pm
So history should eliminate all references to the Slave period,Jim Crow, Luther King, Ku Klux Klan, Coloured returned servicemen from W W 2 who had to disembark down separate gang planks to their white counterparts.
Just as the Japanese are not allowed to learn of their W W 2 atrocities to both military and civilian prisoners, so that in the future these things "Never happened." It worked for the British . How many people know that the first "Concentration Camps." were run by the British in South Africa during the Boer War or that thousands were tortured, and killed, in Ireland, by the the, Winston Churchill, organised British Black and Tans.?

How many of us would know of the illegal activities that have been instrumental in facilitating torture and murder, by the U S Government agencies, in this present era, if the whistle blowers didn't, undoubtedly illegally, lift the covers? History should be FACTUAL and not as it invariably ends in being. Doctored to suit the victors.
This school board should be sacked as it takes the word of one disgruntled child, no doubt encouraged by supremacist parents, to condemn, try, and sentence a Professional Educator who was trying to Educate truthfu

Joanne Dixon (38)
Sunday June 16, 2013, 5:10 pm
Thanks to everyone for staying on topic and not feeding the troll. I think perhaps the complaining girl was also a troll, or the daughter of trolls, or both.

marie C (163)
Sunday June 16, 2013, 5:15 pm
Well done to the teacher it should be normal procedure to discuss racism and allow everyone to express their views right or wrong
Thanks Kit

Sedona C. (0)
Sunday June 16, 2013, 5:25 pm
It takes people with audacity to make change in a change-resistant society. God bless this teacher, who has the courage to step up for truth. What a great example to live by. Unfortunately society makes it very hard on people with such caliber. This teacher reminds me of the outstanding lessons taught in the book 'Audacity of Success', at the website of the same name. Profound leaders, creating extraordinary lives for them self and others. Things will go well for the teacher. Karma’s a blessing when behavior is an example for peace and justice.

Sue Clayton (8)
Monday June 17, 2013, 1:06 am
I sincerely hope that a really good school picks up this teacher. I believe this subject is a must in ALL schools around the world, along with Sexual Diversity and any other subject that targets minority groups. In fact children everywhere need to be taught to ACCEPT people who are different from themselves.

Julie W (32)
Monday June 17, 2013, 2:48 am
Just ONE student complains? Why weren't the other students asked for theiropinion? The teacher was teaching them 'about' racism, not teaching them racism.

Winn A (179)
Monday June 17, 2013, 1:53 pm
This is so wrong on so many levels. This teacher was NOT teaching racism. This teacher was informing them about racism and how awful it is.

Past Member (0)
Monday June 17, 2013, 7:37 pm
Poor judgement on the school's behalf. Kudos to him---educating the young is key 4 future generations. I'd take my children out of this school and also file a complaint. Thanks Kit
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