How Committed Is The Tacoma Public School District To Its Mission?

The district’s mission:

“Our mission is to develop competent, contributing citizens. We will be an outstanding school district in which all students exhibit high standards of achievement and critical thinking skills, and are socially responsible, contributing members of their community.”

A couple of weeks ago, Mike Jankanish, an AP History teacher at Tacoma’s Wilson High School, wrote an op-ed titled, “Diversity education is a divisive education.”

As reported by King5.com, Jankanish is opposed to HB 1314, a Washington State legislative proposal to incorporate ethnic studies as a course elective in its public schools.

Jankanish contends:

“This increasing emphasis on cultural diversity is not just about school curriculum but part of a larger agenda to implement the goals of identity politics. This way of thinking is based on the assumption that a certain group of Americans are inherently marginalized in our society and are the victims of ongoing discrimination.”

Unlike Jankanish, I fully support the passing of HB 1314 and believe certain groups of Americans are inherently marginalized in our society and are the victims of ongoing discrimination.

However, unlike some Tacoma teachers, journalists, and residents; I also believe in Jankanish’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Because Jankanish questioned whether anyone, which includes Tacoma’s students of course, are victimized by ongoing discrimination, some Tacoma teachers immediately labeled his thinking racist and associated it with White Supremacy. Others in the community expressed anger at the Tacoma paper for even publishing Jankanish’s op-ed. Still others pledged to remove their children from his classes.

Despite being an educational organization, it doesn’t appear as if anyone in the Tacoma School District asked Jankanish why he doesn’t believe in institutional racism.

One can’t help but wonder if the outraged Tacoma teachers ever travel to Eastern Washington or anywhere more politically conservative. Lots of people feel identity politics have gone too far. Hell, in his 1991 book, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner in history and adviser to the Kennedy and other administrations, Arthur M. Schlesinger argued against identity politics in The Disuniting of America.

As an advocate of multicultural education, I used to assign Schlesinger’s slight book not because I agreed with his thesis, but because it provoked deeper thinking about the need for multicultural education. More specifically, I used it to challenge my university pre-service teachers to deconstruct Schlesinger’s anti ethnic-studies point of view.

Upon the publishing of Jankanish’s editorial, one teacher said, “This is a chance for the community to say, ‘We don’t put up with this rhetoric, we don’t want this kind of thinking in our classrooms or affecting what our students are hearing.'”

Rather than offer cogent counter arguments, silence him? Is the mission of the school district more accurately to protect students from overtly conservative political opinions deemed offensive by a majority of teachers?

Again, I don’t agree with Jankanish at all, but he appears to have stated his views calmly, meaning he’s not incited anyone to violence. I may be labeled a reactionary for daring to write this, but tying Jankanish to White Supremacy without knowing anything about his teaching record or personal life, strikes me as an egregious leap of misguided activism.

It also strikes me as disrespectful of the exact students the teachers obviously care for so deeply in that it underestimates their capacity to thoughtfully weigh contrasting points of view in light of their life experience and their study of history and related social studies courses.

I don’t understand how the district seeks to silence teachers for unpopular political views while simultaneously claiming to be a place where “all students exhibit critical thinking skills.”

 

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