How Does a Racist Become School Superintendent?

I really do not understand.

Given United States history, after the National Football League Houston Texans’ loss Sunday, it’s no surprise at all that a white fan said, “You can’t count on a black quarterback.”

But it’s surprising and sad that the fan is a school superintendent of a Texas school district with 1,020 children. Also, that when criticized, one of his first instincts was to rationalize his racist thought by saying he was referring to the statistical success of black NFL quarterbacks. “Over the history of the NFL,” the superintendent said, “they have had limited success.”

Oh, okay then, you’re just making an objective statement of fact. If there’s no problem though, why did the superintendent add that he hopes none of the district’s students saw the post?

Is it because the brown and black students and their families might view it as further evidence that equal educational opportunity is a mirage when the top educational official, the one responsible for hiring principals, determining curriculum, and setting the overall tone, doesn’t truly trust them or their guardians?

Educational leadership requires school janitors, office staff, teacher aides, teachers, principals, and superintendents to understand that. . .

  • the history of the United States has resulted in a still lingering institutional racism which makes it more difficult for students/people of color to succeed
  • people routinely succumb to negative assumptions about people of color, including students, based upon woefully, inadequate firsthand experience in diverse communities
  • educators have to be extra conscious of holding historically marginalized students in unconditional positive regard trusting they are en route to becoming young adults that will powerfully defy people’s negative, and too often, racist assumptions
  • students are equals in every way, including intellectually, some just require more support than others to achieve their particular academic and personal objectives

How the hell does a person who doesn’t think you can trust quarterbacks with particular skin pigmentation ever succeed in becoming a teacher, let alone a school building leader and then superintendent? Time after time he was vetted and deemed the best candidate for the job. What does that say about the quality of public schooling in Texas?

Also important to note, the superintendent said that he has not faced any repercussions from the post as of Monday afternoon. No public rebuke. No suspension. No diversity training.

What are the odds the School Board provides the necessary leadership to right this wrong? My guess. About the same as The Texans tapping the superintendent to take over at quarterback.

Yes he’s old, pudgy, and slower than molasses, but very trustworthy.

Update.

Why the Donald Sterling Fiasco Won’t Initiate a Dialogue on Race

The headline read, “Hall of Famers expect league to support Sam”. Of course the league will support Michael Sam, the all All-American defense lineman at Missouri who is the first openly gay active player in the history of the NFL.

But not because NFL locker rooms are especially progressive places. Some players are sensitive to people’s differing sexual orientations, others are decidedly not. As the Donald Sterling illustrates, social media will silence the Decidedly Nots. Sterling went from owner of the Los Angeles Clippers to a pariah in 72 hours. Similarly, any player caught communicating homophobic things about Sam will immediately feel the full weight of instantaneous social media. And any hope for commercial endorsements will be dashed.

One thread of the Sterling coverage has been “If anything positive comes of this, we need to initiate a discussion on race”. There’s little chance of that because social media tends to create a mob mentality with everyone racing to tar and feather the offending homophobe or racist. That creates a chilling effect on what would help initiate a discussion on race—each of us reflecting honestly on how we pre-judge people different than us. Instead of introspection, we pile on the offending person like an unthinking football player ignoring the official’s whistle.

Unlike social media, education depends upon dialogue and dialogue requires that people trust their point of view will be respectfully listened to. The key is to distinguish between racist or homophobic thoughts, words, and actions. Excellent teachers learn to work sensitively with homophobic thoughts and words, but when it comes to hateful actions, of course people should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Excellent teachers learn to work with racist or homophobic thoughts and words by exploring their underlying root causes by asking students questions such as “Why do you believe that?” They know that seeing the world from other people’s points of view does not come naturally. They expand students’ worldviews by introducing them to unfamiliar people and places through literature, the arts, and sometimes travel. And by teaching students to substitute curiosity for negative preconceived notions, so that they too learn to ask others, “Why do you believe what you do?”

Spring Reading

For when you’re done with your spring cleaning.

1) Teaching Tolerance—How white parents should talk to their kids about race. A must read if your goal is to be “color blind” and raise “color blind” children. I started out skeptical thinking adult behavior easily trumps parent “talk”. But Wenner Moyer makes a convincing case for both.

My “kids and race” story from my junior year of college. I was a teaching assistant in a culturally diverse 3rd grade magnet school classroom in West Los Angeles. One day I was sitting at a round table helping five or six students write stories. One light skinned African-American girl began to rub my pinkish, freckled forearm with her hand. Thinking deeply, she finally blurted out, “You have salami skin!” Feeling a need to return serve, I replied, “Well, you have chocolate skin.” To which another darker skinned girl said, “Huh uh, she has carmel skin, I have chocolate skin!”

2. The Oracle of Omaha, Lately Looking a Bit Ordinary. Can we finally wrap up the active versus passive investing debate and move on to more pressing issues like who will replace David Letterman next year? Even Warren Buffet says Vanguard Index funds are the single best way to invest one’s money.

3. Her First, and Last, Book. Graduation season is around the corner. This is a grad story to remember. “I cry because everything is so beautiful and so short.” Paragraph to ponder:

After the crash, Marina’s parents immediately forgave and comforted her boyfriend, who faced criminal charges in her death. They asked that he not be prosecuted for vehicular homicide — for that, they said, would have broken their daughter’s heart. Charges were dropped, and the boyfriend sat by her parents at the memorial service.

The Teaching Profession Desperately Needs Some Linsanity

ESPN’s Elizabeth Merrill waxes philosophic about Jeremy Lin of New York Knick NBA basketball fame. Her angle? Lin is inspiring legions of young Asian American ballers to rethink what’s possible.

In some classes I teach, I use an activity I created titled “The Making of a Multicultural School.” In the activity students assume the role of teacher leaders who advise me, the principal, on the most important changes to make in order to manage conflict and strengthen teaching and learning at an increasingly diverse, hypothetical high school. First the “teacher leaders” individually rank seven specific challenges nearly all culturally diverse schools struggle with and then in small groups, they share their rankings and work together to establish common priorities. I wrote the challenges by working backwards from a list of multicultural education “best practices” as described in one of James Banks’ many books on multicultural education. Our discussion is always around their rationale for their priorities.

One of the seven challenges, recruiting and retaining a culturally diverse faculty, almost always gets rated as the seventh most important challenge. Meaning in my mostly white, mostly middle class students’ minds, it’s the least pressing issue. This happens over and over. The usual reasoning, a teachers’ attitudes are all that matter.

My students, tomorrow’s teachers, are unable to imagine what it would be like to be a student of color and hardly ever see anyone that looks like them standing in front of the class, a graduate of college, with a professional license, assuming a role of serious responsibility. Janitors, bus drivers, and office staff, sure; teachers and administrators, very rarely. Year. After year. After year. What is the cumulative effect on what young people of color think is possible?

The bad news is far too few Jeremy Lins and Latino and African-American candidates are pursuing teaching credentials today. Meanwhile, the country’s K-12 student body grows increasingly more diverse every year. So the “looks like me” gap steadily widens. To make matters worse, fewer students of color can afford four or five years of higher education even with targeted scholarships and financial aid. Plus the Supreme Court is revisiting decisions that colleges have relied upon to admit moderately diverse classes and states keep ratcheting up teaching licensure requirements and fees.

Many newer state requirements, like content exams in Washington State, are proving nearly insurmountable to too many of the handful of candidates of color who persevere to the final stages of the constantly changing, ever more challenging, teacher certificate journey. These realities don’t bode well for schools hiring and retaining many Asian-American, Latino, or African-American teachers. It also makes it more difficult to successfully implement a multicultural education that inspires all students and provides them with equal educational opportunities. This is doubly true when too many teachers expect less from students of color as illustrated by this highly recommended personal story by Ed Taylor.

There are 3.2 million teachers in the U.S. As many as half are expected to retire in the next decade. Figuring out how to make sure more of those 1m+ are strong Asian-American, Latino, or African-American men and women is among the most important public policy issues of our time. Instead of focusing intently on that, opinion leaders and policy makers are choosing to tighten the screws on today’s experienced classroom teachers. They’ve convinced themselves there’s a panacea for what ails public education—making teachers more accountable for student learning by tying together their students’ test scores, their evaluations, and their compensation.

All of this does not bode well for an increasingly diverse country.

The Class

Finally got around to watching this French film about a culturally diverse Parisian junior high school. Here’s a solid, albeit incomplete review. I can’t think of a film that better captures the organic nature of classrooms. Sometimes we lose touch with what should be obvious, teachers are seriously outnumbered, and because of that, their power is tenuous. Teachers, let disrespectful comments slip at your own peril.

If you lack patience, and prefer mindless entertainment, skip it. It’s a walk, not a jog, run, or sprint. On the other hand, “The Class” was a nice reminder that it’s important to slow down sometimes.