Omaha Public Schools spent $130,000 to buy a “cultural proficiency” book for 8,000 teachers, administrators, support staffers — even janitors, reports the World-Herald. A Cultural Proficiency Journey: Moving Beyond Ethical Barriers Toward Profound School Change tells educators to “take action for social justice” by opposing “white privilege.” The district used federal stimulus funds to buy the books.
Employees will be asked to read several chapters each quarter and then meet in study groups to discuss the book using a study guide produced by the district. For teachers, the study sessions will count as professional development.
School board President Sandra Jensen said the district doesn’t endorse everything in the book, nor does she expect employees to adopt the authors’ positions. The book is intended to open a dialogue, she said.
“The purpose of providing this resource is to help staff see that people come from a multitude of different backgrounds which cause them to respond differently to the same set of facts, depending on their personal perspectives,” she said in a statement. “Recognition that one might have a certain perspective is critical to treating all people equally.”
However, the book tells teachers not to treat all children the same or try to be “color-blind.” Instead, they should recognize and “esteem” the group identity of students of color.
The book has been used in San Diego and Atlanta schools, the authors say.
My father went to Omaha public schools and was graduated from Central High in 1940. Things have changed: Omaha schools are now 35.7 percent white, 29.9 percent Hispanic, 29.7 percent African-American, 3.1 percent Asian-American and 1.6 percent American-Indian. I’d bet teachers have heard already about diversity being a good thing.
In fact, I know they have. Twenty years ago, I visited a friend who works for a small-town Nebraska school district. The state had sent out a diversity consultant, who was shocked to realize that 100 percent of students and staff were white. (“There were a couple of Native American kids, but they moved,” my friend said.) To “train” teachers to be sensitive to diversity, the consultant divided them into groups by religion. This did not help working relationships, my friend said.