Friends’ jokes deemed ‘harassment’

A black guy and a white guy are joking around while playing beer pong in a college dorm room. The black student shouts “Team Nigga” when his team scores a point. The white student, a football team mate, says, “How about a white power?,” an inside joke. The black student replies, “White power!” Someone down the hall hears the jokes. Both students were found guilty of creating a “hostile and discriminatory environment” at Lewis & Clark College.

“If it really wants to fight racism on campus, Lewis & Clark should stop wasting its time on jokes among friends who happen to have different skin colors,” said Robert Shibley of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

OK, I’ve checked my privilege

“Check your privilege”is used to silence white male college students, writes Tal Fortgang in the Princeton Tory.

“Check your privilege,” they tell me in a command that teeters between an imposition to actually explore how I got where I am, and a reminder that I ought to feel personally apologetic because white males seem to pull most of the strings in the world.

The phrase judges people based on their skin color and attributes their success “to some invisible patron saint of white maleness,” writes Fortgang, a first-year student who plans to major in history or political science.

As it happens, Fortgang’s grandfather and brother fled the Nazi invasion of Poland and spent World War II laboring in a Siberian camp.  Their mother and five younger were shot and dumped into an open grave.

His grandmother survived — barely — a death march to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

They came to America.

It was their privilege to come to a country that grants equal protection under the law to its citizens, that cares not about religion or race, but the content of your character.

His grandfather started a wicker business and prospered. They educated their children and taught them their values.

I am privileged that values like faith and education were passed along to me. My grandparents played an active role in my parents’ education, and some of my earliest memories included learning the Hebrew alphabet with my Dad. It’s been made clear to me that education begins in the home, and the importance of parents’ involvement with their kids’ education—from mathematics to morality—cannot be overstated.

The values we pass on perpetuate privilege, Fortgang writes. And it’s not something we need to apologize for.

Critics say he doesn’t understand white privilege.

In the Columbia Spectator students Dunni Oduyemi and Parul Guliani wrote that Fortgang shouldn’t take “check your privilege” personally. “Recognizing the fact that white men benefit from the kinds of racist and sexist structures on which American society is built isn’t meant to diminish his accomplishments,” they write. “It’s meant to remind us that white men don’t have an inherent predilection for success — the odds have just been stacked in their favor.”

I think those two sentences contradict each other.  If the odds were stacked in his favor that diminishes his accomplishments.

And it ignores the real privileges he enjoyed: He was born in the U.S., healthy and intelligent, and raised by loving and supportive parents. That’s a huge advantage in life, but not one reserved for white males.

Teaching ‘white privilege’

“Teaching is a political act,” said Kim Radersma at the 15th annual White Privilege Conference in Madison. “You are either a pawn used to perpetuate a system of oppression or you are fighting against it.” A former English teacher, she is working toward her Ph. D. in critical whiteness studies at Brock University in Ontario, Canada, reports the MacIver Institute.

A white person who “does anti-racist work” is like a recovering alcoholic, Radersma said.

“We’ve been raised to be good. ‘I’m a good white person,’ and yet to realize I carry within me these dark, horrible thoughts and perceptions is hard to admit. And yet like the alcoholic, what’s the first step? Admitting you have a problem,” she told the session attendees.

White privilege causes the racial achievement gap, Radersma said.  Students of color can’t learn as well from white teachers, she believes. 

A white attendee said her family had donated school supplies to a first-grade classmate from a needy family that had moved from India. Now, she realized that was wrong, she said. “It was like ‘well why don’t you swoop in and save the day and give her all this stuff because we can afford to do that for them’ kind of mentality,” she said.

Radersma agreed.

“It’s that savior mentality, like ‘save them, because they are not like us,’ and that normalization of whiteness. Whiteness is best and those poor others aren’t as good as us,” she said. “So, we need to think of them and give them our sympathy and our charity and our generosity, which is so demeaning to the people on the receiving end.”

So it’s not OK for whites to help non-whites. (What about whites helping poor whites or blacks helping poor blacks?) How can whites help except by constant self-abasement and going to conferences? Perhaps quitting teaching is a good first step.

The White Privilege Conference is a “useless” waste of money, Niger Innis, national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality, told the Wisconsin Reporter“You want to really do something? Educate a black kid,” said Innis, who is running as a Republican for a U.S. House seat in Nevada. “Give parents and students an opportunity to go to a private, parochial or a good public school.”

The conference received at least $38,000 from hotel room tax revenue, University of Wisconsin schools and the City of Madison, according to the Wisconsin Reporter.  In addition, Madison sent 30 to 40 city employees. Eight staffers from the state Department of Public Instruction took part and Janesville School District used a Safe and Supportive Schools grant to send 92 students and 12 staff members.

People who argue that all teaching is political wouldn’t be very happy if Darren injected his political views into high school math classes, he writes on Right on the Left Coast.

College ‘diversity’ event excludes whites

A ”diversity happy hour” was canceled at a Washington state community college, when the emailed invitation said white people were not welcome. “White folks” were urged to meet separately to “work on racism, white supremacy and white privilege.”

The program coordinator at South Puget Sound Community College’s Diversity & Equity Center, Karama Blackhorn, who helped write the email, said the center “is not for white people. That space is for people of color.”

Blackhorn, who’s part Native American, was studying for a degree in Queer Studies and Social Justice at Evergreen State College when she won a 2009 scholarship, reports Jim Miller. Now we know what kind of job a person can get with a degree in Queer Studies and Social Justice.

Prof reprimanded for ‘whiteness’ talk

A discussion of structural racism lead to a reprimand for the professor when white male students complained they’d been singled out. Shannon Gibney, an English professor at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, teaches an introductory communications course as well as running the African Diaspora Studies program. Gibney told the student newspaper she’d been discussing “whiteness as a system of oppression,” but a few students took it personally.

Proofreading prof charged with ‘microaggression’

Protesters claimed a “toxic” racial climate in UCLA’s graduate education school motivated their sit-in last week in the classroom of Professor Val Rust.

Call2Action protesters said Rust committed “microaggression” by correcting their grammar and spelling on their dissertation proposals, wrote the professor in a letter from China, where he’s traveling. He also said “Students of Color” were angry that he hadn’t stopped a student discussion.

. . . a white female student . . . wants to use Standpoint Theory [a method of analysis coined by feminist sociologist Dorothy Smith, based on the idea that all knowledge is subjective and based on one's position in society] in her dissertation, and the Student of Color told her she had no business claiming that she was a member of an oppressed group. She came back saying there are all kinds of oppression. I likely did not handle the situation well, because I chose not to stop the discussion between them, so it went on for quite a while, and the Students of Color apparently interpreted my silence to mean I wasn’t supporting them.”

Rust urged the department to organize a town hall meeting later in the month to begin a dialogue.

Protesters did complain about Rust’s corrections reports Inside Higher Ed.  In addition, Call2Action’s letter accused the professor and classmates of repeatedly questioning their “epistemological and methodological commitments.”

The statement accuses “the professor” (it does not identify Rust by name) of correcting “perceived grammatical choices that in actuality reflect ideologies” and “repeatedly questioning the value of our work on social identity and the related dynamics of oppression, power and privilege.” The “barrage of questions by white colleagues and the grammar ‘lessons’ by the professor have contributed to a hostile class climate,” it continues.

“Students consistently report hostile classroom environments in which the effects of white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, and other forms of institutionalized oppression have manifested within the department and deride our intellectual capacity, methodological rigor, and ideological legitimacy,” charges Call2Action’s online petition.

“Many of us have been through the formal complaint system of leveraging charges … the letters are reviewed, and we receive responses saying (the) charges have no merit,” said Kenjus Watson, a graduate student researching black men and microaggressions in higher education. Some have questioned his research as “too subjective,” he said. (I’ll be microaggressive and point out that “leveraging” is the wrong word. He must mean “leveling.”)

Many current and former students defended Rust, saying he was singled out unfairly. The sit-in was a “mean-spirited circus that creates exactly the hostile and toxic environment” the demonstrators claim to be fighting against, wrote Stephanie Kim, a graduate student who works with Rust, in the Daily Bruin. “

As a woman of color, I am deeply saddened that my adviser and mentor for the last five years, Rust, was unjustly demonized as the symbol of white male oppression as a cheap way of arousing public support.

Call2Action is demanding more black and Latino professors, a streamlined complaint procedure, etc. But what they really want is an end to “questioning” of their ideas, research methods, values — and grammar. That would be a toxic victory.

Friends

This 1973 photo of five children playing in a Detroit suburb has gone viral on the Internet. The children were Rhonda Shelly, 3 (from left), Kathy Macool, 7, Lisa Shelly, 5, Chris Macool, 9, and Robert Shelly, 6.
This 1973 photo shows Rhonda Shelly, 3 (from left), Kathy Macool, 7, Lisa Shelly, 5, Chris Macool, 9, and Robert Shelly, 6.

Joe Crachiola/Courtesy of The Macomb Daily

This 40-year-old photo of kids playing in a Detroit suburb has gone viral, reports NPR. Joseph Crachiola, who took the feature photo in Mt. Clemens, Michigan for his newspaper, recently posted the photo on Facebook. In the wake of the Trayvon Martin case, the photographer hopes adults can learn from the innocence and acceptance of children.

“It was a very simple picture of innocent children being themselves,” he said. “But you have to remember the context it was taken in. This was five years after the Detroit riots and right in the middle of the busing controversy between Detroit and the suburbs.”

Robert Shelly, now 46, works for the Macomb County Road Commission as a mechanic. His sisters also stayed in the area. Kathy and Chris Macool live in Texas, where their family moved in 1975.

A reunion of the five is possible, reports AP.

“My mother raised us to be color blind,” Kathy Macool told AP. “You treat people the way you want to be treated. I was asked by someone if there was any racism when I was a child. I don’t know, I don’t remember, but I know there is now. I think racism is way worse today than it ever was.”

“It didn’t matter back then to us what your color was, we never thought about that,” said Shelly. “My mother taught us to love everybody.”

Schools vs. poverty, racism

Can Schools Overcome Poverty and Racism? Deborah Meier tackles Mike Petrilli’s question on Ed Week’s Bridging Differences.

. . .  it isn’t money “alone” (it actually rarely comes alone) that damages the children of the poor. Still, we both agree that money helps. For example, the poor are more likely to be in school while suffering from pain (e.g. toothaches, nausea, or a fever or untreated wound.) Going to the doctor, finding someone to stay home with the baby, taking a day or two off work are advantages that money buys.

It’s worse when poverty is generational, Meier writes. And it’s also about race. “There’s a difference when you know, for sure, that your poverty is not a reflection of your racial inferiority.”

For today’s poor, schools probably are better than before World War II, “but not good enough to wipe out poverty,” Meier writes.

Children need “to belong to a place that embraces them, their families, and their communities.”

 If from Day One we acknowledge their rich language (yes) and ideas and the experiences they are trying to understand we’ll do better than imagining they come to us as blank slates. We also need space so that a group doing “x” can get excited without bothering Group Y. So that “projects” don’t have to fit inside a notebook for lack of space to think bigger or get finished in an hour for lack of storage and display space.

We need quiet places and noisy places, places full of books and computers and others full of paint and clay. We need adults with the freedom to make spontaneous decisions—shifting the conversation in response to one of those “wonderful moments” and deviating from any designed curriculum. Teachers need the time to mull over what they have learned from student work (written as well as observed) and collegial time to expand their repertoires. We need feedback from trusted and competent colleagues. We need time for families and teachers to engage in serious conversations. We need settings where it seems reasonable that kids might see the school’s adults as powerful and interesting people who are having a good time.

Success should be defined “in broader ways than test scores or college completion,” Meier concludes. And “we need to also tackle poverty directly.

She recommends My Life in School by her “hero,” Tom Sobol, New York state commissioner of education in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Does it work? asks Petrilli inPoor kids need a hand up, not a hospice.

Does your vision of schooling work to help poor children gain the skills and knowledge and confidence and connections that will allow them to climb the ladder into the middle class? Does it help them do better than they otherwise would have, if they had gone to a “regular” (boring!) school?

. . . If you were seeking an “accountability waiver” for Mission Hill, or similar schools, what would you be willing to promise in terms of student outcomes? Higher graduation rates? Lower teenage pregnancy rates? Lower incarceration rates? Higher voting rates? Higher college matriculation and completion rates (including at the AA level)? Lower unemployment rates? Higher wages?

Without some way to assess student outcomes, “we’ve turned your beautiful educational vision—complete with books and computers, paint and clay—into a form of childhood hospice—a respite from life’s daily struggles, but also a surrender to the inevitable.”

Ed student expelled for Facebook comment

A graduate education student at Syracuse University, Matthew Werenczak signed up to tutor at a predominantly black middle school. On his first day, a community leader said the school should hire teachers from historically black colleges.

“Just making sure we’re okay with racism,” wrote Werenczak on his Facebook page. “It’s not enough I’m … tutoring in the worst school in the city, I suppose I oughta be black or stay in my own side of town.”

The School of Education expelled him for “unprofessional, offensive, and insensitive” comments. When FIRE went public with the case, he was readmitted and earned his master’s degree.

Closing bad schools — a civil rights issue?

Closing or reorganizing low-performing urban schools discriminates against black and Hispanic students whose schools are most likely to be targeted, charge community activists in the Journey for Justice Movement.

Closing neighborhood schools is “a violation of our human rights,” said Jitu Brown, an organizer from the South Side of Chicago, in a meeting with Education Secretary Arne Duncan yesterday.

Helen Moore, an organizer from Detroit, said the current reform movement is tantamount to racism. “We are now reverting back to slavery,” she said. “All the things that are happening are by design, by design, by design. They don’t want our children to have an education, but we’ll fight to the death.”

The Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating civil rights complaints against Philadelphia, Detroit and Newark. Closure plans in New York, Chicago and Washington also have been challenged. However, 27 investigations in the last few years found no bias in school closures. Duncan’s spokesman, Daren Briscoe, said the Education Department doesn’t have the power to order a moratorium on school closings. (Finally, there’s something the feds think is out of their jurisdiction!)

Why would anyone fight to the death for schools with low test scores, high dropout rates — and empty classrooms?

Urban schools aren’t just a place for education, says Sarah Garland, author of Divided We Fail on the end of school segregation in Louisville, Kentucky. “For most people their high school is part of who they are and who the community is.”