Archive for Saturday, May 4, 2013

School board studies ‘critical race theory’ in work on equity issues

May 4, 2013


“Whiteness as property,” Luis Versalles called out to the Lawrence school board and a handful of administrators during a recent workshop. “What do you think that means?”

The hired consultant who works on racial equity issues waited patiently while his audience struggled to come up with an answer. Having already been through a number of workshops designed to raise their awareness about racial disparities in education, however, most were starting to get the idea.

It means, Versalles explained, that the things white people enjoy — the social status and privileges that come just from being white — represent a kind of property right. Further, he said, much of the American legal and education systems, as well as all other facets of society, are designed to protect that status and privilege.

The phrase comes from the title of a 1993 Harvard Law Review article by Cheryl I. Harris, and it sums up one of the key concepts behind what’s called critical race theory, which was the focus of the workshop.

That theory states that to fully understand racial disparities in the United States, one first has to understand that racism is woven throughout the fabric of American society and all of its institutions, often in ways that white people barely perceive, but which people of color experience every day.

Versalles works for the San Francisco-based consulting firm Pacific Educational Group. For the last four years, the Lawrence school board has contracted with PEG to lead workshops and other programs designed to help board members, teachers and principals, students and parents in the district better understand race issues so they can develop strategies to address achievement gaps.

And while critical race theory is only one element of the program PEG uses in its program, it’s an important element, and one that some critics have decried because they believe its writers view all racial disparities as intentional forms of “white supremacy.”

One 1995 article often cited by critical race theorists concludes that racial oppression is so widespread that plans for "emancipation" should be based on the black separatist notion of "race first."

“That’s not the foundation of what PEG has worked with our district on,” said school board president Vanessa Sanburn. “What they’ve worked with us on is acknowledging that huge inequities have existed since the founding of the country, especially within education.”

Since 2009, the board has approved annual contracts with the firm totaling $217,511, district records show.

Officials say the program is part of the board’s "equity" goal of improving the achievement of all students while closing achievement gaps.

The workshops teach participants a structured way to talk about race by having them focus on their own personal experience.

“As educators, or really any member of society, one of the things you have to do is just recognize the fact that it is embedded,” said Lawrence Superintendent Rick Doll. “From my perspective, as a person growing up, I didn’t have to deal with that, I didn’t have to think about it, I didn’t have to navigate it. It impacted me, but only in a positive way.”

In her article, “Whiteness as Property,” Harris said that’s true of most white people, but not for people of color. Even after the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education struck down legal segregation in schools, she said racism merely “evolved into a more modern form through the law’s ratification of the settled expectations of relative white privilege.”

Doll said that shows up in Lawrence schools today, not only in the form of racial achievement gaps, but also in graduation, enrollment in Advanced Placement courses, and in school discipline policies.

Over the last five years, Doll said the Lawrence district has made great strides in narrowing the achievement gap between white and African-American students, but he concedes those gains have not been uniform across all grade levels and all subjects.

"As an example, in mathematics, across the five-year period (2008 - 2012), our white students went from 84.5 percent proficient to 93 percent proficient, an increase of 8.5 percent," Doll said. "Meanwhile, our African-American students went from 59.8 percent proficient to 73.3 percent proficient, an increase of 13.5 percent. Because we are committed to the achievement of all students and we recognize that the achievement gap for our students of color is larger, our continued focus in addressing racial and ethnic achievement gaps has been instrumental in producing better results."

Through the workshops, Doll said, the district is building “leadership teams” of teachers, administrators, parents and students to help develop policies and strategies for improving equity in each school.

“There are no technical solutions to the challenges we have about achievement,” Doll said. “It’s sometimes frustrating to people who want to say, ‘let’s just fix it.’ Well, the way you fix this is to really change people’s attitudes and knowledge base, and that takes time.”

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Thinking_Out_Loud 2 years ago

Understanding critical race theory is essential to understanding the impact unspoken and unexplored attitudes about race have. I found "Whiteness as Property" thought-provoking when I first read it some 10 years ago, and I think that it is just as relevant today. Kudos to our Board for considering these issues!

weeslicket 2 years ago

the point you seem to be missing is this: it is easy for you to hold this belief BECAUSE you are white. (and you are white, aren't you)

parrothead8 2 years ago

Coming from "mixed ancestry" doesn't give you a monopoly on understanding critical race theory. Have you read "Whiteness as Property" or any other writing concerning critical race theory? Try educating yourself on the issue instead of basing your entire opinion of "What a waste of money and time" on a few soundbites from an online article.

weeslicket 2 years ago

DTOM, we all come from mixed ancestry. and you are still white and so am i.

DTOM asks: what advantages do white children have over others? i'll answer you again: it is easy for you to ask this question BECAUSE you are white. (and you are still white, aren't you)

Charlie Dominguez 2 years ago

Are you serious? Then you are speaking from an ignorant awareness of race. Pick any stat and you will get your answer. Just read, research and then you can make an informed decision/conversation.

Taxpayer 2 years ago

Good article! What a waste of the taxpayer's money.

weeslicket 2 years ago

the history of racial inequality, in education and elsewhere, as been well document for many decades. and the results of these inequalities have been pernicious.

"As an example, in mathematics, across the five-year period (2008 - 2012), our white students went from 84.5 percent proficient to 93 percent proficient, an increase of 8.5 percent," Doll said. "Meanwhile, our African-American students went from 59.8 percent proficient to 73.3 percent proficient, an increase of 13.5 percent. Because we are committed to the achievement of all students and we recognize that the achievement gap for our students of color is larger, our continued focus in addressing racial and ethnic achievement gaps has been instrumental in producing better results."

93% proficient :: 73% proficient still a ways to go here, folks.

weeslicket 2 years ago

you don' really require emperical proof. all you require is your personal faith in your beliefs.

George Lippencott 2 years ago

I believe that trying to understand interracial dynamics is important. I would surely like an invite to attend one of these sessions to determine for myself whether I feel it is helping or hurting our quest.

The article seems to be saying that as a Caucasian I have been specially blessed. To me that sounds racial. I read a recent article in the WSJ where students in an eastern high school were being taught to depreciate their “whiteness” because of the special privilege they allegedly enjoy. Is that what we are seeking here?

It would seem to me that the next step in this line of reasoning would be to establish a racially based massive redistribution system. “You are guilty of the sin of being “white” so we must take from your success to balance outcomes”.

Yes, racism is pernicious. I am not sure that resorting to what “smells” like racism to redress racism is the best way to address that problem. Hopefully I am misreading the situation – hence the desire for an invite.

Kathy Getto 2 years ago

"It would seem to me that the next step in this line of reasoning would be to establish a racially based massive redistribution system. “You are guilty of the sin of being “white” so we must take from your success to balance outcomes”."

This alone speaks volumes to your ignorance. Until you accept and acknowledge white privelege is alive and well, all the invites in the world won't help you.

George Lippencott 2 years ago

I guess I am guilty because I just don't buy it.

I am aware of all sorts of data that reflects that economically "whites" do better. I am also aware that we have spent two generations trying to address that. In your world I guess the only rational explanation for its persistence is that "whites" are privileged. Sophomoric!!!

If we are going to teach our kids that notion I want a real conservation about your premise. I don't believe there has been one outside our elite educational world.

Kathy Getto 2 years ago

There is nothing sophomoric about racism. The immaturity rears its head in your refusal to acknowledge your privelege as a white man. It does not mean you are a sinful, bad person as you have so whinefully opined. You can't ever have a meaningful conversation about this until you let go of the notion it doesn't exist.

Leslie Swearingen 2 years ago

"I believe that trying to understand interracial dynamics is important."

I believe that using language such as this only serves to a distance, it is like using euphemisms instead of saying, "John Doe is dead."

George Lippencott 2 years ago

OK, how would you have said it. Did I do better with my response to Kathy

parrothead8 2 years ago

"It would seem to me that the next step in this line of reasoning would be to establish a racially based massive redistribution system."

Actually, the next LOGICAL step would be to establish a system where everyone gets the same resources and opportunities. This isn't redistribution. We usually refer to it as "the American way."

Anthony Mall 2 years ago

If you want true equal rights let's get rid scholarships based on skin color, schools based on skin color, politics at all levels based off skin color, and finally treat people based off their merit versus their color. That's equal rights! If you want something, work for it! This country uses racism as an excuse to not be held accountable for ones actions. I know that sounds heartless and I'm sorry but color is the last thing that matters anymore and people using it as a crutch or an excuse should be ashamed of themselves.

Kathy Getto 2 years ago

Heartless, maybe not, ignorant of the facts, certainly. Read the Law Review article.

Anthony Mall 2 years ago

Look at facts... Two kids go to all the same schools, same gpa, same extra curricular activities, and same financial backgrounds... One gets a scholarship based off of skin color, the other ends up with 50-60,000 in student loans... Doesn't seem racist at all does it.

Kathy Getto 2 years ago

How do you know it was given based on skin color? Do you have proof of that? I think that assumption is made many times in error simply because white folks think they have the upper hand, so to speak. All the more reason to read the article and try to understand why you think the way you do.

Anthony Mall 2 years ago

You can look up the thousands of scholarships... It is more than just in school, life in general. Why is it hard to hold everyone accountable and treat everyone the same? No excuse for not getting through high-school, none. Not every white kid has advantages, some go through hell, get through school with no help, astronomical debt, and worked for everything. Should someone get help based off color? No.

Kathy Getto 2 years ago

So, you are telling me there is a database somewhere which lists scholarships given and the reasons they were given? It is hard, reality, to hold everyone accountable because our society in intrenched in the white privelege mind set.

Anthony Mall 2 years ago

Yes, you can look them up. Define white privilege in todays society. I'm curious how going to predominantly mixed schools, being poor, kept indoors because it was too dangerous to play is privileged in your eyes? Didn't realize how privileged all white people are in your eyes. Any 'privileged' white people want to pay my loans off? Give me free money? Anything? Naaah, I'm privileged. Isn't stereotyping a form of racism?

Liberty275 2 years ago

There are lots of scholarships based on skin color and gender. If people want to give other people money based on the color of their skin or gender, I don't see a problem with that.

Off the top of my head, how about the United Negro College Fund?

(I would not otherwise use the word "negro" unless I was speaking spanish.)

Kathy Getto 2 years ago

Of course there are, even scholarships for whites exist. So?

parrothead8 2 years ago

Yes, you're right. Among the 20,000,000 college students in the United States, there are literally 1000s of scholarships that are only for minorities. I'm sure there are no scholarships that magically only ever go to white kids.

Charlie Dominguez 2 years ago

Your speaking from ignorance. Kids don't get scholarships based on their skin color. They get them based on a multitude of criteria. The most being their chances of succeeding from the institution. When white guy doesn't get in, he blames the school's minority enrollment goals. Bottom line, whites and minorities don't go to school on the same overall level; THAT is the basis of the article,

George Lippencott 2 years ago

Wow, Wow. Is there any truth in fmrl's comment or to you insist it is all due to white privilege - whatever you mean by that.

streetman 2 years ago

A conclusion that there must be some type of discrimination because there is an achievement gap would never stand up to scientific scrutiny.

Kathy Getto 2 years ago

The only truth written is that there are many reasons for the achievement gaps. The rest of the post is BS.

buffalo63 2 years ago

My mother taught her four boys that people are people no matter the skin color, creed, or whatever. Looking back on my college years (1960's), I now see what the article is talking about. African-American students, for the most part, lived in the worst apartments in town (this was a Kansas town), because landlords would not rent the better apartments to them. At the time I didn't give it much thought. Only when confronted with "Whiteness" having advantages, do I now really see the racial aspect. This thought process should make for better teacher-student interaction no matter who the people are.

George Lippencott 2 years ago

A long as it doesn't lead to reverse discrimination and the teaching of depreciation of being "white".

To me it sounds like another run at "Custer died for your sins"!

Liberty275 2 years ago

Beige privilege: get up at 6:30 am, work from 730 to 5. Go home, work on stuff around the house, watch TV, surf a little internet, go to bed.

Repeat for 50 years. Die.

weeslicket 2 years ago

huh.. i had always imagined that libertarianism was far more fascinating (and wealthier) than that workaday ode.

Liberty275 2 years ago

Nah. just average workaday Joes that value freedom.

George Lippencott 2 years ago

I did a bit of research and found that there are about 315 million of us of which around 13% are Black. Blacks are twice as likely to grow up in single parent homes. Black are three times as likely to be on public assistance. There is a persistent and unexplainable 15 point difference in IQ.

I present this data not to disparage anyone but to suggest there may be other factors involved in economic disparities between races.

The notion that the 87% of us that are not Black have somehow fashioned a society deliberately hostile to blacks is completely unsubstantiated. It is far more likely that we constructed a society consistent with our culture - which would in fact be dominated by non-blacks.

To use statistical difference in economic outcome to brand the vast majority of Americans as racist is misguided at best. More significantly it smacks of low politics. Our society has spent a fortune trying to address these disparities with limited success. Only a scoundrel or a fool would in frustration turn to racism by statistic tin order to smear an entire race.

There is no white privilege. There is a problem. Let us not turn to demonizing the vast majority but to redoubling our efforts to understand the factors driving the data and addressing them with renewed vigor and better prioritization of our major resource commitment.

jafs 2 years ago

You can only achieve that perspective by ignoring history.

Black folks were enslaved, beaten and killed by whites for quite a while in this country, and only achieved legal equality about 50 years ago.

Our society was in fact very hostile to black people until recently in our history (150 years of inequality vs. 50 years of legal equality).

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years ago

(150 years of inequality vs. 50 years of legal equality).

More like 350 years.

jafs 2 years ago

Well, yes. I meant from the founding of the country, but you're right as well.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years ago

Yea, the institution of racially based slavery was well established by the time of the founding of the country, and the founding fathers chose not to deal with it at that time. It festered, and even worsened over the next 75 years or so, and nearly destroyed the country during the Civil War. Even after the Civil War, the South clung to a racially divided economy and society, but that "infection" was only more extreme in the South-- it infected the whole country, with varying degrees of Jim Crow laws all across the country-- and many of those laws only went away 50 or so years ago.

George Lippencott 2 years ago

Ok so I am guilty for the sins of your father. Most of my family were not here and those that were fought for the union.

jafs 2 years ago

My father wasn't here either.

And, it's not about guilt, until you make it about that.

It's about the reality of our history, and the effects of that history on black folks in America.

streetman 2 years ago

It's incredible that school officials and others bemoan cuts in state funding to public education, and then school administrators turn around and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on something like this. Now that the wider community -- that is paying for this -- knows about it, maybe it can be stopped, and education can focus on basics rather than social engineering. How about it Lawrence parents and taxpayers -- is this what you want your kids taught in school, and what you want your tax dollars spent on?

hedshrinker 2 years ago

What is BASIC education depends on where you are starting from; I grew up in a home surrounded with books and magazines and although my parents could not attend college there made unbelievable sacrifices so I would be college ready. I could read at a late grade school level before I went to kindergarten. I never went to school hungry, lived in the same house from birth to college graduation and was surrounded by 4 loving adults. Many of my school peers both poor whites, as well as kids of color did not have the exceptional opportunities I did...and that affects us all thruout our lives. You can disparage corrective measures as fluff or social engineering or income redistribution , which only shows your ignorance of the lived, on the ground reality of many students, even in socially well-insulated Lawrence. You would rather blame the victims , say those bad old days are over and pull yourself up by your bootstraps....if you are left behind it must be because you deserve it.

George Lippencott 2 years ago

Exactly what is it? The points you make our ancient history. You have defined all white people as racist without any date to substantiate your accusation. It is so typical of liberals to write a book with a bunch of data, draw conclusions unsubstantiated by the data and smear a whole,class of people. This is particularly true of the academic community where reality is secondary to ideology expressed in poorly researched and written publications.

Exactly what about current society is beyond the capacity of Blacks to address? What do we need to change other than attitudes. Continuing to call a whole class of people names is not likely to change the latter and may just make it worse.

It is the liberal way to define the crime, establish that our adversaries are guilty, demand a contrition and finally extract more resources for our pet projects. If anybody disagrees that is proof positive they are guilty. And to think we put you in power.

hedshrinker 2 years ago

Too exhausting to take you to task on everything you've said, but I will start by calling you out on your screen-name, which seems to be a misnomer to say the least. I am intrigued at your comment about "ancient history"...ask any young person of color if Driving While Black (or fill in the non-white color) esp if male is a phenom of the past. You will never experience what it is like to be assumed to be a thug, uneducated, guilty until proven innocent simply for daring to breathe the same air as any white person. I believe you are the one calling people names, ie liberal, liberal, liberal. Not sure what is uniquely LIBERAL (a BAD thing apparently, despite your moniker) about wanting to become more aware as educators so as to equalize opportunities. There is a difference between saying each white person is actively racist versus our entire SOCIETY is saturated with ideas of white supremacy, that it pervades every aspect of our culture at a deep and often entirely unconscious noone is saying that every white person believes and acts in a racist way all the time, but those attitudes are there, insidiously pervasive in the society as a whole. And you have the audacity to dismiss the immensity of the challenge to shift those attitudes. I find it ironic that you disparage academics , but are happy to trot out undocumented numbers and statistics in an effort to revile people of color, their morals, their intelligence, their level of motivation to get ahead. I've given your inner angry , threatened white man too much energy already.

George Lippencott 2 years ago

OK, calling an entire race a name (racist) is not calling anybody names. Neat trick. Please provide a systemic notion of white privilege in society today??

My data comes from census data (except for the IQ which I found in several places). How about data that refutes it? Not liking the implications does not make the data suspect. (neat liberal trick)

I underlined the immensity of attempting to correct the disparity I documented. I just did not lay the blame on all white people or a society consciously biased against blacks. (see comment above)

Kathy Getto 2 years ago

See moderate, that is where you are slipping off the intelligence curve, sir. In no way did anything in the article (the Law Journal) imply all whites are racist, that is your conscience talking, dear.

George Lippencott 2 years ago

Kathy your logic leaves a lot to be desired. If there is white privilege it is because whites (the vast majority of us) have made it so. That would make our motives racist.

If the society has been constructed with no malice or deliberate intent to impact blacks but as I opined to reflect our culture then there is no white privilege.

Suggesting that most of us are racist does not help. Focusing on specifics (not documented except by me in this thread) would be constructive.

If we go way back to the beginning I brought up how the notion (white privilege) has been used to disparage whites and I said that was my concern.

Sensitizing people to the real disparities does not need a term like "white privilege" to accomplish. The data speaks fro itself

Tearing down one group to build up another is not part of our belief structure..

Centerville 2 years ago

Was attendance at this thing mandatory? How many walked out, once it became clear that this was one sick joke?

weeslicket 2 years ago

from moderate: The notion that the 87% of us that are not Black have somehow fashioned a society deliberately hostile to blacks is completely unsubstantiated. It is far more likely that we constructed a society consistent with our culture - which would in fact be dominated by non-blacks.

let me rephrase your argument a bit:

  1. It is far more likely that we constructed a society consistent with our culture - WHICH WOULD IN FACT BE DOMINATED BY NON- BLACKS.

  2. The notion that the 87% of us that are not Black have somehow fashioned a society deliberately hostile to blacks is completely unsubstantiated.

Do you see how statement #1 simply crushes statement #2, when read in this order.

George Lippencott 2 years ago

No! Perhaps that is part of the problem that you think it does? The key word is deliberate Just like with my argument with climate change people do not read. I have not challenged that there is disparity I have challenged that this notion of "white" privilege supports that disparity.

Mike Ford 2 years ago

it's always fun listening to the white beneficiaries of the way things were calling others lazy when this priviledge made some of some of their lack of empathy and intellectual lazyness possible. I call you lazy while I watch you dig a ditch for me....white priviledge.....actually experienced by an acquaintance as they worked for the City of Lawrence.

Kathy Getto 2 years ago

No, he tells the truth liberty. If it offends, it is because you have yet to accept your whiteness. :-)

George Lippencott 2 years ago

Shall we repeal the first amendment.. You are making his beliefs a "crime" by definition and without any real support for your argument of "white privilege". Circular logic!!!

prestructuralist 2 years ago

White privileged is a shaming tactic. Full stop.

The goal here is not racial equality but a reversal of "power hierarchies" where those deemed to have unearned racial advantage are shamed into "giving it away" to those deemed to be less "fortunate". For decades, those is the race industry (like PEG) tried to get Whites to internalize their racism but it just didn't work. They couldn't get enough people to think of themselves that way so now "white privilege" is the the new tactic. "It's not because you're racist, it's because you're white!" Think you earned that job? Nope you're white. Think you earned those grades? Nope you're white. You're parents work hard to send to you college heh? Nope you're all white. Under "white privledge" there is no skill, no hard work not even good luck. You woke up one day white and everything you have was just handed to you and you should feel bad about it. Really bad.

That the Lawrence School Board is wasting their time on this tripe is just depressing. Do they really think that understanding of "white privilege" is going improve African-American test scores. What's the strategy here? Tell the white students to not study so hard because they're white and everything is going to work out for them regardless? Write "Check your privilege" next to every white student's A? Maybe they can setup of an "white privilege" penalty where every white student's A automatically gets knocked down to B. After all they didn't actually earn that A it's just their privilege.

What a joke.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years ago

"Think you earned that job? Nope you're not white, so no job. Think you earned those grades? Nope you're not white, so your teachers wrote you off before you started kindergarten. You're (sic) parents work hard to send to you college heh? Nope you're not white, so college isn't an option for you. Under "black privledge (sic)" there is no reward for skill, or hard work or even good luck. You woke up one day black and everything you want was never available, and you should feel bad about it. Really bad."

There, fixed that for you. No joke at all.

prestructuralist 2 years ago

Right and a belief in "white privilege" will fix all of this? You didn't fix anything and you won't.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years ago

Denial of "white privilege" certainly won't fix it.

The real problem here is one of class and poverty. But because of the history of mistreatment of Blacks (and others of color) in this country, class and poverty are strongly associated with those of color. If you are a person of color, that association haunts you your entire life, even if you manage to climb to a higher station in life, merely because of your skin tone. Sad, but true.

Mike Ford 2 years ago

telling the truth makes one racist......awesome......also jack nicholson agrees with me can't handle the truth....

Dave Trabert 2 years ago

The first step in closing achievement gaps is to remove barriers that force low income families to send their children to the school assigned by their zip code. Unfortunately, Kansas education officials are largely opposed to allowing Regents universities or technical schools to operate public charter schools; they also are opposed to allowing low income families to apply for tax credit scholarships.

Florida used these and other strategies to close achievement gaps. You can see the large gains they've made compared to Kansas and the nation at

It's also noteworthy that Florida accomplished these improvements while spending about $1,000 per pupil less than Kansas.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years ago

That's really just a first step towards reduction of expenditures on public education, which will aid in the redistribution of wealth to the already wealthy that's been the key characteristic of this economy over the last 35 or so years-- the real goal of the Koch Bros. and their various employees. The effects that has on the educational outcomes for low-income kids are irrelevant in that endeavor.

George Lippencott 2 years ago

Fascinating. Instead of presenting a case for "white privilege" to including what is meant the liberals on here defend their arguments by calling all those who challenge the term ignorant or liars or racists.


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