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Archive for Saturday, May 4, 2013

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

May 4, 2013

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“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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  • Comments

    George Lippencott 11 months, 2 weeks 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.

    Constructive???.

    3

    Dave Trabert 11 months, 2 weeks 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 http://www.kansaspolicy.org/researchcenters/education/educationdatawarehouse/102070.aspx

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

    1

    Mike Ford 11 months, 2 weeks ago

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

    1

    toe 11 months, 2 weeks ago

    Whiteness is a racist term. But at least uneducated is equal opportunity.

    0

    prestructuralist 11 months, 2 weeks 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.

    1

    Mike Ford 11 months, 2 weeks 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.

    0

    weeslicket 11 months, 2 weeks 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.

    1

    Centerville 11 months, 2 weeks ago

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

    1

    MacHeath 11 months, 2 weeks ago

    I don't have any disagreement with anything said in the article. I can't believe we had to pay a fair amount of money for a consulting firm to inform our educators of the situation. Then again, all one has to do is read the comments to get an inkling of the depth of human ignorance. Read a book, for Christ's sake! To those that attempt to argue that there is no longer white privilege I ask you if you believe there was ever white privilege? When was it eradicated exactly? Name the exact time all white privilege ceased in this country. Was it when the south lost the civil war? Was the 1964 civil rights act that stopped it all? Was it when Obama was elected president? When was it? I must have missed it

    5

    streetman 11 months, 2 weeks 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?

    3

    EbJ 11 months, 2 weeks ago

    White privilege? What's non white ranking? Non white detriment? Disadvantage? And is this privilege forcing the detriment? When I'm in China, I don't live like they do or have their privileges. So am I then white detriment?

    Exactly, what is the point of the program? Non whites learning privilege? Or whites learning detriment?

    0

    George Lippencott 11 months, 2 weeks 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.

    1

    Liberty275 11 months, 2 weeks 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.

    0

    buffalo63 11 months, 2 weeks 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.

    4

    fmrl 11 months, 2 weeks ago

    The theory is that institutional racism is the cause of achievement gaps but the factoids presented do nothing to support that premise. It is simply post hoc ergo propter hoc. There are a lot of other reasons for the gap such as class, family structure, but most of all is victim mentality. It is time for black Americans and other "oppressed" minorities to throw off the mantle of victimhood and take personal responsibility. Then and only then will they improve the "achievement gap." We have several generations now of affirmative action which I guess just doesn't work except for the few like the members of this consultation business.

    5

    reality_check79 11 months, 2 weeks 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.

    3

    George Lippencott 11 months, 2 weeks 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.

    2

    weeslicket 11 months, 2 weeks 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.

    6

    Taxpayer 11 months, 2 weeks ago

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

    3

    Milton Bland 11 months, 2 weeks ago

    Wow,n $217,000 paid to a consulting firm for what? "Consulting firm" is simply a term meaning a company has a license to steal. This money is being wasted during a time Lawrence Public Schools are ranked low and simply failing to educate our children. This money would have been better spent on teacher's salaries. Superintendent Doll should apply for a position with GSA since he is so talented on wasting taxpayer money on useless nonsense.

    8

    Timothy Eugene 11 months, 2 weeks ago

    Martin Luther King, Jr. would never go along with garbage like this.

    0

    Dont_Tread_On_Me 11 months, 2 weeks ago

    What a waste of money and time. I believe the content of our character trumps the color of our skin.

    5

    MacHeath 11 months, 2 weeks ago

    “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.”

    Ya think?

    0

    Thinking_Out_Loud 11 months, 2 weeks 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!

    3

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