Debunking DiAngelo Episode #3: Does Niceness Perpetuate Racism?

According to Robin DiAngelo, niceness is not anti-racism. Whites must be blunt and actively call out the oppressiveness of “whiteness” in order to stop systemic racism. To be “less white,” DiAngelo states, “is to be less oppressive racially. To be less arrogant. To be less certain. To be less defensive. To be less ignorant.” But is this zero-sum approach — disrupting and stereotyping one group in order to advance another — really the best way to go? Is an approach based on confrontation, provocation, and agitation the best way to bond with our students and colleagues? Is forgoing curtesy and “niceness” going to develop the kind of core principles and values our community needs to create an atmosphere of teamwork and synergy?

Please subscribe to my growing YouTube channel, Inside White Fragility, and to its companion blog of the same name. Thanks for watching!

The Egoism of ‘White Fragility’ Doctrine | with Christopher Paslay

Here is my lengthy interview with Benjamin Boyce, where we discuss Robin DiAngelo, white fragility theory and white privilege, among other educational topics. Please watch, as this is a badly needed conversation (it is a true dialogue as opposed to an antiracist monologue).

Please subscribe to my growing YouTube channel, Inside White Fragility, and to its companion blog of the same name. Thanks for watching!

Anti-Racism: The New Religion of Woke Millennials

by Christopher Paslay

Anti-racism, as it is currently configured, has gone a long way from what used to be considered intelligent and sincere civil rights activism.

Dr. John H. McWhorter is an African American Professor of English at Columbia University, and a native of Philadelphia.  A product of Friends Select School, his resume is quite impressive: he’s taught at Cornell University, the University of California, Berkeley, and has written for numerous publications, including TimeThe Wall Street JournalThe New York Times, and The Washington Post, among others.

In 2018, during a lecture on racism, McWhorter highlighted the ways in which modern anti-racism is less like a productive approach to racial equality, and more like a religion.

“Anti-racism, as it is currently configured, has gone a long way from what used to be considered intelligent and sincere civil rights activism,” McWhorter stated.  “Today, it’s a religion, and I don’t mean that as a rhetorical faint.  I mean that it actually is what any naive anthropologist would recognize as a faith, in people many of whom don’t think of themselves as religious.  But Galileo would recognize them quite easily.  And so for example, the idea that the responsible white person is supposed to attest to their white privilege, and realize that it can never go away — and feel eternally guilty about it — that’s original sin right there.”

McWhorter’s take on anti-racism is a growing perspective.  “We have a cult of social justice on the left,” Andrew Sullivan wrote in New York magazine, “a religion whose followers show the same zeal as any born-again Evangelical.”  Michael Barone wrote about the cult-like behavior of millennials in his Washington Examiner piece, “The new religion of woke anti-racism.” 

Unlike classic multiculturalism, where conversation and the exchange of diverse ideas and viewpoints are encouraged, modern anti-racism is about indoctrination — its ideology is to be completely accepted, no questions or alternative viewpoints allowed.  Anti-racism has a set doctrine that must be embraced, lest one risk being branded “racist” and chastised and/or silenced.  As National Book Award winner Ibram X Kendi teaches in his book, How to Be An Antiracist (which is part of the Philadelphia School District’s recommended anti-racism curriculum), “There is no neutrality in the racism struggle.”  You either get active fighting racism as an anti-racist, or you remain passive and help perpetuate systemic racism.

Some common points within the anti-racist doctrine are:

  • America is a systemically racist country, and all racial disparities are a result of this racism.
  • Being ‘colorblind’ is racist, because it denies systemic injustice and is “problematic.”
  • Color should not, however, be acknowledged when it comes to unflattering statistics like crime or school violence.  Bringing up color here is considered “problematic” and is not allowed. 
  • All whites have a ‘privilege,’ and perpetuate systemic racism by default.
  • All people of color are racially oppressed, and suffer from systemic racism by default.
  • Whites have zero authority on racial matters, while people of color have total authority.
  • Whites have zero understanding of the experiences of people of color in America.

Whites who fail to accept anti-racist doctrine — or challenge, question, or offer any alternative viewpoint— suffer from “white fragility,” a “problematic” condition where whites supposedly become extremely fragile when they are faced with talking about race. According to Robin DiAngelo, whose white fragility theory has become one of the most influential ideas about racism in America, whites consider a challenge to their worldviews on race a challenge to their worth as a person. As she explains in her book, White Fragility (which is part of the Philadelphia School District’s recommended anti-racism curriculum):

The smallest amount of racial stress is intolerable — the mere suggestion that being white has meaning often triggers a range of defense responses. These include emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and withdraw from the stress-inducing situation. These responses work to reinstate white equilibrium as they repel the challenge, return our racial comfort, and maintain our dominance within the racial hierarchy.   

So if you’re white, and you are learning about anti-racism, you have one option: shake your head and say yes.  Unlike classic multiculturalism, which celebrates diversity and core values that unite the races, anti-racism goes on the offensive, provoking people by race, labeling and stereotyping them, forcing them to adopt the ideology or face backlash.  While multiculturalism is interpersonal, and offers practical solutions like inclusivity and tolerance for diversity on an individual or classroom level, anti-racism is mostly sociopolitical, and targets “systems” by disrupting or dismantling certain groups in order to end “injustice” and spread anti-racist doctrine.  Remember: white silence is violence.

During a 2018 lecture on racism (see video above), Professor McWhorter explains how modern anti-racism — a far cry from classic multiculturalism and the positivity of traditional civil rights activism — has become a religion all its own: 

The idea that, there is going to be a day, when America comes to terms with race, or that there could be.  What does that even mean?  What is the meaning of the ‘coming to terms?’  What would that consist of?  Who would come to them?  What would the terms be?  At what date would this be?  The only reason that anybody says that is because it corresponds to our conception of Judgment Day, and it’s equally abstract.

When we use the word “problematic,” especially since about 2008 or 2009, what we’re really saying is “blasphemous.”  It’s really the exact same term.  Or, the suspension of disbelief.  That is a characteristic of religious faith.  There’s an extent to which logic no longer applies.  That’s how we talk about racism.  So suppose someone asked, ‘Why are we to focus on the occasional rogue cop who kills a black man, when nine times out of ten that black man is in much more danger of being killed by another black man in his neighborhood?’

Gosh, that’s not pretty, but like many things that aren’t pretty, it’s also true.  If you ask about it — though you know you’re not supposed to — eyes roll, and you’re given an answer that doesn’t really completely make sense.  And there’s an etiquette that you’re supposed to stop there.  It’s rather like certain questions that you ask a priest, very gently, but you know that if you don’t get a real answer, then you’re just supposed to move on. . . .

But there are problems with [anti-racism], there are severe problems with it.  It does some good things — it gets some good people elected.  But there’s some bad things.  So for example, if you’re a good anti-racist, then you’re thinking about the cops that kill black men . . . but you’re not supposed to think about the fact that so much more murder happens to men like that in their own neighborhoods.  You’re supposed to think of that as maybe connected to racism in some abstract way, but you’re not supposed to think about it.  You’re not supposed to think about all of those homicides every summer in big cities across America.  Teenage black boys are killing one another in the hundreds over frankly nothing.  That’s somehow less important than what the occasional RoboCop does.  That’s modern anti-racism for you.  That’s backwards. 

And when we think about anti-racism . . . that whites need to undergo some sort of massive psychological revolution before we can have any kind of black success, beyond what we have already, why is somebody talking about their white privilege important, when we’re talking about making black schools better? . . .

Modern anti-racism turns a blind eye to most black homicide.  Anti-racism as currently configured, turns a blind eye to black young people’s upward mobility.  It turns a blind eye to doing the kinds of things that civil rights leaders of fifty years ago considered ordinary in favor of what is ultimately and inwardly a focused quest for moral absolution that has at best a diagonal relationship to helping people who’ve been left behind.  The issue here, I must repeat, is not whether or not racism exists; we know it does. . . . I had some racism of my own two weeks ago.  That’s not the issue.  The issue is whether modern anti-racism is the best way of combating the effects of that racism.  And it’s not. 

Philadelphia Educational Leaders Fail to Condemn Violence, Push Anti-White Curriculum

by Christopher Paslay

Philadelphia educational leaders have yet to adequately condemn the widespread violence destroying Philadelphia.  Instead, they have insulted hardworking white teachers with outlandish racial demagoguery.

For the past five days, violence and rioting have gripped the city of Philadelphia.  Late Saturday night, a Philadelphia police officer was hit by a car in Center City, while 12 other officers suffered injuries “while attempting to control crowds, make arrests, prevent property breaches, and other acts of vandalism,” according to Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw.  

Police cars have been smashed and set on fire, and scores of businesses and stores have been looted and vandalized.  Several black-owned businesses have been destroyed, like Elliott Broaster’s Smoke N Things shop on Cecil B Moore.  Broaster, a Temple grad, watched what took years to build get destroyed in a matter of minutes. “When I got home alone I shed a few tears,” Broaster said.  “I saw my business down and it hurt me a lot and especially for my own community to do it to my business, that’s what really (hurt).”

The new anarchist phrase “people over property” is what his fellow community members might say if asked why they destroyed his life’s work, a mantra that has given rioters a license to wreck people’s lives and property — all in the name of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by a reckless and negligent white cop for trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill.  

After the National Guard was deployed and a curfew issued, Philadelphia’s educational leaders decided it was time to weigh in on the situation.  Over the past several days, Philadelphia School District officials have sent multiple emails to teachers and staff condemning the death of Floyd and America’s white racist society, but no call for calm or to end the pointless looting and violence.  Resources were given to teachers to start conversations about anti-racism (an educational framework that teaches ALL whites have a privilege and are complicit in systemic racism), but no material to spark a dialogue about why violence is wrong, or why looting and rioting are not only disrespecting the memory of George Floyd, but also go against the teaching of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers soon followed suit with several memos to its membership, commenting on the “criminalization of blackness” by white society, and of the supposed unwarranted tear-gassing of protesters.  No mention of the cop cars being smashed and burned, or of the police being assaulted with bricks and bottles, or of stores — some of which were owned and operated by African Americans — being looted and vandalized.  This violence somehow didn’t exist, and if it did, it was written off as a “protest,” or perhaps legitimized by the mantra “people over property.”

According to Philadelphia’s educational leaders, there is only one lesson to be learned from the chaos descending on Philadelphia over the past five days: America is a racist society, where privileged whites oppress disadvantaged people of color.  According to the PFT’s Racial Justice Petition, racism “permeates every facet of our society,” and “the criminalization of blackness is an ever-present scourge on our nation.”  Likewise, the “school-to-prison pipeline is real and it threatens the futures and the lives of black and brown children every single day.”  In other words, whites are oppressing and criminalizing people of color around every corner and at every turn, especially white teachers and administrators of schools, who, despite dedicating their entire lives to mentoring and educating their students of color, are in actuality setting them up for a life of crime and incarceration.

These are the things the PFT is telling its dues-paying members.  That we must take actionable steps “to dismantle a violent system of white supremacy that has jeopardized the very humanity of the students in our classrooms, their families, and our communities.”  And how do we end this system?  Through anti-racism, as both Philadelphia School District officials and union leaders have stated.  

Addressing racism as a system of unequal power between whites and people of color, anti-racism emerged as dissatisfaction grew with multicultural education, which only superficially dealt with the issue of systemic racism. As University of South Dakota sociologist Jack Niemonen wrote in his paper after doing an exhaustive analysis of 160 peer-reviewed journal articles on the subject:

Generally, anti-racist education is understood as a set of pedagogical, curricular, and organizational strategies that hope to promote racial equality by identifying, then eliminating, white privilege. . . . One of its strengths, it is claimed, is the ability to move beyond prejudice and discrimination as a problem to be corrected in individuals in order to examine critically how institutional structures support racist practices economically, politically, and culturally.

Anti-racism’s mission to eliminate white privilege is notable, in that it operates from a zero-sum mentality, and associates Whiteness with oppression and structural racism. By redefining “racism” to mean inherent white privilege and oppression, all whites become guilty by default, even those whites who are caring people free from discrimination.  However, addressing systemic injustice starts with personal accountability and action, as anti-racists call on American educators to self-reflect and personally adopt anti-racist ideologies in their lives and classrooms. Therefore, “Whiteness” solely as a systemic, non-individual entity with its own existence is a logical fallacy (see here), and when anti-racists speak of Whiteness, they can only be referring to the cultures, behaviors, and attitudes of those who identify as “white.”

The PFT has acknowledged they are committed to ongoing professional development on anti-racist practices, as has the Philadelphia School District.  Loose translation: they are stereotyping all whites as racists, and are claiming their cultures, behaviors, and attitudes are the reason why people of color suffer.  In reality, anti-racism is anti-white.

The advancement of one group should not depend on the disruption, de-centering, or dismantling of another, either individually, culturally, or systemically. Bringing positive change is a two-way street between whites and people of color, and involves cooperation and synergy; approaches which divide learning communities into political identity groups, and separate teachers and students into “oppressors” and “oppressed,” are misguided and counterproductive.  As educators, we should focus on unity over division, and refrain from stereotyping entire groups of people.

Why Philly Teachers Should Support Reopening Pennsylvania

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by Christopher Paslay

School funding greatly depends on money from the state, and the state greatly depends on a functioning economy.

Earlier this week, the Pennsylvania State Senate passed a bill that overrode Governor Wolf’s lockdown order, which if signed, would allow all businesses to reopen within federal safety parameters.

According to The Hill, Senate Bill 613 “would require the governor’s office to align with federal guidelines in determining which businesses will be allowed to reopen during the pandemic, allowing all those that can safely operate with mitigation strategies under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency guidelines.”

As Jan Murphy reported on Penn Live:

Republican senators who supported the bill argued it would provide transparency and clarity in determining which businesses can be open and require them to operate in a safe manner. They said Wolf’s list of life-sustaining businesses and accompanying waiver process was confusing, chaotic and showed favoritism.

Senate Bill 613, coupled with Senate Bill 327, would give county officials the power to decide when businesses in their county would reopen. A look at coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania shows that the outbreak in the state resembles the outbreak in the nation, and that the “coasts”— Pittsburgh on the west and Philadelphia on the east—are serving to handcuff the entire state, much the same way New York and Washington are handcuffing the entire country.

In fact, the entire middle region of Pennsylvania has been minimally affect by COVID-19, yet the businesses in these 50 counties are being suffocated because of the outbreaks in a handful of “coastal” counties. Obviously, life is precious and even a single death is one too many, and any reopening of a business should be done safely and with caution. (With that said, there’s no direct evidence that lockdowns are definitively working, and government lab tests show that coronavirus is destroyed by sunlight and high humidity, which could make the virus a thing of the past very soon.)

Still, Governor Wolf plans to veto Senate Bill 613, holding firm to his lockdown order. State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine wrote in a letter, “While the governor and I are as eager as anyone to begin getting people back to work, doing so prematurely will only increase the spread of the virus, further lengthening associated economic challenges, while also placing more lives at risk.”

But the businesses in the 50 counties between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are not at risk, as the data shows. COVID-19 cases are minimal here, and deaths are almost nonexistent. What is on the rise, however, are depression, suicide, opioid abuse, and the life crushing realities of losing everything through the closing of businesses (there have been 1.2 million unemployment claims in PA since March 14), and loss of all income. People are losing their livelihoods, and can no longer feed their families.

Unfortunately, the issue of reopening the economy has broken along political lines, with free-market conservatives calling for a safe yet expedited lifting of the lockdown, and more socialist-minded liberals advocating a prolonged closure, insisting that, as one Facebook meme read, If you prioritize the economy over saving people’s lives, then you never get to call yourself ‘pro-life’ ever again.

This crisis doesn’t have to be one-size-fits-all, and you needn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, to use a cliché. Opening the economy is also saving lives, as noted above, yet to do so recklessly doesn’t help anyone. Going back to business as usual overnight isn’t advisable, but neither is cancelling all festivals and large events for the remainder of 2020, as New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell recommends.

Which is why Philadelphia schoolteachers should support reopening Pennsylvania safely yet expeditiously, and why they should call for Governor Wolf to sign Senate Bill 613. This isn’t putting profit over people’s lives, but striking a balance between a suffocating total state lockdown and a willy-nilly return to business as usual. The Philadelphia School District will undoubtedly be hurt financially by the crumbling economy, and as Dr. Hite has acknowledged in his April 13th “Message from the Superintendent,” there is the potential to lose significant funding in the coming school year, which is why he’s already put a hiring freeze on central office positions.

The contract between the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the Philadelphia School District is up on August 31, 2020, and the longer Pennsylvania remains locked down, the tighter finances will be four months from now. This doesn’t only affect things like teacher salary and benefits—which will undoubtedly be impacted by the prolonged shutdown—but will also affect our education community for the coming school year, and the availability of funds for things like lower class sizes, books and technology, building renovations, and other important resources.

Philadelphia School District funding greatly depends on money from the state, and the state greatly depends on a functioning economy. When the economy tanks, we all tank, which is why the squabbling between political parties must end, and a common goal of safely opening Pennsylvania must become the priority—and it must happen sooner rather than later.

Philly’s New Grading System Doesn’t Allow Teachers to Override Final Grades

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by Christopher Paslay

Brace yourself.  Report card mayhem is coming to a school near you.

Recently it was announced that the Philadelphia School District’s new online grade book program, designed by a Minnesota software company called Infinite Campus, will not allow teachers to override final grades when the system opens this week.

According to a memo from District officials:

Teachers will NOT be able to put in overrides for final averages and should keep this in mind when posting. They can see how the Term 4 Posted Grade will affect the final average by changing the Grading Task drop down from “Term Grade” to “Final Grade.” Every class should have a posted percent that matches the score. (This includes P/F courses). Make sure teachers hit POST and then SAVE on every section!! For a refresher, they can watch the Posting Grades video.

Bombshell revelation?

You better believe it.

Whether this information was made known in September is unclear, but the fact remains that stripping teachers of the ability to tweak and adjust final grades is mind numbing (if this is indeed the case).  For those unaware of the situation, here is a summary of how finals grades will be calculated by the District’s grade book, at least as it appears now from the information available.

First, the difference between a “composite percent” and a “composite grade” must be made clear.  A “composite present” is the actual grade the student earned (the mathematical calculation of the quarter grade based on the assignments in the teacher’s grade book).  The “composite grade” is the grade that showed up on the students report card for the quarter (which includes grades that were rounded-up or overridden by a teacher).  For example, a student’s first quarter “composite percent” might have been a 77, but the teacher may have rounded it up and given an 80 via an “override,” and this 80 would be the student’s “composite grade,” and appear on the report card.

The way it appears the District’s grade book will calculate a student’s final grade this year will be by averaging the composite percent—NOT composite grade—on each of the four quarters.  Which means the override grade will not be factored into the final average, only the original base number.  So that 80 that the student received on the report card will really go into the system as a 77 and affect the overall final grade by making it lower than anticipated (at least this is how the system is currently computing the grades, according to what is currently on Infinite Campus).  Oh, and the teacher can’t override it, which is the real kicker.

As you can imagine, this is going to cause some major headaches for teachers, not to mention students and their parents (and of course principals, who will have to deal with the irate students and parents).  The magnitude of the blowback will be both small and large, depending on the situation and how badly the student was misled about his or her grade.

For example, a student may lose little to no points and be none the wiser.  If a student’s teacher didn’t round his or her grade up more than a point or two during the first three quarters, the difference will be negligible, and no harm will be done.  However, the more points a teacher gave a student via the “override” feature during the first three quarters, the more there will be a disparity between the grades on the first three report cards and the student’s final grade.

Take this situation: a student with an IEP or a 504 plan is putting in an honest effort but still struggling nonetheless.  His percentage grade is only a 50 for the first three quarters, but he is making progress, so the teacher gives him a 60—the minimum passing grade—for the first three quarters out of good faith.  The student’s final grade will be based on the three 50’s, not the three 60’s.  Which means that in order for the student to pass for the year, the teacher will need to give this student a 90 for the fourth quarter to make the percentage come to an average of a 60, which is passing.

Should the student receive a 90 if they are nowhere near that level of achievement?  Normally, a teacher in this situation would give the grade the student deserved for the fourth quarter, and tweak the final average according to the individual situation of the student.  But since the District’s new grading system doesn’t allow a teacher to override the final average, what is the alternative?  Fail the child?

Basically, every single teacher in the Philadelphia School District who was liberal with giving students extra points via the “override” feature during the first three quarters (and all of us has at least one or two students like this, and for very good reasons), is going to be put to the squeeze.  Should I let the child fail, or give him or her an outrageously high fourth quarter grade? 

And what about the fact that the child was misled the whole year about his or her actual grades?  If the “composite percent” was the only true grade that counted toward the final average, what was the purpose of the override feature for the first three quarters?  And what if the points added via the override weren’t simply given for free?  What if students earned them?  For the past 20 years, I’ve added my students’ participation grade—points they earned through engaging in the lessons—directly to the report card at the end of each quarter; many times my best students’ quarter averages go from 88’s to 92’s because of participation.  This would mean they’d be robbed of up to 12 points they’ve earned over three quarters because of this new screwy system.

Finally, there’s the case of this working in reverse.  What about a student who games the system by getting a 70 percent on the first and second quarter, and then becomes chronically absent for the next five months, not completing a single assignment.  As it stands now, because the system doesn’t allow a teacher to give below a 50, and because there’s no override feature for the final grade, this student will pass the course with a 60, and not have learned much in the process.

Why in the world the District would allow students and teachers to be misled for nine months about their grades is beyond comprehension.  If the override feature is not available for the final grade—and the grades posted via the override function for the first three quarters don’t count toward the final average—why was the override feature available at all?  Seriously?  What in God’s name was the point?  To mislead and confuse?

Even now I’m hoping the information I’ve received about the District’s fourth quarter grade book is somehow inaccurate, and that the flaws and mind-boggling inconsistencies I’ve mentioned above are the result of some kind of miscommunication, either on my part or the part of the District.

If, however, what I’ve been told is true, brace yourself for some serious fallout from parents and students, especially from the special education department (and their lawyers).  This year’s fourth quarter grading will be historic.  Get ready for report card mayhem!

The Real Reason Admission Standards Are Being Cut In Philly Trade Schools

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by Christopher Paslay

District officials are using “equity” as an excuse to fill seats and maximize space.   

The Philadelphia School District’s recent decision to cut admission standards at its four career technology education (CTE) schools has sparked debate.  The question of “equity versus excellence” has been brought up in the media, and folks on both sides of the issue have voiced their concerns.

The only problem with this debate, though, is that it’s not about equity versus excellence at all; it’s about enrollment versus excellence.  There are indeed enrollment issues with the city’s four trade schools.  But equity issues?  Not at all.

Let’s first look at enrollment.  According to data on the Philadelphia School District’s website, Murrell Dobbins had an enrollment last year of 606 students, yet has a building capacity of 900; Jules E. Mastbaum had an enrollment of 754, with a building capacity of 1313; A. Philip Randolph had an enrollment of 518, with a building capacity of 569; and Swenson Arts and Technology had an enrollment of 668, with a building capacity of 875.

Granted, the building capacity numbers may not be totally accurate, as in Swenson’s case; as a teacher at Swenson I know our building can only safely accommodate at most 700 students.

Still, open seats and space are an issue.  If you do the math, there are hundreds of open seats in Philadelphia’s trade schools.  And from a budgetary standpoint, filling these seats makes sense financially.  And how do you fill the seats?  One way is through promotion and recruitment—increase interest in CTE programs citywide while keeping in place a minimum level of student accountability and excellence.  Another way is to simply ditch the admission standards and pack in anybody and everybody.

The school district chose to do the latter.  Why?  Because it’s quick and easy.  Load-up the schools with any student who wants to apply, regardless of whether or not that student is a good fit for a trade program.  And if this hurts the tradition or culture of the school—or sacrifices excellence—so be it.

Of course, the school district can’t sell it to the public like this, so they are hiding behind the idea of “equity”.  This is a great strategy.  Set it up so it looks like you’re fighting for social justice, and no one can say anything to you.  When you’re fighting for social justice, you can do lots of unfair things to lots of people, but it’s okay, because you’re leveling the playing field.

The only problem with this approach is that there are no equity issues when it comes to Philadelphia’s CTE programs.  For the record, Dobbins is 89% black, 8% Latino, and 3% other; Mastbaum is 48% black, 44% Latino, 5% white, and 3% other; Swenson is 30% black, 26% Latino, 37% white, and 7% other; and Randolph is 91% black, 7% Latino, and 2% other.  These schools also serve high numbers of special education students and economically disadvantaged children in poor neighborhoods; nearly 25% of Swenson students are special education.  And of course, these schools serve girls as well as boys—girls and boys who travel from all parts of the city to attend these programs.

The media, as well as school district officials, would have you believe otherwise.  The school district is currently citing Pew Charitable Trusts’ recent report as a way to suggest CTE schools are not equitable.  Pew states that CTE schools’ admission processes are “complicated” and that they “systematically disadvantage” Latino students, particularly boys.  How?  Because Latino boys whose credentials qualify them for top schools don’t apply enough to make their numbers proportionate to Philadelphia’s population at large.

Yet Mastbaum and Swenson are 44% and 26% Latino (which are located in neighborhoods with a notable Latino population), and Dobbins and Randolph are 89% and 91% black (in neighborhoods that are predominantly African American). This sure seems equitable to me; interestingly, Pew doesn’t make a fuss about the fact that white girls are not nearly represented enough in any of these CTE schools.

But that’s how the game of “equity” is played—manipulate statistics and throw around phrases like “systematically disadvantaged”.  Take WHYY’s article “New lottery system for Philly trade school admissions stokes debate” for example.  This article, although it tries to remain objective, is misleading.

An early paragraph in the article states, “By shedding admissions criteria, officials say, these schools can serve all interested students, rather than casting aside those who may have tripped up in seventh or eighth grade.”

Tripped up?  See, that’s what the school district wants the public to believe: that middle school kids who get rejected from CTE schools have simply “tripped up” in seventh or eighth grade.  But that’s not the reality of the situation.  Generally speaking, CTE schools have very reasonable admission standards: students who apply must have at least a “C” average academically, no “unsatisfactory” grades in behavior, and no more than 10 unexcused absences.

In other words, students who get rejected from a CTE school have D’s and F’s, unruly and disruptive behavior, and are chronically truant.  This is a far cry from an “oops” or a “trip-up” in middle school.

The article goes on:

“This is all about creating access for children and making sure that regardless of where children live they have access to some of our more successful programs,” said superintendent William Hite. “There’s a lot of interest in CTE. We have children on a wait list, we have CTE programs that are not filled.”

Again, this is nonsense: Philadelphia CTE schools accept children from every neighborhood in the city.

The article continues:

District officials want to open the doors wider, by both adding seats at CTE schools and shedding the admissions criteria that, they believe, bar too many motivated students from entry.

“Interest is the criteria,” said Hite. “If children are interested in pursuing cosmetology or building trades or culinary arts…I want the children in those programs.”

He said that he concluded that schools were imposing “barriers to entry” for admission to programs that could actually change students’ attitudes about school.

Bar too many motivated students from entering?  Seriously?  Does a child with D’s and F’s, who has unruly behavior and is absent dozens of times sound motivated to learn a trade?  Would a student like this be willing to get up early and take several buses across the city to go to a special CTE school every day?  Should a student like this handle a circular saw in carpentry and a butcher knife in culinary?

Make no mistake: dropping the admission standards of Philadelphia’s trade schools is not about equity, but about enrollment.  Instead of filling seats through promotion and recruitment, which would allow CTE schools to keep a minimum standard for admission, the district is taking the easy way out.

We can only hope this new approach won’t sink what’s left of a once-great trade school tradition in Philadelphia.

Arne Duncan is Right: Protesters Shouldn’t be Blocking DeVos from Public Schools

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by Christopher Paslay

Obama Education Secretary is right to condemn agitators for verbally assaulting Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and for physically blocking her from entering a D.C. public school.    

On Friday afternoon, after Betsy DeVos was physically prevented from entering a Washington D.C. public school and verbally assaulted by a group of agitators (allegations that DeVos was physically assaulted are still being investigated), Arne Duncan tweeted out the following:

Agree or disagree w @BetsyDeVos on any issue, but let’s all agree she really needs to be in public schools. Please let her in.

Duncan, who served as Obama’s Education Secretary for seven years, should be commended for remaining above the fray and calling for civil treatment of DeVos, the newly confirmed United States Secretary of Education. Whether you agree with her stance on education or not, the all-out smear campaign on her background and character is inappropriate.

Vanity Fair film critic Richard Lawson actually likened DeVos to a murderer, tweeting that her policies “will kill children” and lead “queer kids” to “more suicides” because of a lack of access to supports in religious schools.

Interestingly, if you take a closer look at her agenda, you’ll find that many of her views aren’t that different from Arne Duncan’s, which might be why he went out of his way to defend her right to be heard. Duncan’s record as Obama’s education chief reveals he did quite a lot to dismantle traditional public education and attack schoolteachers, turning neighborhood schools into charters and trampling collective bargaining rights in the process.

During his seven year tenure, Duncan fought to:

  • Use performance pay to compensate teachers based on student performance on standardized tests.
  • End teacher seniority to give principals the autonomy to pick their own staffs.
  • Turn “failing” schools into charters.
  • Overhaul entire staffs of teachers and principals at failing schools.
  • Reduce suspensions and expulsions to deal with unruly and disruptive students.

Then there was his whole plan to shame teachers into improving performance, endorsing the public release of information about how well individual teachers fare at raising their students’ test scores.

This doesn’t sound like a man who respected teachers’ unions, traditional public education, or educational privacy rights, but other than an occasional editorial in the newspaper, not a whole lot was said about it. The Obama/Duncan “Reform Train” railroaded public schools, students, and teachers from coast to coast, for seven long years. And how many times did raving agitators, holding Black Lives Matter signs, block his entrance into schools?

Zero.

How many times did Chuck Schumer insist that Obama’s appointment of Duncan to office should “offend every single American man, woman, and child who has benefitted from the public education system in this country,” the way he did of Trump’s appointment of DeVos?

Zero.

How many times were Duncan’s policies accused of killing children?

Zero.

Why?

Politics as usual.

Take education in Philadelphia, for example. There’s this notion floating around that the appointment of Betsy DeVos marks the end of Philly public schools as we know them, that teachers’ unions—along with collective bargaining—will be irrevocably dismantled. I’ve heard it mentioned, in fact, that Betsy DeVos is the biggest threat to collective bargaining ever.

Ever?

Hardly.

Dwight Evans wins this title. In the late 1990s, he fought to pass the Pennsylvania Charter School Law, which opened the floodgates for school choice and took millions of dollars away from traditional public schools and pumped them into privately owned charters.  Evans also supported Acts 46 and 83, which enabled Harrisburg to take over the Philadelphia School District, and replace the local school board with a state-run School Reform Commission.

It also took away the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ right to strike.

Now, fast forward to 2017. The city doesn’t have a local school board, and contract terms can be unilaterally forced on the union by the SRC.  The school budget has been slashed by hundreds of millions, and staffs are running on bare bones.  Many schools lack adequate nurses and counselors. It’s been over 1,000 days since teachers have had a contract.  Their seniority has been cut, their degrees marginalized, and they haven’t received a raise in nearly four years.

Was Dwight Evans ever blocked from entering a school?

No. On the contrary, he’s been continually voted into office by establishment Democrats, many of whom are the same folks throwing a temper tantrum over Betsy “Doomsday” DeVos.

Why isn’t DeVos the biggest threat to collective bargaining to date in Philadelphia? Because under Act 46 and 83, there is no real power to collective bargain.   You can’t take away something you don’t technically have.

Yet somehow DeVos remains the ultimate boogiewoman, and has been relentlessly smeared before even being given a chance to develop her vision for American education.

Kudos to Arne Duncan for remaining above the fray and calling for the civil treatment of DeVos. You can agree or disagree with DeVos on any issue, as Duncan stated, but at least know she must be allowed to visit public schools so we can have an appropriate and responsible dialogue.

10 Reasons to Skip ‘Black Lives Matter Week’ in Philadelphia

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by

Christopher Paslay

If you’re thinking of joining BLM’s Action Week in Philadelphia, you should reconsider.  

My name is Christopher Paslay, a 20-year veteran of the Philadelphia School District, and I’m officially skipping the Black Lives Matter “Week of Action” planned for Philadelphia public schools. For two decades I’ve been a dedicated English teacher, mentor, and coach, and have written hundreds of articles demanding respect, equality, and justice for our children, communities, and schools.

But I won’t be wearing a BLM button or t-shirt next week, or implementing any BLM curriculum in my English classes (even though I have an M.Ed. in Multicultural Education).

Here are 10 reasons why:

1. Students shouldn’t be shunned for supporting Trump or being Republican. Ironically, although “Diversity” is the first of BLM’s 13 “Guiding Principles,” which states they are committed to “acknowledging, respecting and celebrating differences and commonalities” which include race, religion, age, gender identity, sexual identity, economic status, and immigration status, nowhere in BLM’s 13 Guiding Principles do they acknowledge accepting differing political ideologies. In other words, it doesn’t appear that conservatives and/or Republicans are welcomed by this group.

Perhaps I’m misinterpreting BLM’s website and mission, and if I am, I apologize. However, after reading BLM’s calendar of events for their planned “Week of Action” in Philadelphia, it becomes quite clear that they have no tolerance for political diversity.

In a “kick off event” titled “Courage for Racial Justice in the Era of Trump,” which was scheduled for Friday, January 13, BLM’s discrimination is quite clear. The event description reads, In this time of mass incarceration, mass deportation, anti-Muslim sentiment, profound economic inequality, and the election of Trump, all of our social justice movements are coming together to build powerful resistance to the death culture. Additionally, people of all backgrounds are becoming active for the first time and looking for direction, as many are horrified by what the election of Trump means for our country.

 The death culture? Strong words. So it’s obvious this “Week of Action” does not include any Philadelphia teacher, student, parent, or community member that voted for or supports Trump. This is quite interesting, because 105,418 people voted for Trump in the City of Philadelphia. 105,418. And apparently none of these Philadelphians are being made to feel welcome.

2. Students shouldn’t be taught to obsess over race, religion, gender, and sexuality. Sure, teens must be taught not to discriminate (consciously or unconsciously), but BLM’s fixation on race, religion, gender and sexuality is excessive and counterproductive. Teens should be taught to see people as people, and judge them by their character—not by their gender, skin color, etc. Viewing the world through the lens of various isms is unnatural and unhealthy.

For example, the BLM curriculum for Wednesday, 1/25, deals with the themes of “Queer Affirming” and “Trans Affirming,” and aims to teach teens to free themselves “from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking,” and to combat “trans-antagonistic violence.” Seriously? Instead of allowing our teens to naturally interact with one another and develop relationships organically, we’re going to burden them with such intellectual concepts as trans-antagonistic violence?

3. Students don’t need more lessons in rebellion and resistance. One of the central tactics of BLM is resistance and civil disobedience, as is documented by their disruptive (and sometimes destructive) past. Although there is value in learning about political activism, Philadelphia youth should master the skills of teamwork and collaboration before being exposed to the thrills of shutting down a highway via a protest rally or march. Interestingly, BLM’s city-wide MLK march scheduled for Monday, 1/16, calls for a day of “action” and “resistance”.

4. Students shouldn’t be taught to oppose Two-parent families. One of BLM’s 13 Guiding Principles, titled “Black Villages,” states, We are committed to disrupting the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, and especially “our” children to the degree that mothers, parents and children are comfortable.

Why would BLM want to commit to disrupting the nuclear family when 40 years of educational research proves that children raised in two-parent families have higher academic achievement, better emotional health, and fewer behavioral problems than children born out of wedlock or raised “collectively” in alternative situations? I’m not sure. All I know is that BLM’s curriculum for Thursday, 1/26, addresses their “Black Village” theme which indeed calls for the disruption of nuclear families.

5. Students shouldn’t be taught to demonize those with opposing views. It’s clear that the 105,418 people who voted for Trump in Philadelphia are not accepted by BLM (or by the Caucus of Working Educators, who are co-hosting the “Week of Action”). The same goes for any Philadelphia teacher, student, parent, or community member who voted for Trump or supports him for any number of reasons. But it’s not enough that these Trump supporters and/or Republicans are rejected and ostracized, no; the various policies that they believe in and voted for must be defined as hateful.

“Join us in the necessary work to oppose policies based in hate,” states the itinerary for BLM’s city-wide MLK Day march.

6. Students shouldn’t be taught to glorify repressive dictators who violate humans rights. It’s no secret BLM glorifies Fidel Castro. According to Human Rights Watch, “During Castro’s rule, thousands of Cubans were incarcerated in abysmal prisons, thousands more were harassed and intimidated, and entire generations were denied basic political freedoms. . . . Many of the abusive tactics developed during his time in power – including surveillance, beatings, arbitrary detention, and public acts of repudiation – are still used by the Cuban government.”

What does BLM say about Castro’s recent death? “We are feeling many things as we awaken to a world without Fidel Castro. There is an overwhelming sense of loss, complicated by fear and anxiety. Although no leader is without their flaws, we must push back against the rhetoric of the right and come to the defense of El Comandante,” BLM posted on the internet after his death.

7. Students shouldn’t be taught to value some black lives more than others. BLM’s selective morality is troubling. What are our youth to think when young black lives are taken on a daily basis—mostly by other young black people—and BLM remains silent? When Philly youth die at the hands of gangbangers or drug dealers, and BLM are nowhere to be found? No marches. No rallies. No nothing. Day in, and day out. What are our students to think? That these black lives don’t count? In 2015 alone, nearly 6,000 blacks were killed by other blacks in the United States, and BLM didn’t say a word.

8. Students shouldn’t be taught by a group that was built and perpetuated on false narratives. BLM came to national attention when Michael Brown was reportedly shot and killed in cold blood—kneeling on the ground with his hands up—by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. I say reportedly because after the case was properly investigated, it was discovered that Brown was actually shot after punching Wilson in the face, and trying to take his gun. The Washington Post called the “hands up, don’t shoot” meme one of the biggest lies of 2015.

 Another false narrative is the Trayvon Martin killing. After an investigation at the local, state, and federal level—and after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder did all he could to nail Zimmerman on Civil Rights violations—it was discovered that George Zimmerman indeed shot Martin in self-defense . . . after, according to multiple witnesses, Martin knocked Zimmerman to the ground and was pounding his head on the cement. This doesn’t stop BLM from still propagating the myth that Martin was killed in cold blood by an angry white racist, who, by the way, isn’t white but Hispanic. According to the Caucus of Working Educators website which is promoting BLM’s Week of Action, “In 2012, Trayvon Martin was gunned down by George Zimmerman and the victim was posthumously placed on trial for his own murder.”

9. Students shouldn’t be taught by a group that celebrates JoAnn Chesimard, a convicted cop killer. Black Lives Matter co-founders Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi publically praise convicted cop killer JoAnn Chesimard, a.k.a. Assata Shakur, who is currently living in exile in Cuba and wanted by the FBI for the murder of a New Jersey state trooper. Words from a letter Shakur wrote, titled “To My People,” have been recited at BLM meetings. Mumia Abu Jamal, H. Rap Brown, and George and Jonathan Jackson are also convicted cop killers that BLM activists have praised.

10. Students shouldn’t be used as political pawns. What is BLM’s “Week of Action” really about? Growing their organization by indoctrinating our city’s children with their “social justice” curriculum. Curriculum which, at the time of this writing, still doesn’t exist. I’ve looked for it on the internet far and wide—I’ve even clicked on the links provided by the Caucus of Working Educators—but it’s not there.

Perhaps it will be posted soon, so educators have adequate time to vet it. Either way, I won’t be teaching it. Nor will I be wearing the BLM buttons or shirts. I’m going to pass on BLM’s “Action Week,” and if I were a parent of a Philadelphia school student, I’d demand that my child’s teachers and principals pass on it, too.