My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Officials see alienation in ARHS suspensions

Hampshire Gazette
By NICK GRABBE
Wednesday, November 18, 2009

AMHERST - Students from African-American and Latino backgrounds have been suspended at higher percentages at Amherst Regional High School than their percentages in the school population, Principal Mark Jackson announced Tuesday.

From August 2008 through June 2009, African-American students accounted for 18 percent of the external suspensions and 14 percent of the internal suspensions, while they comprise 8.75 percent of the school population, according to the figures Jackson presented.

Latino students, who comprise 10 percent of the population, accounted for 23 percent of the external and 22 percent of the internal suspensions, according to the figures.

"This is a white, middle-class environment that is fairly easily alienating for kids of color," Jackson told the Regional School Committee Tuesday.

But he also said, "This is a very safe and orderly place and the level of compliance with rules is very high."

White students, who comprise 68 percent of the school population, accounted for 52 percent of the external and 55 percent of the internal suspensions, according to the figures.

School Committee member Steve Rivkin asked how many students who were suspended were new arrivals, and perhaps find a new environment alienating. He asked what the ultimate consequence of suspensions is, such as how many drop out.

"White people aren't intentionally being hostile; they don't know any better," said School Committee member Kathleen Anderson. She asked Jackson how the culture of the high school can be transformed to increase awareness.

Jackson said he's found it difficult to engage in the topic of race, but agreed that some students of color can find the high school "inhospitable."

Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez said the school needs to create a climate where "all students feel welcomed and this is part of their home. This is nobody's fault and it's all of our fault."

He said that children often lash out with violence or other unacceptable behavior because their learning environment is deficient.

During the debate over elementary redistricting, Rodriguez said he saw a lot of anxiety among parents and advocates of students of color who felt that keeping ethnic clusters together would make them feel more comfortable.

"We need to look at structural inequities that lead a certain child one way and another child another way," he said.

Nick Grabbe can be reached at ngrabbe@gazettenet.com.

74 comments:

Anonymous said...

Can we look at this differently? What proportion of suspensions occurred among kids on free/reduced lunch compared to the proportion of kids in the school on free/reduced lunch. I suspect this has more to do with income than race. Unfortunately, race is what people see so they leap to that conclusion. My kids do not find Amherst High to be inhospitable to "students of color" but they do find it inhospitable to students with lower income. Please, before you spend a lot of time, energy, and money on addressing race in the high school at least look at these suspension numbers from a different perspective.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's possible to have a fair conversation about race at the high school given Mark Jackson's approach to racial issues. An example: Last year the jazz band came up with a poster to advertise a New Orleans-themed concert that used the evolution-of-man idea (ape to human.) The 'most-evolved' figure, a sax player, had the appearance of a black man. The jazz kids were accused of racism by kids in POCU (People of Color, a student group.) Jackson arranged a meeting at which POCU called band members racist and more. It was a one-way name-calling exercise that in the end took three different meetings.
The poster was tone-deaf and stupid, but it was not racist. Jackson and POCU mangled the chance to explain to the evidently clueless jazz band why a poster about evolution and blacks might be sensitive (given truly racist theories that I will not repeat.) Jackson allowed POCU to insult, intimidate and shame people rather than explain why that poster could be sensitive. Jackson later told the assembled kids it had been a helpful 'dialogue.' I don't think any band members saw it that way.
So did Jackson succeed in creating the right environment to address racism?

Anonymous said...

Wow. My children have witnessed the deans, etc. bend over backwards to NOT punish students of color which sends the message to all that they can get away with more. A very simple example is with phone usage. White girl gets it taken away, student of color gets told to "put that thing away". Mouthing off, etc. gets treated differently too. They figure it is to keep the data in check.

Anonymous said...

Some classrooms, not all, can be alienating to white students also, as they have to routinely sit through PC harangues about white privilege and such, feeling targeted the whole time.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I would have to agree. The message my white teenagers have received from the Amherst system (which they have been in since kindergarten) is "the needs of white kids don't matter as much as the needs of students of color." Fortunately, that has not damaged their personal relationships with kids of all colors, but has eroded their own sense of self-worth and feeling that the system doesn't value them.

Anonymous said...

The message sent in the elemnentary schools does not have much to do with race. Rather, discipline is so lax and inconsequential for kids with behavioral IEPs. They're allowed to get away with everything, with a mere disciplinary report (or three).

Clear-cut rules need to be spelled out and carried out - who does it take to get a kid suspended or expelled from elementary school!? When you ask about discipline for a specific kid who tormented your own, you are told "Sorry that's confidential information. But we're taking care of it."

Punishments and consequences need to be more transparent or else parents think that certain kids get a free pass. (IEP behavioral kids in my case, kids of color in your case, or low-income kids in someone else's case) -

Anonymous said...

please tell me that kathleen anderson didn't really say what she was quoted as saying. please tell me this is a misquote.

Anonymous said...

Pretty typical for Kathleen Anderson. You could fill a book with the racist things she has said.

shtarker said...

Is it possible that students of color are transgressing more often? Or is it surely racist even mentioning this?

anonymously yours,

Anonymous said...

annonymous November 18, 2009 12:59 PM

I couldn't agree with your post more. If I didn't know better, I would have thought I wrote it. Your experience in the elementary school is similar to ours.
Ali

Anonymous said...

What does it matter what color? If you misbehave, you misbehave. Do you think they care when you're grown and in the workplace???? Get real!

Abbie said...

Just like to add a recent positive event.

My daughter's substitute teacher (Ms. Miller) went to the effort to write an entire letter (long hand that filled the page- ~20 lines) home describing how our daughter contributed in a positive way to the school day. Apparently (according to said daughter) she picks 2 names randomly and does this each day! Wow!!!! This sort of thing really makes each student feel valued.

Joel said...

To Anon 12:59

At Fort River, until this year when we finally got a new principal, the official view of the former principal was that he, the teachers, and all the students had an obligation to fight what he termed "white privilege." He even led an all-school assembly wearing a tee-shirt that read "Got Privilege?"

The politics of it were pretty silly and the sort of thing you expect from an energized but not terribly bright college sophomore. What was shocking to me was the fact that someone who had spent his adult life as an elementary level educator actually thought that this message was appropriate for little kids.

So, to amend your comment, in at least one of our elementary schools for many years there was a very distinct ideology of fighting "white privilege" advanced by a principal.

That principal also publicly stated that he didn't feel he owned an education to white children of college educated parents.

Anonymous said...

I actually think the poster of the black jazz musician means that jazz music and jazz musicians are the most evolved humans. A compliment no? Knowing how kids in the jazz club deeply love the music they play and the muscians, I find it hard to believe that anyone would think anything but that.

Yes, others could read the poster (incorrectly I think) that way but part of learning to look at other perspectives is realizing that there are other perspectives -- and just because you feel wronged, doesn't mean that you were wronged.

Rick said...

I recommend that everyone read the PDF here (“The Color of Discipline: Understanding Racial Disparity in School Discipline Practices”):

http://www.radarvoice.org/node/3

It’s an easy read (3 pages) but says a lot. It lists “Three Leading Causes of Disparity”:

1. Cultural Misperception and Misinterpretation
2. Student Resistance and Defiance
3. Lack of Academic and Social Support

This is certainly not just about race; but race is definitely a factor.

We don’t need to say this is due to racism in order to think it’s an issue. We just need to say “hey this is not good that students of color receive discipline at a rate 2-3 times that of white students”, just as we might say it’s not a good thing that students of color do less well academically compared with white students.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to second the suggestion to look at income background rather than race.

As a person from a working class family, I definitely see a culture difference between middle and working class families and their (generalized) styles of discipline.

Many (not all) working class families have a more autocratic style of discipline - and many (not all) middle class families tend to have a more democratic style.

I think that ARPS has a more democratic style of dealing with discipline and I think that kids from autocratic households may not respond to this well.

I'm not saying that ARPS should adopt a more autocratic style - but maybe this could be looked at in finding a solution to this problem.

jm said...

Are these numbers on suspensions going to be analyzed more deeply. The numbers are provoking and call for more information and analysis. Will that happen?

Anonymous said...

A key piece of information that is missing for me is: What is the rate of misbehavior?

Let's say there IS a higher of displinary sanctions for certain races (or certain income levels or boys vs girls or whatever).

That is ONLY a problem IF the rates of misbehavior between any of these groups is EQUAL.

I say that if you misbehave, you should be disciplined. Period.

The school should have a clear-cut list of infractions and their corresponding punishments. You mess up, you pay your dues. What is wrong with that? If indeed kids of color (or low income or kids who are boys) misbehave more often, why shouldn't they be punished more often?

Amherst is going to an extreme on the end of social justice - pretty soon, we cannot punish anyone who might be a minority, a poor person, a disadvantaged person... that is just ridiculous.

If the school had a transparent disciplinary system, then it wouldn't be facing this issue of being accused of having a disproportionate amount of disciplinary sanctions against kids of color. If they can prove that these kids are indeed misbehaving (and that everyone who misbehaves is treated equally) then they wouldn't be in this fix.

We need to teach our kids to face up to their own mistakes and not evade their due punishment under the guise of social justice.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Let me start by saying I don't think this report should have been presented -- but I believe the administration was under pressure to have it presented because otherwise there would be accusations of racism (since Kathleen had asked for this data last year). The report, which I believe will be (or maybe already is) posted on the ARPS website, was highly problematic in terms of being able to interpret anything useful. Here are my major concerns:

1. The totals reported (e.g., whites are 68% of the school but make up 54% of the discipline incidents; African Americans are 9% of the school but make up 14% of the incidents; Latinos are 10% of the school but make up 21% of the incidents) do NOT assess whether it is multiple kids or a single student having repeated discipline acts! So, let's say you have one African American kid who gets into a HUGE amount of trouble (e.g., 64 acts last year), and the lets say you have 64 different African American kids who get into trouble. In the current report, you can't tell the difference between these two things, and obviously they point to really different issues.

2. The data reports nothing on income. Nothing. So, we have no idea if there are class differences that then appear as race differences (since the correlation between race and class is clear). That is a giant omission.

3. The single biggest predictor of acts of discipline is presence in special ed: 51% of the acts of discipline are by kids in special ed, and there is NO way that these kids make up 50% of the school. But that was almost entirely ignored.

Finally, even if there is a difference by race (e.g., if it turns out that examining number of kids who are disciplined, NOT just number of acts of discipline, reveals the same results, and that race differences emerge above and beyond the effects of class), that still tells us very little. One possibility is that kids of color do engage in more acts that are disciplined, and the other is that kids of color are disciplined differently (worse) than kids who are white. Those are two totally different possibilities, yet the first of those possibilities wasn't addressed at all. Let's take a parallel -- boys make up 50% of the school, yet account for 60% of the acts of discipline. So, the school clearly is very sexist in its treatment of boys? That seems improbable.

I think having a report like this glosses over real and important issues that need to be examined and understood, and thus I do not believe this data should have been presented in the very incomplete form in which it was presented last night. It led to no solutions or strategies, and thus I think was a poor use of time/resources.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses to posters:

Anonymous 6:21 - this is an excellent point that Irv, Steve and I all spoke to last night. I agree that this data should have been presented -- and I volunteered to have one of my students examine such data if it would be helpful.

Anonymous 8:07 - I had not heard about that poster incident, but yes, it sounds very disappointing in multiple respects. I think the constant name-calling of racism is used to silence people in our community, and it certainly doesn't allow for easy dialogue.

Anonymous 9:54 - I have heard these stories from parents, kids, and teachers. Seems like kids of color may well be treated differently -- but not necessarily in the direction one might expect.

Anonymous 10:05 - Yes, I agree -- and that may be true at some schools more than others. But I certainly believe that many different people from many different backgrounds can feel alienated in our schools.

Anonymous 12:45 - I believe many parents feel as you do -- and that has led some parents to leave the school system (especially when teachers and even principals blatantly said such words to parents).

Anonymous 12:59 - Steve made this point in the meeting last night ... maybe rules need to be clearer early on in elementary school so that behavioral expectations are clear (and are consistent for all kids)?

Anonymous 1:12 - sorry to disappoint you. That was a direct quote.

Anonymous 1:16 - Kathleen has very strong feelings about the influence of racism (by parents, teachers, kids, principals) on how kids are treated in our school system, and she shares those feelings regularly.

Shtarker - I think that is possible. And I'm sure if you said it publicly, you would be accused of racism. I said it in my earlier post -- and I'm sure the racist accusations will pour in.

Ali - I believe many parents have had a similar experience (and again, this experience may be more typical at some schools than others).

Anonymous 1:31 - well put. I believe the key thing is whether kids of color and white kids are disciplined in the same way for the same acts. That is really the measure of racism ... yet the report given last night shed no light on this important topic!

Abbie - that is a great story! Was it Jane Mellor, however, not Ms. Miller? I've heard fabulous things about her (retired Fort River teacher -- also subbed in my son's 6th grade class a few weeks ago)!

Joel - I think white families at Fort River spent many years feeling not welcomed by the principal ... who called parents "entitled" the press, had a "Blacks only" breakfast to celebrate Martin Luther King Day, etc. I am hopeful that the school is experiencing such much needed changes in focusing on ALL children under the new leadership of Ray Sharick.

Anonymous 1:55 - again, I hadn't heard about the jazz poster incident, but it certainly seems like a great opportunity for learning empathy/awareness for students from all backgrounds.

Rick - I think before we assume that kids of color DO receive more acts of discipline we should know whether this is factually true. As I've noted earlier, it wasn't clear to me at all that the higher acts of discipline couldn't be caused by one or two kids, which points to a very different story. Similarly, I don't think we know if it is about race until we've examined data by class. What if we found out that within students of a given socioeconomic group, there were NO race differences at all? That would point to a different issue and different solutions, right? I think we need to start by understanding what the problem IS, before we can possibly understand what causes it.

Rick said...

Anon 4:47:

”I say that if you misbehave, you should be disciplined. Period.”
Yes, there is nobody saying otherwise. What I hear is not that students of color get disciplined when they should be, but rather that white kids do not get punished (for the same infraction) when they should be. But those are anecdotal; there is no data on that.

“The school should have a clear-cut list of infractions and their corresponding punishments.”
It does. It has a very good code of conduct. http://www.arps.org/hs/Policies/CodeOfConduct.php

” Amherst is going to an extreme on the end of social justice…”
There are a few people who go overboard on white privilege. Try not to let that affect how you see this whole issue.

Abbie said...

Catherine,

Yes, Jane Mellor, a closer look at the signature and the i and e could be e and o. I hope more kids get her as a substitute! Too bad she retired.

Rick said...

Catherine:

"...it wasn't clear to me at all that the higher acts of discipline couldn't be caused by one or two kids, which points to a very different story."
In the RaDAR Group we’ve been looking at this data for years and that doesn’t account for it.

"What if we found out that within students of a given socioeconomic group, there were NO race differences at all?"
That’s a good point. Income has never been looked at. I suppose all we know about that is if they are FRL or not, so we only have two income groups to look at: FRL and not-FRL. Still, that could be looked at.

The presentation of the data last night was not well done. It should have shown more than one year and graphs would have worked better, like this:
http://www.radarvoice.org/data

Anonymous said...

When my child started HS a few years back I went to one parent center meeting. By the end of it I felt like I should be apologizing for being white. It is my understanding that it is different now but I will never go back.

Anonymous said...

My son had Jane Mellor when he was at FR. If I remember correctly, she taught the third grade. She was one of the best teachers he had in his entire school career in Amherst. She is an awesome teacher.

MaryAnn Grim

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all of your comments. I am a new resident of Amherst and my child is in kindergarten. I find the information about the highschool to be enlightening and frightening. I wish I had this information about the race/class issues in the school system before buying a home here. I want my child to be proud of his heritage, not apologetic. The former principal at Fort River should have been fired immediately for his actions. I am seriously considering homeschooling.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't expect Nick Grabbe to be able to assess the report, describe problems and what can reasonably be concluded and what cannot, as CS did above, but I would expect him to identify good resources who can and call them.

Rick said...

Anon 7:32 and Anon 12:11:

Someone can correct me if I am wrong, but really it seems to me that all the “bad stuff’ talked about above is in the past and that it is really nothing like that now. For example, I have been very involved in the ARHS Parent Center since the spring of 2005, and was chair for the 2006/2007 year. While I was there, never was there anything like what Anon 7:32 describes. It could well have been like that before then, but it hasn’t been since the spring of 2005 - that I know for a fact.

Anon 7:32 you should go back; the ARHS Parent Center is fantastic. For example, they raised $20,000 to keep the after school clubs open:

http://www.arhsparentcenter.org/news/woohoo-we-did-it-arhs-clubs-saved

In so many areas things are getting better. Catherine is right to say that in many areas we are not there yet and I agree. But I wish we could all try harder to help move in this better direction instead of continuing to bring up the past.

Anonymous said...

November 19 -- Today's Amherst bulletin expands this article to mention that Superintendent Rodriguez wants the schools to be sure the Pledge of Allegiance is recited every morning. The School Committee apparently goes along. Why? I think the schools have actually arrived at a very good solution by quietly neglecting the Pledge. Enough people have reservations about it that there would surely be protests if the schools insisted on it. But the kind of principled protest that Catherine suggests, while admirable, would only lead to yet another fight that nobody will win. This is really not worth anybody's time. And personally, I think that for his six-figure salary, Superintendent Rodriguez should be thinking about much more important things.

Anonymous said...

"With liberty and justice for all."

I really do not want my child reciting a pledge with these words in it because I do not believe the United States affords equal amounts of liberty and justice to everyone. Yes, there is more liberty here than in other countries...I freely agree with that. But there are many folks who have less liberty and justice than others.

To me requiring kids to recite the pledge is nothing less than indoctrination. IMHO, someone should work to overturn the statute that requires its recitation.

Abbie said...

I don't feel strongly about the pledge but if it is going to be required, if I were in charge, I would do it once a week, followed by a five minute open discussion (all grades) about what it means. My personal problem is the "god" part, since I am deeply atheist. I do think the ideals in the pledge itself are worthy.

Me and my daughter are watching old Star Trek episodes (free online- ABC) and I admit the one with the devolved civilisation with the old tattered USA flag and the mangled pledge did send a shiver up my spine (maybe bc Kirk recited it?). I used it as a "teachable" moment to talk about the pledge with my daughter.

If all we do is force kids to mumble the pledge every morning without thought, I think its a pretty useless excercise. I wouldn't fight hard for it, if that would be how its implemented.

To anon at 8:46: Don't you think "With liberty and justice for all" is a worthy goal? Please tell me a country that has a perfect government and society that offers that?

Rick said...

Superintended Rodriguez did not bring up this topic at the meeting, Catherine did. He was just responding to her query and as he did so, he looked to me to be reluctant to be doing so. Catherine had to kind of nudge him to get him to say that we need to follow the law and do the pledge. I think its fine for Catherine to have brought this up and to “nudge” – I am just saying this was not something Rodriguez was trying to push at the meeting.

As one SC member pointed out (I forget who) there is a financial penalty in the law for not doing so. Here is the law:

http://www.mass.gov/legis/laws/mgl/71-69.htm

“Each teacher at the commencement of the first class of each day in all grades in all public schools shall lead the class in a group recitation of the “Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag”.

I don’t know if "group recitation” could be interpreted to mean that students have to say the pledge, but I would certainly not push that aspect, and simply make it optional.

I suppose this could be one of those laws that nobody follows and nobody enforces. It could be checked out I guess how many other schools in MA follow this law. But otherwise I am in favor of following the law.

Also my two cents is that the pledge is not about what America is, it’s about what America should be (except delete the under God part if you like).

Joel said...

On the Pledge, Michael Lind has a terrific piece in Salon on what's wrong with it:
http://salon.com/news/opinion/feature/2009/11/16/pledge_of_allegiance

While I agree with Lind, I do not support the idea that our schools or individual teachers can pick and choose which laws to follow.

What if one of our schools had an evangelical Christian principal who hired a couple of like minded teachers and they started reading Bible verses every morning? Sure that would be illegal and off-putting to many parents, but we don't exactly have a history of following the law and any child who didn't want to participate wouldn't have to.

The point is that we have laws and regulations and we should try to follow them. Once kids get to MS and HS then their Social Studies teachers can lead discussions about the problems associated with pledges, etc. Students could write papers and do presentations on the history of the Pledge, laws about it, and opposition to those laws. That strikes me as educational and valuable.

Let's follow the law and debate its deeper meaning in teachable moments. That's education. Breaking the law is nothing more than breaking the law.

Anonymous said...

I think there are some truth/isses to all sides. The subject of racism is very sensitive one and it is very difficult to have a meaningful conversation and resolve problems at high school when Kathleen Anderson makes loaded statements and generalizations. She is not helping students of color by saying this. If there are real issues that is causing this suspension rate, it won't be addressed as it is blanketed under the umbrella of racism and it is every one else mistake.

"White" students/teachers/administrators have to walk on egg shells when this topic comes up. They have to keep the number of students of color who are already suspended under control to make sure the number doesn't exceed a certain rate. Things/comments are always viewed under microscope.

From the perspective of social justice/students of color, the things that need to be looked at for this higher level of suspensions,
1. Is there a profiling/prejudice when looking for issues at the ARHS?
2. Are things handled with cultural sensitivity and understanding. For kids who are dealing with many issues at home front, their tolerance is less than kids coming from safe and no worry homes.
3.Is there a subtle bias when issues come up?


Unless students, administrators, teachers and SC are willing to hear both sides and help understand the real issues and find a way to resolve them this is going be a "untouchable topic" for many.

Let's analyze this data based on income levels, race, academic level and try to resolve the core issue than just saying the school is alienating students of color.

There are lot of ignorance from both sides and what we need now is understanding, learning and solutions to fix the real issues. Not name calling or throwing words around that make everyone guarded.

Rick said...

"Let's follow the law and debate its deeper meaning in teachable moments."

Perfect.

Anonymous said...

My God, we are going further and further backward. I thought the Dick Cheney days were over. Mandatory pledge? Supported in enlightened Amherst? Unbelievable!
And for A-Rod to enforce this? Does he think he's back in Florida?

Rick said...

"There are lot of ignorance from both sides and what we need now is understanding, learning and solutions to fix the real issues."

Also perfect.

Anonymous said...

The problem I have with reciting the pledge, especially in the lower elementary years, is that you cannot have a meaningful discussion with a 5 yo or 6 yo or perhaps even 7 and 8 about the words that you are forcing them to say every morning. Can a 5 yo understand concepts like pledge, allegiance, liberty, justice, a nation under god? How do you have a heady discussion with them about the words and their meaning and whether there are many who do not get equal treatment in the United States. Yes, you can make the pledge optional so that those who do not agree can opt out. But the elementary aged kids cannot knowingly opt out. To have them rotely say the pledge every day is indeed nothing but indoctrination.

I understand its illegal not to say the pledge and I guess now we have to do it. But I am not happy about it. I like the idea of doing it perhaps no more often then once a week. Or perhaps once every 2 weeks. I think I remember reading that is when the fines kick in - if 2 weeks have passed and it has not been recited at least once during that time. So, twice a month we indoctrinate our kids. That is not too bad.

Joel said...

Again on the Pledge, I think this also gets to the ego, really the hubris, of many in this town.

We know exactly how to indoctrinate, oh I mean teach, our children.

I grew up reciting the Pledge every day. Over the years I developed a pretty thorough critique of American history and society. I did that on my own by reading and writing and debating ideas. All of that really started in HS with some wonderful teachers and great classmates.

Let's trust our kids to develop their own political identities through education. Too often the Amherst schools veer toward a Left version of the Rightwing types of political indoctrination so many of us oppose.

Anonymous said...

"I suppose this could be one of those laws that nobody follows and nobody enforces."

I certainly hope so. Much like our wonderful Blue Laws, which details I won't go into.

Let's all agree to ignore this archaic law and not get bogged down. The Amherst schools present many more problems which need to be addressed.

Joel said...

To continue from my last post, what I really meant to raise is this question: How will our kids ever develop a critique of the status quo in America or learn to support or oppose something like the Pledge of Allegiance if they don't even know what it is?

I think that this relates to the problems with our Social Studies curriculum. Some in town are so eager to present their version of an alternative society or critically left interpretation of society that our kids never learn the standard interpretations. You can't intelligently critique something you don't know.

It's easy to claim that our society is racist, classist, sexist, heterosexist, and on and on. But, if you don't really have any coherent sense of American history those claims are nothing more than cant. You do have to know something well to provide a coherent critique of it.

This even informs how the town altered the 9th grade science curriculum. There was almost no discussion of our kids learning the basics. They had to discuss environmentalism first. Just about everyone in this town sees him/herself as environmentally oriented. We don't need a class on that. We need our kids to know the biology, chemistry, physics, math, history, social studies, and so forth necessary to think through environmental and political issues.

Like a lot of people in Amherst, I feel we've replaced education with our politics. Like a lot people in Amherst, I came to those politics after receiving a fairly traditional education. Why can't we trust our kids to develop their own world views without all the political intervention from adults?

If they end up opposing the Pledge, won't it be better that they come to that on their own? Isn't it time we let our kids grow into their own politics?

Anonymous said...

Why am I still surprised by the complete lack of respect and total insubordination expressed on this blog? Follow the law or step up and pay the $100 per school year fine per teacher. If you don't like the law, work to change it.
Some of the comments and questions are fantastic, but too much of the public banter is exhausting and ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the original post and the comment from Kathleen Anderson, aren't both of the HS deans African American? Aren't they responsible for the decision to suspend? This should point in the direction that there is more to this than race and Catherine's suggestion to look further is spot on.

Anonymous said...

The deans do not have the power to suspend. That is an administrative decision and they are not, technically, part of the administration. But the "profiling" comes in when a teacher REFERS a student to the deans for an infraction. Since the vast majority of ARHS teachers are white, and since anti-racist training is no longer required, many white teachers have not learned how to avoid acting in a biased manner. This is not something they can just figure out on their own. Everyone has their prejudices and, in order to minimize them in a school setting, these prejudices have to be unlearned. White students, particularly middle class white students, are simply not referred to the dean as often as students of color. It doesn't mean that they act out less. It just means that they are referred less. And if the white child has a parent who consistently battles the school over the disciplining of their child, that white student is held to even lower standards and given a wide berth.

Anonymous said...

That's just not true. My middle class white male child has been suspended by the deans, they are the ones that make that call. He has never been given wide berth and has been referred when needed.

Anonymous said...

To 4:56 p.m.: This has to be one of the most offensive things I've read on this blog. Among the several racist premises of your statement is the assumption that white people cannot be anything other than ... racists.
If you are capable, reread what you wrote and imagine a white person had written that about black people.
It is something new even for Amherst when middle class white teenagers become the scapegoat for a far more complex social situation.

Anonymous said...

oops - I meant To 5:26 p.m., the previous poster.

Anonymous said...

I think that 5:26 was not saying that all whites are racist, but that we all have bias and prejudice no matter what color we are. Doesn't really seem that outrageous to me and it is probably true. I think the training they used to have at the high school was for all staff, not just the white ones.

Marcy Sala said...

"Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez said the school needs to create a climate where "all students feel welcomed and this is part of their home. This is nobody's fault and it's all of our fault."

He said that children often lash out with violence or other unacceptable behavior because their learning environment is deficient."

This statement seems to have been ignored in prior commenting. The focus in people's analysis seems to be on whether or not racist reactions are the core cause of the higher rates of discipline (proportionally) for students of color. What Dr. Rodriguez is suggesting in this comment is that the root cause may lie more in feelings of disenfranchisement that exist within certain populations of students. Students of color are one such population. I would argue that there are other categories that are similarly vulnerable: boys; students who struggle academically; students from lower income backgrounds and from families with lower levels of educational achievement; students who don't have athletic or other extra curricular skills/interests to hook them in; students from fractured, as opposed to intact families; etc. When several of these categories intersect for a particular child, the disenfranchisement can be serious. It can be hard for them to find ways to "buy in" to the system when not feeling a compelling sense of connection, success or engagement. So, instead, they act out. This very issue, seems to me, to be at the heart of the "cluster" debate. It is hard for people to give up their close affiliation with others who "speak their language". And I'm talking metaphorically here, not literally. People may want to poo-poo, "dominant culture", insider/outsider, leftist leaning, PC Amherst forms of reasoning, but the truth is, our schools are not equally comfortable and enriching havens for all of our students. And if excellence is truly our goal, we need to do something about that. Which doesn't mean being made to feel guilty for our white, upper middle class, well educated, fill in the blank forms of privilege. It just means being willing to acknowledge that kids come to school with differing forms and amounts of currency, and that, as things stand now, they don't always afford equal success. I agree with Catherine that a more multi-faceted analysis needs to be undertaken related to the discipline numbers presented by Mark Jackson. But I hope that, in the process of questioning the extent to which pure racial bias is at fault here, we don't sweep the entire issue under the rug. Equity issues exist. And, if I may take license with Dr. Rodriguez's comment, though they may be "nobody's fault", if we are going to address them seriously, they need to be "all of our" responsibility.

Anonymous said...

Brava, Marcy! Beautifully and bravely put!

Just the facts m'am.... said...

We can all come up with reasons for the differences in the percentages on discipline -- and we probably will come up with reasons that reflect our points of view. (For example, no one challenges the higher percentages of discipline for boys because we all know boys behave worse than girls... etc.) There isn't enough information here to take more than a guess at the reasons.

So is anyone looking more closely at this situation? Or should we just blame: 1) all of us, 2) whiteness and middle classness, 3) African American deans that do or do not suspend kids, 4) Mark Jackson since he is the head of ARPS for 5 years, 5) broken families, 6) working class families, 7) poor families, 8) failure to recite the Pledge, 9) 400 year legacy of slavery....etc.

Rick said...

Marcy: fantastic - absolutely right on! My new favorite post on this blog.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 5:28/5:29 from Anon 5:26
I dont get it, and I'm not being sarcastic. What is racist about me saying that the deans have the power to suspend? What is rasict about me saying my child has been suspended by them? What is racist about me saying I think he was treated properly and punished for his actions?

Anonymous said...

MARCY SALA FOR SCHOOL COMMITTEE

lise said...

This sounds to me like just another type of gap. It goes right along with the gap in MCAS scores, academic achievement, and drop-out rates. I doubt that this is simply a case of institutional or personal racism. More likely it is just another example of how Amherst schools underserve certain critical subgroups (particularly children of color and SPED kids). Despite the good intentions, the programs we have in place to serve these groups are clearly not working. It is the reason we need to be open to new, data-supported ideas such as redistricting on income and reworking the SPED program based on audit results.

Anonymous said...

The Schools can only do so much. Some of the heavy lifting has to be done AT HOME.

I don't know how one influences a home culture, but it is probably what orients a child the most, by far.

Anonymous said...

I think it's time to call in the teaching tolerance staff from the southern law poverty center.... I think it's time for all these hard headed comments directed at "white privilege" and made somehow to leave "white" people feeling "bad", about what exactly I don't know, to stop...how silly after all....and where are they getting us anyway?? The first time I heard this--at a workshop for educators given by the Amherst district--I thought the presenter was joking--honestly--What on earth is she talking about--privilege?? What?? But I'm poor...isn't privilege meant for wealthy people. At any rate--this is just another way of people staying oppressed, by fighting among themselves....Like I suggested in the beginning of the post it's time to call in the troops--Teaching Tolerance. It's never too late to unlearn what lots of teachers, knowingly or not, practice and that is indeed an inner bias...

Rick said...

"workshop for educators given by the Amherst district"

Anon 9:22 Do you recall where and when the above was? I'd like to find out more about what may have badly done training-wise in the past.

Anonymous said...

Because equity was brought up, I point out the following:

100% male principals in the Amherst elementary schools
100% male principals in the Amherst-Pelham Regional schools

Male 'leadership' lecturing a primarily female staff at the elementary level on curriculum day.
Wow.
That seems okay with folks, right? (as blogmaster would say)

Anonymous said...

Hey Rick--9:22 here...The workshop entitled Sensitivity to Multicultural Teaching..or something along that line,...I can look up my papers for the exact title if you like, took place during the school year a couple years back. It was led by Ms. Labronoski (sp) excuse me if misspelled... I was sooo intimidated by this facilitator during this workshop for speaking my mind on another issue that I almost dropped out completely, but felt I had much to learn as the student population I worked with was so diverse...
But for the first time hearing ever about "white privilege" I was stunned and left feeling bad...and responsible for all the oppression suffered by people of color...I didn't understand her goal in conveying this point so strongly....only that there must be something I can do....Anyway--I am a social activist and organizer. I also have protested on the steps of the State House for women in poverty and I see poverty as the big issue in education, and race and class...each one deeply interwined.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:31....let's look at the pay scale while we're at it....let's look at the huge difference in male vs. female pay rates...It oughta be illegel....This oughta be the illegality that the SC looks at....Instead of breaking up and tearing apart years and years of developed educationally sound communities...
Who is responsible for this disparity? Who hires the principals after all? Other male staff?

Anonymous said...

In a word, Bingo! Of course there are teams that are assembled, but the superintendent has final say, and to date, other than the exemplary interim of last year, that has been a string of males.

Anonymous said...

Wildwood 2005!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I have worked in the Amherst schools and feel that the comments here depict a world I don't recognize. This world being described -- where white children have no importance, children of color are disciplined more firmly than others (or the exact opposite), and special ed kids are half the behavior problems -- just don't recognize it at all.

I do, however, agree that the curriculum needs help (esp elementary math -- whoever developed Investigations should be drawn and quarterd, if there's anyone left who knows what a "quarter" is after learning math from Investigations).

And I do feel that some of the younger teachers are not being mentored the way they need to be, with the result that they do not have enough tools in their kit to meet every child's needs.

And I too have sat in classrooms listening to PC harangues that were boring, over the kids' heads, upsetting, and (worst of all) squandered learning time.

I have also experienced some of the best teaching & learning I've ever seen from the district's veteran teachers and some of the newer ones, too.

As for SPED kids -- well, some have behavior issues, many don't. And there are many kids who have no learning disabilities and no IEPs but do have emotional problems and act out frequently.

Some of the worst I have seen are the "jocks" from upscale neighborhoods (wearing Amherst soccer jackets which they refuse to take off). Sure, preteen kids sass teachers from time to time, but the level of entitlement and rudeness is breathtaking.

I'll work with a traumatized kid with special needs from a broken family situation any day over one of those brats.

Anonymous said...

With that attitude maybe you shouldn't be working with ANY kids.

Anonymous said...

to 12:33 p.m. - Agreed. Yikes.

Anonymous said...

i agree. That person shouldn't be teaching in the schools. Can you say "Biased"????

Anonymous said...

to ANon 10:47 Am- Those who speak the truth are often vilified. My kids would come home from FR telling me stories about the behavior of many of their classmates. I was horrified at the rudeness and total lack of respect for teachers that many of these white middle class, overly entitled kids showed to the adults at the school. But I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised given the total lack of respect and entitlement that man of their parents shpwed the adults at the school. FYI- I too am white and middle class.

Anonymous said...

and obviously a very bad typist too!

Anonymous said...

To 5:53
I completely agree with you. Having spent some time in the schools in the last few years, I am appalled at the level of disrespect from the students who I thought would know better. I have read numerous stereotypes about kids of color from South Amherst on this blog, but as soon as that kind of analysis is applied to our white middle class students, all heck breaks loose. Patterns of behavior exist and are reinforced by what students hear and experience at home, no matter what the color.

Anonymous said...

Please consider setting a constructive tone in your posts. The current tone plays out on the screen as a screaming match. Also, unless and until it is not allowed to post anonymously, please do not criticize or make assumptions about those who do so.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

To Annonymous November 24, 2009 10:31 PM:

Get a thicker skin.

Anonymous said...

I am glad these issues are being discussed. There is racism. There is “classism”. There is stereotyping and biased interactions even for white kids. I was a single mother for many years and have had two daughters in the Amherst school system from K-12. The intensity of exclusion and bias increased as they approached graduation. Our skin color is white. We have been on welfare living in subsidized housing, been middle class renting and now a two parent family both professionals with higher income and own a home. Along the way all kinds of assumptions have been made and some people have acted on those assumptions. This has been painful and not in the best interest of my children. When ever we make assumptions and act on bias and stereotyping we do harm. We should all seek to understand more and judge less. When we make assumptions we lose and our children lose. My children appear to benefit from "white privilege" and I understand they do however that is not the whole picture. They have also been victims of early childhood abuse, poverty, single parenting by a mother in distress, and biased discrimination especially in the middle and high schools. This is not to say that they should get a free pass but to point out that what is on the surface is never the whole story. Fortunately, they have also been the lucky recipients of good will in Amherst from skilled, sensitive, aware teachers and community members. The schools especially the middle school and the high school are in need of some very serious over haul in terms of culture. The pressure to be "in" and the pressure to succeed in a particular way is damaging to a large group of children from all groups whether we divide them by race, economic status, disability, learning style, parental connections, talents etc. We harm our children and we squander the beautiful talent that resides in each student unless we can learn to see and understand more deeply. Less judgment and more flexibility and understanding will enhance all of our lives. Our whole society is in turmoil and its easy in times of stress to press down on children; I hope that kindness will prevail. Kindness has a much better chance if it starts with the adults in and around the school.

Anonymous said...

Hit a nerve, did I?

If the shoe fits, wear it! Or should I say, if the soccer windbreaker fits, wear it.

But please, don't conflate my private thoughts here with how I behave toward kids. I'm very calm and good-humored when they get up in my face, and (I hope) they get the message that you catch more flies with honey.

But that doesn't mean I can't have preferences about what sort of kid most deserves my time and interest.