As a follow up to Monday’s post “Equity Question from a Constituent” there were some additional questions, and I wanted to share my response to them at the bottom of this blog post.
But before we dive in to the Q&A, I would also like to offer the following for your consideration of Mr. Woodson, 1776 Unites, and what it means when a figure of society has included “faith” in their mission of social justice and equity…
Dr. Martin Luther King’s teachings are used throughout our schools, and he was a minister who wrote a book entitled, The Strength to Love. It was a collection of his sermons that focused on racial segregation and also addressed religious values. One can embrace the ideals that Dr. King preached and wrote about without sharing his religious views.
I also believe that the District should be more inclusive with its recommended resources for parents and children. This page contains videos and reading lists to help parents and children understand the importance of diversity and equity.
The list is very one-sided. While the largest minority in our District are Hispanic students, there are many more resources dedicated to African-American children. We need to be inclusive of all students and families. Additionally, three of the six books recommended for adults are by the same author, Ibram X. Kendi. There are many other scholars who have written on this topic, and diversity in perspective is important. For example, Mr. Woodson’s has a book out currently that is a collection of essays from African American scholars that presents a different view of race in America.
I think that it is important to have multiple perspectives on this topic as there is
no one right answer and encouraging diversity of thought will cultivate a community of inclusion.
While I did share my response to your inquiry via social media, as I felt the content of my reply would be of interest to my constituents, all detailed communications are directed to be conducted via my website, email, or over the phone. For that reason, I will be providing my detailed reply first via email.
- You said that your child and others have experienced “lessons that teach children… to feel bad about themselves or their ethnicity.” This is a troubling report that will no doubt raise concern and alarm among parents. I have never seen or heard of lessons that match your characterization. Will you please share details regarding the specific WCASD lessons or reading materials you believe have taught children to feel bad about themselves or their ethnicity?
- As I spoke on this at the 6/28/2021 Board Meeting, we have engaged Dr. Sokolowski in a constructive dialogue on the matter and he is investigating the course I referenced from last summer. I have sent him the details regarding the specific class, coursework, and the teacher for him to conduct further investigation.
- I will also provide reference materials from the district in my next blog post summarizing Monday night’s public board meeting.
- You mentioned a phone conversation with WCASD Director of Equity and Assessment Dawn Mader which you say, “confirmed that we are nowhere close to where we should be given what work has already been done.” You referenced this conversation as a supporting reason behind your recommendation for a full review and assessment of the WCASD equity program. I am interested to learn more about the perspective Ms. Mader expressed in her conversation with you and the context around it. After reading your response, I intended to ask your permission to share our email exchange with Ms. Mader so that I could ask for her perspective. Since you have already shared our correspondence publicly, I presume it is OK for me to do that.
- Ms. Mader’s position on the work left to be done is not privileged or private information. She has spoken many times on this, both publicly in broadcasts and in private conversations with me and many other families. Please feel free to contact Ms. Mader for her input, but there is nothing that I shared that she has not previously communicated to our community.
- You say that you are studying the work of Mr. Robert Woodson and you propose materials from his organization as an alternative to the current WCASD curriculum. I am familiar with Mr. Woodson from media reports on his belief that systemic racism is “a lie” as well as his proposal to completely replace the foster care system with privatized, faith-based organizations. Based on what I know about Mr. Woodson, I must respectfully admit that I am concerned to learn you are considering his materials for a public school curriculum. Specifically:
a. Mr. Woodson’s organization promotes faith-based programs and claims that the most effective organizations are faith-centered “because they are able to transform hearts.” A faith-centric approach is certainly acceptable for private programs, but materials developed by an organization promoting a faith-centric approach would not be acceptable for a public education curriculum.
b. Mr. Woodson has been a panelist at the World Congress of Families (WCF), which has been labeled an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Southern Poverty Law Center. According to the HRC, “WCF has held conferences and events around the world that foster homophobia and transphobia under the guise of protecting the ‘natural family.’” Mr. Woodson’s ties to the WCF are particularly concerning in light of a press release issued by the 1776 Unites group indicating that future lessons in their curriculum will include a discussion of choices around marriage.
c. Mr. Woodson’s curriculum was developed in consultation with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which is a Koch-funded organization. FIRE has sponsored Turning Point USA, whose co-founder and executive director Charlie Kirk was a leader of the #StopTheSteal movement and was a coalition partner of the January 6 “March to Save America” rally which led to the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. A group with these types of political ties is not an appropriate partner for development of a public-school curriculum.
d. In light of these concerns, would you reconsider your recommendation of Mr. Woodson’s curriculum as suitable for WCASD?
- You asked if there is something I would consider or suggest as an alternative to PEG, and yes I still believe 1776 Unites provides an option for a HISTORY curriculum that is more balanced than what we are using today. Is it perfect? Unlikely, as few things in this world are.
- As you broaden your lens of Mr. Woodson to impugn his character and intentions, a practice we now know as “cancel culture”, I think you will have a hard time in life if you seek to look for the worst in every person or institution as a method of discrediting, impugning, or vilifying. If you look hard enough at every person or institution there is something objectionable about each and every one of us and them. And while I can appreciate your desire to draw a parallel from Mr. Woodson and 1776 Unites to PEG, those are not equitable comparisons. The indoctrination of critical race theory by PEG is not subtle or indirect. It is front and center, and not there by accident or by anecdotal ties to outside organizations. And while Mr. Woodson is a man of faith and may promote the inclusion of faith as a part of life & learning, is not mandated or required to apply the philosophy of 1776 Unites.
- Regarding his recommendation to privatize foster care, the concept of privatizing child welfare services is not new. Many large cities have subcontracted out their child welfare services to private agencies, some of which are church-affiliated. There are many reasons for this, but the main reason is that the local government simply has not done a good job in providing high quality services to our most vulnerable children. The City of Philadelphia moved to privatized services almost 10 years ago and Catholic Social Services is one of the subcontractors. Outcomes for children have improved dramatically when the City stopped providing case management and direct services.
- You say that Mr. Woodson’s principles support the WCASD Equity Mission. Mr. Woodson rejects the concept of systemic racism whereas the WCASD Equity Mission acknowledges it. What are your beliefs with regard to systemic racism? Do you believe that systemic racism exists and has an impact on people of color? Why or why not?
- I think that we – you, me, and by extension our fellow Caucasian community members – need to do less talking and more listening with respect to racism, whether it be systemic or not. Our black and brown communities themselves are not in agreement as to what that means and it’s impact on society today, and if we are to limit the definition of “racism” to mean as it applies only to non-whites (which is how you appear to have applied it here) then I decline to make a judgement as it is not my place to define the truth of a race that I cannot claim to be.
- If you wish to have a broader discussion on race, it’s role in society today, and how we are all a part of it then that is a discussion I would not only welcome but would suggest that we include all School Director candidates so that we can lead by example by having a constructive and respectful exchange of ideas & experiences.
- Respectfully, I found your comments on HB1532 confusing. You say that it is being viewed “out of context” as an attack on Critical Race Theory. As a point of fact, the legislative memorandum from the bill’s authors Rep. Russ Diamond and Rep. Barbara Gleim directly states that it “is aimed at curtailing the divisive nature of concepts more commonly known as ‘critical race theory’”. This statement of intent is quite clear. You also say that the bill has bipartisan support, but every one of the bill’s sponsors is Republican: Representatives Diamon, Gleim, Metcalfe, Borowicz, Hamm, Kauffman, Keefer, M. Mackenzie, Rowe, Ryan, Smith, Staats, Zimmerman, Moul, Cox, Lewis, Grove, and Mustello.
- I respect your opinion as you clearly have a passion for this based on your comments at Monday’s meeting.
- Finally, you didn’t explicitly answer my question about whether or not you support HB1532. You did say that you do not object to the spirit of the WCASD equity mission and goals. As I’m sure you know, the WCASD equity mission includes an acknowledgement of systemic racism. The explicit definition of “racist and sexist concepts” in HB1532 could make it illegal for teachers and school districts to acknowledge the existence of unconscious bias and systemic racism, with the penalty being cessation of all state funding for a minimum of one full year and as much as two full years. Given these harsh penalties and the fact that the WCASD equity mission already acknowledges the existence of systemic racism, HB1532 presents a grave moral and fiscal threat to our district and students. Will you please clarify and directly answer whether you support HB1532?
- As one school director alone does not decide for an entire district, I think this is a question that should be posed to all candidates and current board members.
- What I can say is as a corporate employee who has worked closely with HR for almost a decade, and a minority in my own industry, that unconscious bias is not a concept only applicable to race. And you cannot legislate it.
- Unconscious bias is inherently a part of human nature. That is NOT to say it is OK, rather it is to acknowledge that it is human nature to make judgments and sometimes those are conscious and sometimes those are unconscious. What is important is the acknowledgement of those behaviors and the willingness to explore one’s own biases.
Last night’s board meeting was an excellent example of what bias looks like from all sides; the important question is who is willing to acknowledge theirs? And objectively explore what the alternative viewpoint may be?
Especially for those parents who do not currently have any Elementary students and therefore have had a different experience with the curriculum. My biggest take away from Monday night – because that is far more relevant to our local circumstances – is that we have a long way to go in terms of actively listening to what the parents in our community not just think but what their children have experienced.
Thank you for your continued interest in my campaign, and please do not hesitate to reach out with additional questions.