Nat Godley, comments to Greendale Board of Education on behalf of P.A.G.E.
December 7, 2020
P.A.G.E. understands that Greendale Schools will propose a Black History/ Ethnic Studies class, to be taught at Greendale High School, at this evening’s meeting. While we are pleased to see better representation introduced to the curriculum, the lack of further information on the planning process and context raises concerns that this proposal has not been comprehensively thought out, is not sufficiently supported with systemic reform of the core curriculum, and that as it currently stands, it may actually undermine the goal of broader representation in our schools’ curriculum.
Firstly, we understand that this class is planned as an elective. Our concern here is that this may lead to the “draining” of content representing America’s diverse history from core classes into this class, and that students who decide not to take this elective – many of whom may be among those who need that content most urgently – will not be exposed to these central aspects of our nation’s history. Any proposal for a specialized elective class needs, therefore, to be accompanied by detailed and transparent plans to ensure the continuation and increase of diverse representation in all core US History classes that all students are required to take.
Secondly, we believe this is an opportunity for a concerted effort to help address the diversity gap between students and faculty and hire at least one faculty member of color in the Social Studies area. Greendale certainly already has some excellent white social studies faculty teaching this content well in US history classes, both at the high school and the middle school. But a faculty member of color would add greatly to the design of such a class, as well as strengthening of diverse curriculum in required Social Studies classes, by bringing the lived experience that those of us who do not suffer the oppression of white supremacy do not have. This would also help meet the District’s goal of improving representation for students of color.
Of course, given Greendale’s demographics, it may be difficult to attract a qualified teacher of color to a position. Any candidate would have to know that they would be supported, especially in a position that, as recent events in Burlington schools suggest, would likely draw vicious and unjustified attacks. Unfortunately, having heard that Greendale teachers have been told not to hang Black Lives Matter signs in their classrooms, an opinion deemed “political” despite being a simple statement of their students’ humanity, P.A.G.E. is deeply concerned that such transformational education, especially if delivered by an educator who is already marginalized in the wider society, will not be institutionally supported by the administration and the Board.
P.A.G.E.’s primary concern is that a rushed proposal for a single, elective course may create an ineffective and superficial solution to a deep, systemic problem of lack of representation, and thus may fail to achieve the objective of increasing representation for all students. Remedying the lack of accurate representation in Greendale Schools’ curriculum needs to be carefully and holistically planned. The district must:
- carefully assess student interest to gauge successful enrollment;
- take steps to ensure and increase that enrollment;
- plan effective and persuasive responses to the inevitable negative reactions from certain elements of the local community, including some Greendale students and their families;
- ensure that any new electives are only complementary additions to fundamental transformations in core curriculum as well as in the broader culture of the schools, including in staffing;
- guarantee protections and support for faculty and students, especially those of color, who embrace and advocate for these changes;
craft the curriculum so as to ensure that it does not lead to apathy, appropriation, or siloing the topic;
- and lastly, this effort needs to be measured with clear metrics of success, both quantitative (enrollment, percentage of content that reflects America’s diversity in core classes, etc.) as well as qualitative (climate surveys of faculty and students of color as well as surveys that gauge white students’ understanding of how this new curriculum affects their understanding of American society).
Until the Board and the public get clear and detailed information on these criteria, P.A.G.E. has grave concerns that this may end up a tokenistic proposal that weakens, rather than strengthens, representation, diversity, and racial justice teaching in our schools.