Isn’t “culturally responsive learning” just code for CRT?

Isn’t “culturally responsive learning” just code for CRT? Why are they teaching this in our schools?

No, no, no. It is not, and they are not.

One of the candidates for school board has this on his new website as one of the six short statements on the “issues” (which should be corrected to say “non-issues”; but I may or may not get to the rest on other days).

I have previously disposed of the false allegation that the new history textbooks selected by our teachers are full of CRT.

This false allegation was proffered at two school board meetings (July and August) by a pair of “concerned parents” (whose thirty-year-old CHS-grad son is completely safe from any evil devices our allegedly depraved teachers can now concoct). It was replayed by school board member and incumbent candidate Tim Morris in his embarrassing closing obstructions in the moments before the curriculum was approved by every other member of the school board at the August meeting. And now it is being displayed on John Brandow’s candidate website.

Culturally responsive teaching is not code for CRT. It is what teachers do when they are aware of who their students are and what the world in which they are living is like, and it takes advantage of that awareness to find ways of communicating that will reach and move the students so that they can learn.

This is not a revolutionary concept. It is certainly not leftist. It is an application of a principle that teachers and other speakers have been aware of for thousands of years. We know this because the ancient Greco-Roman orators left treatises (which people who consider themselves champions of “classical education” should know) in which they spoke of the vital importance of ethos and pathos along with logos in any speech.

What these Greek words mean is this: if you have a bit of meaning (logos) that you want to communicate effectively to someone else, before you are going to be able to get anywhere, you have to demonstrate to them that you are a person who has a sympathetic understanding of them and their needs (ethos), and you have to express your point in a way that appeals to them as whole people, including their emotions as well as their rationality (pathos). This is all right there in Aristotle, Cicero, and the rest, and it has been known and practiced by all effective communicators in Western culture right up until yesterday, when it was apparently forgotten by whoever taught the people currently having a cow in our school district over “culturally responsive learning.”

Fortuitously, a friend just called to my attention the perfect illustration of what can happen when high-school instruction in history is not culturally sensitive.

This illustration is NOT taken from something that happened in Caledonia, although as you will see the setting is similar in one important regard.

The (Black) parent introduces the episode thus:

“My kids go to a pretty much all white school.  They got an assignment yesterday asking them to talk to their relatives and document how their families came to ‘immigrate’ to the US.  The teacher asked for details about the ‘push and pull of the decision’ and really made it sound like a light hearted assignment. Female Offspring was INCENSED. She is a beast – and I mean that in the best possible way.  I wish I had a scintilla if her nerve, knowledge and courage when I was her age. This is what she put together to turn in for this assignment . . . ”

And here is the assignment with her daughter’s response:

I hope you have read that slowly and let it sink in.

That, my friends, is what happens when teaching is not culturally sensitive.

Let’s say it one more time: critical racial theory (CRT) is an academic account devised by legal scholars who wanted to understand how our legal system can continue to have effects that disproportionately disadvantage people of color when we have left behind the day in which blatant racism on the part of judges, police officers, jurists and other individuals was to blame. The theory has been developed further by education scholars who want to understand why our education system continues to produce worse effects for students of color than for white students in a day when racism practiced by individual teachers, students, and parents is no longer the main problem. In other words, to make things just a little simpler, CRT is not a teacher telling white students “You are all racists.” It is exactly not that. CRT, if it were being taught in our schools, which it is not, would be teachers saying to white students: “You are not a racist, and I am not a racist, and we have laws against racial discrimination; so let’s try to understand why the students of color in our room, and people of color in our community, may still nevertheless may feel—and rightly so—that a lot of what happens every day in our society is still somehow subtly slanted in your favor and against them.” That is the problem that CRT addresses.

In that light, for defensive white people who are running for school board in a predominantly white community to be trying to get votes by riling up white voters with incessant bleats of “We gotta get the CRT our of our schools!” is—to put it as mildly as possible—unseemly. This is being done by people who have made lame excuses for their unwillingness or inability to sit down with a high-school-level textbook, open it, and read it to see what it says and what it does not say. This is being done by people who, frankly, could not explain to you the difference between an academic theory and the hind parts of a horse if you set both before them and asked for a comparative analysis.

You may think this a harsh way of speaking about neighbors whom many of us know as good-hearted people who serve their communities in many admirable ways. So it is. But I say that when these people stand or sit before us and either implicitly or explicitly denounce our Caledonia school teachers as agents of radical left-wing indoctrination, the rebuke is fully deserved and absolutely necessary, as is this conclusion: people who can’t do any better than this must not be seated on the board that oversees education and educators in our district.

Since I referred above to Tim Morris’s obstructions at the August school board meeting, I will offer a postscript about those obstructions. If you’re interested in seeing what I mean, you should watch the entire video of that meeting. But I will give you some notes here:

The presentation of the textbooks starts at 6:30 in the meeting. You’ll hear Dr. Traughber and the social studies teachers explain their process in some detail.

That takes you to 13:18. Then questions from Tim Morris begin. To me he seemed to be struggling to come up with pertinent questions. One of the answers he received pointed out that the question he asked was already answered in the briefing materials he had received. Another of his questions, though, prompted significant further explanation of the process from the social studies teachers (beginning around 15:00). A comment (around 18:20) from Jason Saidoo, who chairs the board’s curriculum committee, revealed that the committee had in preparation for the board meeting spent significant time reviewing the materials and hearing from the teachers.

Around 19:05, Tim Morris began a new line of questions which to my ears seemed to suggest a conspiracy theory: in fulfilling our order for the books, the textbook company, with the passive help of the administration, might substitute different, unapproved books for the books that the board was being asked to approve. This was a very strange sequence. After a couple of semi-coherent repetitions from Tim Morris, Dr. Martin stepped into explain again, in his gentle way, things that he said had already been adequately explained. But listen yourself, if you want, and see what you think. Both Dr. Martin and Dr. Traughber were very patient with their repeated explanations, but in effect they shot down the conspiracy theory pretty quickly.

Tim Morris then began (at 23:00) to raise other concerns, which seemed to me to be lifted from the report turned in a month earlier by “concerned parents.” As with the parents’ report, nothing in Tim Morris’s objections gave any indication that he had read and understood anything in the textbooks themselves; it was all ad hominem (or more precisely, ad feminam—casting aspersions on a Black woman scholar who began to serve on an advisory board to the textbook company after the book in question was written and suggesting that her mere association with the company renders unclean any and every textbook they may publish). Tim had also either not read, or not understood, my written response, which I made available to him and the other school board members in advance of the meeting. This renewed gambit from Tim Morris evoked another long, patient explanation from Dr. Martin, which, despite the gentleness of his delivery, thoroughly demolished Tim Morris’s objections. (To Dr. Martin’s explanations, in case you listen to that, I would add [1] the board of advisers to which Prof. Ladson-Billings was appointed was a special advisory committee for the publishing company in general, not to the panel of consultants listed in the history textbooks as having vetted their content, and [2] she was not even appointed until 2020, so her opportunity to influence the content of these textbooks, had she wished to do so, was very slight.)

Then at 30:34 Tim Morris began another even less coherent line of objection, which seemed to indicate that he thinks the school board should have the right to vet not only the textbooks but every website to which either the books or a teacher might refer students when giving supplemental assignments. To anyone who has taught even one class anywhere since the birth of the Internet, this suggestion is asinine beyond belief. Again Dr. Martin took Tim Morris’s question seriously and answered it patiently and fully. Tim Morris’s response, with his further objection fully dispensed with (35:12): “I think it’s great that we have a curriculum. . . .” (!) He goes on to acknowledge that teachers must have discretion, but then he repeats, again, the parents’ complaint about the Savvas advisory board. Dr. Traughber then refocuses attention on what is actually supposed to be the job of the teachers and the job of the school board.

Finally, at around 37:00 minutes, 24 minutes after Tim Morris raised his first question, Marcy White stepped in to sum up, reiterating that the school board had heard the teachers describe their process in some detail. She noted that the board pressed the teachers in particular on the question of bias. Then finally, at 38:18, she suggested that the teachers and administrators, not the board members, are the experts in curriculum, and that it is appropriate for board members to trust them. That concludes at 39:25.

Marcy White’s comment was not by any means a dismissal of the school board’s responsibility to assure that appropriate curriculum materials are used. Rather, it was a summary of good process for carrying out that responsibility, and obliquely an indictment of Tim Morris’s alternative approach, which seemed to me (neither Marcy nor anyone else said this) to amount to wasting everyone’s time by throwing up a series of inane objections and questions, perhaps with the intent (I’m guessing!) of securing the approval and gratitude of people like the “concerned parents.” Which is to say, this performance was not about taking care that our students have good textbooks; it was about campaigning for reelection. I simply can’t account for his strange behavior in this meeting in any other way. I.e., what we had from around 13:18 to 39:25 of this meeting: an unhelpful performance by one board member punctuated by patient and reasonable but really unneeded explanations by highly competent educators and concluded by the board president.

During the segment of the meeting designated for board member reports, Tim Morris again started in on the textbooks (1:04:28), complaining about the difficulty of the process (again echoing the “concerned parents”). Jason Saidoo responded that the curriculum committee offered even more than the policy on textbook approvals required, effectively exposing Tim Morris’s objection as a further bit of grandstanding. This ends at 1:06:25.

(In passing you might listen to my three-minute comment to the board, beginning at 1:20:15.)

At 1:24:09, Marcy White put the curriculum to a vote. Jason Saidoo moved to approve. Tim Morris again briefly reiterated his objection, saying (in response, I believe, to me) that he trusts the teachers but not the curriculum that they selected. This ridiculous dodge seemed to have been the last straw for Jason Saidoo, who began an incisive line of questioning to Tim Morris that thoroughly exposed the vapidity and perversity of Tim Morris’s objections. Listen for yourself, though, and see what you think.

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