SEEN Community Update – Ban White Supremacy, Not Books

Dear SEEN Community,

At the Board of Education workshop on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion two weeks ago, “concerns” were raised about second grade texts. Addressed under a cloud of ambiguity – indeed, there were no specifics offered beyond some concerns about second grade texts, and a question about how they were approved – it appeared that the content of concern related to DEI initiatives. That same night, a vocal opponent of DEI initiatives made a Facebook post on a community page decrying the “language” in a book, a book that just happened to have “Black” in the title. That Thursday (10/28), several public comments at the Board of Education meeting at Dorothy Nolan centered around Board oversight of books, ready to cast out entire curriculum and specific books because of two words.

And then, at the most recent Board of Education meeting (11/09), a person claimed during public comment that there was pornography in the high school library and classes, and another critiqued the Board policy and regulation outlining the process to appeal curricular decisions to the Superintendent (1420, 1420-R) – a policy that had been in place since 2019, but had just been published online the day before. At the conclusion of the meeting, a Trustee raised a motion to explore the Board’s oversight of curriculum, expanding it to include individual textbooks and chapters assigned by teachers, following these apparent concerns about materials. 

A new strategy amongst opponents to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives is to decry certain materials as inappropriate, and to specifically use “concerning” language or “indecency” to petition Boards of Education and Superintendents to remove so-called offending materials. This strategy has proven to be effective – and it is very dangerous.

The Saratoga Springs City School District has typically operated with strict separation between the Board (which is responsible for policy and oversight) and the District (which is responsible for operations), firm in the belief that the teachers and administrators are best equipped to make curricular and pedagogical decisions. The proposed shift – or at least re-examination of the traditional approach – is troubling in light of this national trend and set of interventions designed to squash DEI initiatives.

We’re encouraging people to be aware of the way national trends are impacting our District, and to remain focused on student-centered pedagogy. This requires support for students and for teachers alike. Watching meetings, you will hear repeated calls during public comment to “teach reading, writing, and math, not CRT,” and that there is a problem with the percentage of Saratoga Springs City School District’s students reading at grade level (70% in eighth grade). There is a problem with this, and that problem is rectified by making inclusive literature more available, not less. Acknowledging diversity in language, in experiences, and in perspectives allows students to see themselves and their histories reflected in the classroom and is proven to lead to higher literacy rates. This is not about age, maturity, or appropriateness, but instead about access and inclusion.


Calendar

  • Monday, November 22. The SEEN/C.R.E.A.T.E. “American Politics and Community Today” Reading Group will be discussing Ellison’s “What These Children are Like,” his 1963 speech at Bank Street College of Education, in which he basically advocates for culturally-responsive teaching. A great lead-in to our Critical Conversations panel coming up on the 30th (see below), this reading shows there’s nothing new here (he even directly references the 30 percent not performing well in school), except perhaps the will to enact it today. We will gather at Saratoga Arts on Monday from 5-6:15 p.m. and talk through the ways we imagine both public education and public space, and the hierarchies in “high” and “low” art or culture with a project around graffiti.
  • Monday, November 22. The District Equity and Inclusion Committee will hold its next meeting starting at 5:15 p.m. via WebEx for all to watch.
  • Tuesday, November 30. Register now for our community forum on Culturally Responsive Teaching – the “other CRT” – to hear from teachers about how they build classrooms, experiences, and student relationships that are culturally-responsive and affirming. The Zoom program will begin at 7 p.m., and we ask that participants register in advance, share the link, and if able, make a contribution to support the honoraria offered to panelists. Alongside our partners at Skidmore’s Black Studies Program, SUNY Empire State College’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and MLK Saratoga, we remain committed to compensating panelists for sharing their time and expertise. 

Resources

  • The Washington Post covered this phenomenon in a Virginia school, which has been systematically going through libraries to remove “inappropriate” and “sexually-explicit” material, which has primarily resulted in the removal of books that are inclusive of LGBTQ+ experiences. The Post also noted the efforts by Governor Abbott in Texas to explore possibility of prosecuting school librarians for criminal activity for exposing teens to “pornography.”
  • CBS News also addressed the trend, noting that political activists on “the right” have used concerns over “critical race theory,” language, and overt sexuality to ban books to which subject-matter experts have given awards, including Jerry Craft’s New Kid (2019). These are explicit tactics of people waging culture wars through school boards, and prioritizes politics over student learning and well-being. 
  • Substitutes. In an example of how these choices are overtly political rather than about exploring themes or best work in the humanities, one school suggested replacing Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) with Ben Carson’s Gifted Hands (2009). The American Library Association tracks calls for books to be removed from classrooms and library shelves, and one trend is that the same books that are considered acceptable amongst accelerated classes are marked for removal from regular classes. Or as this interview with Professor Emily Knox notes, the books that are called to be removed or banned are often from women and authors of color. Communities challenge books that are challenging, and as Knox states, “the first books to get challenged will be diverse books, because the lives of people who are underrepresented and marginalized are always, by definition, more difficult.”

~ The SEEN Team

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