On Wednesday afternoon the Washington State Senate passed a bill, sponsored by Sen. Mona Das, that ultimately requires teachers and school board directors to spend one of their three mandated Professional Learning Days training up on "equity, diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism."
If you're like me, you might think that 2021 seems like a little late in the history of the state to get that sort of language into teacher-training laws, but once you remember that people such as Republican State Senators Jim McCune and Keith Wagoner exist, these sorts of mysteries clear up pretty quickly.
During debate on the semi-virtual Senate floor, Sen. Wagoner, who once described adversity as "a gift" for struggling students, led off his amendment proposal with the following sentence: "When we try to focus on groups in equity, we inevitably leave somebody out...."
You can go ahead and guess who he thinks we're leaving out. That's right, Wagoner said he thinks equity training leaves out "the rural and unserved." And when he reached for a single example of a "rural and unserved" person, who do you think came to mind? If you answered, "his very own white self," then you should consider a career in psi ops.
Wagoner said during high school he lived in a two-room cabin without plumbing or electricity, which he said presented some "social challenges" at the time. And that sucks! Assuming his point is genuine for a moment, students should not face "social challenges" simply because educators might not understand the particular struggles experienced by families who live in cabins off the grid, even if those students have also said in the past that "adversity" is actually a gift.
But anti-racist training certainly includes rural and unserved people of color, who face the additional "social challenge" of living in a state with a disproportionally high number of white teachers. Wagoner later argued that the bill's attempt to dismantle institutional racism might present ideas that "communities may not be ready for yet," which makes me suspect his "rural and unserved" rainbow isn't as colorful as it should be.
While Wagoner buried his reverse racism charge under a very thin layer of soil, newly elected Sen. McCune, a Republican who represents southern Pierce County, was a little more straightforward in an unhinged and yet also sort of sleepy rant.
McCune first said "racism shouldn't be tolerated in any circumstances" but then accused the equity training legislation of "going beyond that." Considering the context of the rest of his statement, I take that strange sentence to mean he thinks the bill isn't just racist against white people, as if that were possible, but also very bad in other ways.
McCune then expressed a yearning for the "time in our history when public schools and common schools were truly controlled by local control," back before "many years of humanistic teaching in our schools" led to "total control by state government."
I don't need any "rural and unserved" training to hear the segregationist overtones in McCune's nostalgia for a time before the late 1960s, when humanist pedagogies started becoming more popular. Of course, the fact that Washington's schools still remain segregated decades after Brown v. Board of Education ruled segregation unconstitutional is part of the reason why these sorts of equity training bills are necessary if totally insufficient to solve the problem.
Anyhow, McCune then slid ass-first down a slippery slope, arguing that the legislation would threaten "our liberties and God-given rights" and "destroy our religious freedom" and of course "turn children against their parents and against churches all across the state" while promoting a "negative, flawed history of our Constitution and our nation" that will "kill liberty as we know it today" partly due to the fact that equity training rests on the notion that there is "no truth in morality, or right or wrong." McCune added that he doesn't just think the bill is unconstitutional but also dangerous enough to "make a Republican form of government unstable," which is of course why he urged a "no" vote on the bill.
After McCune stopped puking up on his bib, a somewhat flustered Democratic Sen. Steve Hobbs spoke up about his personal experience with racist bullying as a kid, and about the need for the state and federal government to step in when local governments perpetuate institutional racism.
Senate Bill 5044 is personal for Sen. Steve Hobbs. Here's part of his powerful speech on a bill that would give our K-12 educators the tools they need to ensure ALL our students feel safe, cared for, understood, and heard. #waleg pic.twitter.com/34yegiLc3R
— WA Senate Democrats (@WASenDemocrats) January 28, 2021
"I know what racism is like. I've seen it. I witnessed it when 'Jap' was spray-painted on the road outside my home. I felt it as I felt the kicks and punches from other students coming off the bus. The bus driver did nothing. I felt ignored because teachers didn't realize the situation that was going on with me and others," he said.
"I wonder what would have happened to me had this bill been passed in the early '70s," he continued. "Maybe I wouldn't have had to suffer like that. Maybe I wouldn't have been beaten down so many times. Maybe I wouldn't have had a crowd of kids outside my house yelling, 'Jap, go home!' Maybe they wouldn't have surrounded my mom's car and harassed her while I was in it."
Seems worth a shot.