Just got word from the school district via a letter from Superintendent José Banda that "the race and gender units of the course are to be reinstated." (Background here if you haven't been following.) In the letter, which I've posted in full below the jump, Banda says, "I cannot stress enough how much I value curriculum on race and social justice" but also that "these are subjects that must be taught in ways that are age appropriate and non-threatening." He says he encouraged the committee reviewing the curriculum to "help come up with a solution that will allow us to keep these important conversations, but will also make sure the curriculum is taught in a way that does not harm any student." They came up with a series of recommendations and the course is now set to continue.
It's easy to see this as a straight win for the teacher, Jon Greenberg, and the students who organized in support of the class—curriculum reinstated! Yay!—but here is the first of the committee recommendations Banda says he is "implementing... as soon as possible":
The race unit curriculum should be age appropriate and taught in a non-threatening manner. The class should not use the “Courageous Conversations” activities, which were intended as training for adults. The District has used this as professional development and it was not intended for use with students.
That "Courageous Conversations" framework, in which students have mediated discussions where they're encouraged to speak openly about personal experiences based on their own racial and ethnic identity, would likely be considered by the teacher and students alike to be a core component of the curriculum, and as Banda says, has been used with educators in the school district. The other recommendations—that parents be notified in advance when "classroom activities could potentially cause a high degree of emotion for students," that the AP standards the class is expected to meet be reviewed and its syllabus resubmitted to the College Board—are less threatening to the curriculum's intent. A last note that the "manner in which the course is taught must not violate" school board policies that prohibit intimidating, harassing, or discriminating against students based on race or gender, seems a little opaque. Was that happening here or not? This letter doesn't really say; it only confirms that this teacher should follow board policies, which we could assume he already thought he was.
I've contacted the teacher and student organizers for comment, and will update as soon as I hear back, but for now, a lot of students on Facebook are just all-caps yelling, "WE WON!"
UPDATE 1:34 p.m.: Just got a call from Zak Meyer, the student organizer who I spoke with at the beginning of this whole thing. He says he's read the district's decision, students have heard about it, and "everyone is glad... We got our class back, that's big." But they're still curious about "the ramifications of what [the district is] suggesting." Banda says the curriculum needs to be resubmitted to the College Board for approval, which Meyer says is confusing, since the social justice unit isn't AP, the literature part of the class is, and so there's no reason to review that. (Humanities classes are interdisciplinary classes that cover both social studies and language arts at the Center School.) Also, he wondered, "What’s gonna happen now? Is this gonna lead to more micromanaging from the district? If this happens to any teacher who teaches social justice—their curriculum is brought under constant scrutiny—what teacher is gonna want to teach this?" But for now, everyone's "excited," he says. The regular curriculum will start on Monday.
Dear students, staff, families and community,
At Seattle Public Schools, we teach more than just our core academic subjects. We expect our students to graduate with a well-rounded education that prepares them for the real world of college, careers and life.
Teaching social justice issues is an important part of academics for our students. These can often be difficult conversations, but they help prepare our students to become global citizens. I cannot stress enough how much I value curriculum on race and social justice. However, these are subjects that must be taught in ways that are age appropriate and non-threatening.
This week we heard about the Center School’s Citizenship and Social Justice: Advanced Placement Language and Compositions and Social Studies course. I want to thank the many students who attended and spoke at Wednesday’s School Board meeting. This unique high school has a strong focus on social justice, and I know those discussions will continue to thrive in the school community.
As background, on Dec. 21, 2012, we received a complaint from a family at Center School alleging that the instructional activities used in this class created an intimidating and discriminating classroom environment. An investigation of this complaint found that the way in which the race unit at the Center School was taught did indeed create an intimidating educational environment for a student. I asked our team to help come up with a solution that will allow us to keep these important conversations, but will also make sure the curriculum is taught in a way that does not harm any student.
In addition, I requested the Teaching and Learning Department to review this particular course, convening an ad hoc committee to examine the curriculum.
The committee made the following recommendations, which I am implementing.
The race and gender units of the course are to be reinstated, with the following actions occurring as soon as possible:
• The race unit curriculum should be age appropriate and taught in a non-threatening manner. The class should not use the “Courageous Conversations” activities, which were intended as training for adults. The District has used this as professional development and it was not intended for use with students.
• When classroom activities could potentially cause a high degree of emotion for students or potential distress, families should be notified ahead of time and communication to families should include an option to complete alternative assignments.
• There are concerns the current course does not meet the criteria of the College Board for Advanced Placement. In order to make sure the course meets AP standards, the course syllabus and objectives must be aligned with the stated course objectives for AP Language and Composition and American Government and Economics. The final syllabus must be resubmitted to the College Board, including all units and textual materials for approval.
• The manner in which the course is taught must not violate School Board Policies 3207 and 3210, which require that we teach units in a manner that treats all students with respect, does not intimidate or harass students, and does not discriminate against students because of their race or gender.
I want to thank the members of the ad hoc committee for their review of the curriculum and situation. And I look forward to ongoing and healthy discussions about social justice, race and gender issues in our classrooms.
Seattle Public Schools