Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Racism At A Nearby School

The following, from the major Sacramento newspaper, occurred at a school not too distant from mine:
The U.S. Department of Education is investigating allegations of racism in Mira Loma High School’s prestigious International Baccalaureate program after the National Center for Youth Law filed a civil rights complaint saying school officials did nothing when African American students were harassed and belittled because of their race.

The complaint also charges that African American students at Mira Loma are suspended at unusually high rates, and that the school has denied African American students access to educational opportunities.

The complaint was filed on behalf of Makayla Madkins and De’Ajhane Caldwell, two cousins who both attended the elite IB program at the campus in the 2016-17 school year. The two girls were among a handful of black students in the program, which was dominated by white and Asian students. They say they were continually harassed by a classmate they identified as Persian, and who is identified simply as V.B. in the complaint.

San Juan Unified School District acknowledged Tuesday that it had received a letter from the federal Office of Civil Rights requesting information. “Any concerns that have been raised to us directly we have investigated, and we will continue to work until we reach a full resolution,” said district spokesman Trent Allen.
Let's pause here for a moment, and look at the 2nd paragraph.  I don't doubt for a minute that black students are suspended at rates higher than other students, as that happens all over the country.  That's not automatic evidence of racism, so what causes it?  Well, you either have to believe that teachers everywhere are racist, or perhaps you consider what I wrote in this recent post.

Skipping past that overarching racism argument, what happened to the girls?
The complaint, filed in December, says the boy targeted Caldwell during her first-period Spanish class, calling her the N-word and making other racist and offensive comments as often as twice a week.

Often, when Caldwell raised her hand in class to speak, the boy would say that black people are dumb, referring to her with the N-word, the complaint charges. He also used sexually derogatory language, said Makayla Madkins’s sister Chardonnay Madkins, a 2010 graduate of the IB program.

“It made me kind of feel bad, but it also made me angry,” Caldwell said Tuesday. “He would say it a lot.”

The complaint says the Spanish teacher heard the boy’s comments on several occasions, but intervened only once. The teacher sent him to the office after he referred to Caldwell as “a N-word” while he was arguing with another student. Caldwell said the teacher never spoke to her about the incident even after sending V.B. out of the room. 
I can see not sending a student to the office if they just get sent back to class, so I won't fault the Spanish teacher.  It's hard to fault the school administrators, though, as for years we've been under pressure from the state and the feds to stop enforcing discipline.  No, of course no one uses those exact words, they couch it in terms of "reducing suspensions" or "not penalizing a student's education because of his/her behavior".  The result is the same, and it's been the same across the country. and that's bedlamSeriously.  (Clearly, Joanne Jacobs has been on the case for awhile.)  Our administrators, school and district, are in sort of a Catch-22.

But let's get back to the story:
At the same time Caldwell, 16, was being targeted by V.B. in class, the complaint says he also used racial slurs against her cousin Madkins online – though the girls at first did not realize they were being targeted by the same boy.

Madkins, 17, objected to the use of derogatory language against mentally impaired people that V.B.’s sister, also a Mira Loma student, had posted on Instagram, the complaint says. In response, Madkins said in an interview, V.B. called her the N-word in a social media post.
See, I have issues with this.  I know many disagree, but I don't think the school has any business worrying about what kids do on social media.  And outside of educating kids about the social appropriateness, or lack thereof, of racial epithets, I don't think the school should punish a student for using on on that student's own social media account.  That's not the school's business.  Clearly, I think cyberbullying is blown all out of proportion, too, and again, I know many disagree with that.  Should I be fired for expressing that thought here, on my own blog?

Anyway, the article is much longer, and if some of the allegations in it are true (e.g., school administrators continually held off meeting with the parents), I can see some trouble brewing.  The students also allege that IB students at the school are treated very differently than the non-IB students are, and I absolutely believe that, although I'm not convinced that thinking higher-performing students are easier to teach than lower-performing students is any kind of crime.

Bottom line?  In my opinion, there's a lot less there than the article wants us to believe.  We really have only one side of the story--the black students'--and we have a lot of muck thrown on the wall as legal complaints to see what sticks.  There seem to be some issues that merit attention, but not at the level of the US Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.

On the other hand, even mere allegations of racial impropriety can be the kiss of death in today's society, so I expect there will be many mountains made from these anthills.


Ellen K said...

We had a similar lecture/faculty meeting/virtue signalling moment last week. It seems that at a party, prominent students of various colors were seen drinking, heard making obscene racial comments and heard making vicious comments about women. Our principal wants us to have "meaningful discussions with our classes about race in America." In the day of the online phone video, do you know of any white teacher in their right minds who are willing to touch this issue? It's a firing waiting to happen. We cannot police what students do at home, at work or on social media. Please let us just teach.

Anonymous said...

I graduated from Mira Loma in 2017. While I strongly disagree with the allegations of racism (against the adults, that is), Mira Loma does have some real problems that need to be addressed.

The administration, faculty, and the vast majority of the student body aren't racist. I'm originally from Mexico, and NEVER felt mistreated due to my race, nor did I ever see any minority student treated poorly due to their race. In fact, "minority" students are actually in the majority in the IB program, since half of the students are Asian. Add in blacks and latinos, and whites are in the minority. In a part of the article that you didn't quote, the reporter mentioned that very few (2%, I think) of students in the IB program are black - implying that this was the result of systematic racism. Since admittance is based purely on standardized test scores and if you live within district boundaries, this allegation is categorically false. As for the suspension rate - while I'm not positive, I wonder if blacks are suspended at much higher rates than Asians since the majority of Asians at Mira Loma are in the IB program, while the majority of blacks are not. Non-IB students are suspended at much higher rates than IB students. Again, teachers at Mira Loma are definitely not targeting students based on their race. I always found Mira Loma to be amazingly tolerant - of races, cultures, religions, political viewpoints, and quirkiness.

However, Mira Loma is certainly not without its problems. The school as a whole really does look down on students who are not in the IB program. While I understand that the average student in the IB program is better behaved and more motivated than the average non-IB student, that is not an excuse for teachers to openly and repeatedly complain about having to teach non-IB classes, and about the students themselves (one of my teachers would actually name names). Look, it's fine to complain to your spouse or your friends, but it's totally unprofessional to complain to your students. Teachers and administration would often write off non-IB students as worthless thugs the minute they found out they were not in IB, as would other students. Not all students and faculty, of course, but enough to create a really hostile culture.

The other issue with Mira Loma is that it treats high schoolers, especially those in IB, as adults who are not in need of any adult supervision. Rules are not enforced and often not even made in the first place, a dress code is nonexistent, and many (not all) teachers treat students as though they are buddies. To put it bluntly, the inmates run the asylum. One product of this culture is that bullying is often ignored. Some teachers and administrators do take bullying seriously, but just as many totally ignore the problem. If they witness bullying they will ignore it, and if bullying is brought to their attention, they will deny it or tell the victims to toughen up. And by "bullying" I really do mean bullying - not spats between friends or false accusations.

I agree that the article is overblowing the issue and that the school certainly is not racist. But no student should be told they are the problem after repeatedly being called racist slurs.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately I opened Wednesdays paper on Thursday morning to read at breakfast and this did not start my day well. "Feds", caught my eye. I do like what you wrote about it. It drives me crazy when they just pick out stats and say racism based on that. Especially when schools are bending over backwards trying not to discipline certain groups of students thus they are most likely underrepresented compared to their behavior. I did find it interesting that the paper choose to basically identify this youth when they usually go to extremes "because of their age". How many "Persian" 17 year old boys with a first name that starts with a V do we think Mira Loma has? I wonder if their will be any fallout from that?