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Seattle Schools’ Thanksgiving Day ‘Myths’

From Fox News:

Seattle Schools’ Thanksgiving ‘Myths’ Stir Controversy

Photo

Thursday, November 22, 2007

By Robert Shaffer

Seattle public schools want a side of political correctness served on your Thanksgiving table.

Washington state’s largest school district sent letters to teachers and other employees suggesting Thanksgiving should be “a time of mourning” for its Native American students.

The memo, from Caprice Hollins, the district’s director of Equity, Race & Learning Support, included an attachment to a paper titled “Deconstructing the Myths of ‘The First Thanksgiving.'”

It includes 11 “myths” disputing everything from what was served at the first Thanksgiving (no mashed potatoes or cranberries) and who provided the food to the nature of the Pilgrims themselves: Myth No. 3 calls the colonists “rigid fundamentalists” who came to the New World “fully intending to take the land away from its native inhabitants.”

But what got the Internet abuzz was Myth No. 11: “Thanksgiving is a happy time.” It was followed by “Fact: For many Indian people, ‘Thanksgiving’ is a time of mourning … a bitter reminder of 500 years of betrayal returned for friendship.”

Hollins would not defend her letter, but David Tucker, a spokesman for the district, said it was an effort to be sensitive to minorities in Seattle schools.

“One of the core elements in education is not just understanding your own life history but also those of others,” he said.

But one Seattle-area tribe says Thanksgiving is not somber on the reservation but a time to see friends and family, as it is for other Americans…

Seattle Public Schools has been in the news before, not always for the performance of its students.

The U.S. Department of Education investigated in April after the district spent part of a federal Smaller Learning Communities grant to send 20 students to the “Eighth Annual White Privilege Conference.”

After complaints last year, the district removed from its Web site a definition of racism that claimed planning ahead and individualism were examples of cultural racism.

Some of this story came out a few days ago, but it seems more appropriate to post about it today.

The memo, from Caprice Hollins, the district’s director of Equity, Race & Learning Support…

Why should even be such a job, and such a department, and such a first name? 

Here is some background from the archives of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Seattle Public Schools’ first race relations chief hopes for ‘real change’

By DEBORAH BACH
Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Caprice Hollins knows about diversity.

She grew up in Seattle’s Rainier Valley and graduated from Franklin High, one of the city’s most culturally diverse schools.

Hollins and her younger sister were born to a white mother and a black father, and have three older siblings who are white. A single parent, Hollins’ mother was a volunteer fireman — she doesn’t like the term “firewoman” — and also worked in canneries and on the Alaska pipeline.

Throw into the mix a gay brother and black grandparents who adopted Hollins’ mother when she was in her late 30s, and the result is a rich stew of ethnicity and culture.

That background, Hollins said, helped shape her career path and equipped her with the perspective needed in her new position as Seattle Public Schools’ first equity and race relations director.

Diversity is my life, and I want to help other people know how to make it work,” said Hollins, 39. “This is part of who I am, so to serve this community in that way completely ties in to the difference I want to make.”

A licensed clinical psychologist, Hollins has spent much of her career so far serving marginalized populations — counseling low-income people with HIV and AIDS, Latina and African American teenage mothers, sex offenders, emotionally disturbed children and mentally ill patients.

She’s taught multicultural issues at local universities, given workshops on cultural and racial diversity, and for four years provided crisis intervention services to families and students at Seattle’s African American Academy, a K-8 school in the city’s South End.

Hollins, who earns $86,000 a year in her new post, was chosen from among six finalists interviewed and recommended by an interview panel composed of employee groups and community organizations, including the NAACP and the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle.

District Superintendent Raj Manhas said Hollins has an “exceptional ability” to work with a range of people, and will be an asset to the district as it strives to narrow the achievement gap between white and Asian children and Hispanics and blacks.

“She will provide that lens and filter which we will look through at everything we do in our system — our policies, our operational systems, our allocation of resources — so that we can really make the system equitable for everyone,” Manhas said.

The position comes with a broad job description that includes developing a districtwide program to train staff, parents and community members on cultural awareness and understanding; devising instructional methods designed to combat institutional racism; and responding to requests for information and support from schools, departments, staff and families.

The job places Hollins within a larger bureaucracy than she’s accustomed to, but the most striking difference to her is being inside the type of organization she’s usually teaching her students about.

Now I’ll be part of a system that some people see as an oppressive system,” she said. “So it’s kind of this dual role — on one hand I’m part of the system and on the other, I have the role of dismantling that institutional racism. So in that way it’s different.”

A major cause of that racism, Hollins said, is the lesson children get early in life to not acknowledge differences — don’t stare, and don’t ask why someone looks or acts different than you.

“There’s no discussion around that, so our children grow up to learn that we don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about anything that is different,” she said.

“So then we don’t know how to talk about it. There are all these words out there, like ‘racist’ or ‘bigot,’ that people are afraid that someone might aim at them: ‘I’m not going to say anything in case someone calls me a racist.'”

Combating the problem, Hollins said, first requires knowing to what extent it exists in Seattle’s public schools.

To that end, she has contacted the district’s educational directors and requested referrals to community leaders and events. She wants to hear from students, teachers and other staff about their experiences around racism and cultural understanding.

They wouldn’t have hired me if there wasn’t a need,” said Hollins, who started the job last week. “I just need to find out what that need is.”

From there, Hollins will refine what her role will be in the district’s five-year strategic plan, which has set closing the achievement gap as one of its major priorities. Her biggest challenge going forward, she believes, will be high expectations of a system hungry for reform.

“I’m sensing that people are hoping that something is really going to happen. They’ve been waiting for a long time, and so when we’ve been waiting, sometimes we get a little impatient,” she said.

“Real change can happen. It’s just not going to be tomorrow.”

Speaking of myths, how about we start looking at the myths behind this preposterous hiring?

The position comes with a broad job description that includes developing a districtwide program to train staff, parents and community members on cultural awareness and understanding; devising instructional methods designed to combat institutional racism; and responding to requests for information and support from schools, departments, staff and families.

Note that Ms. Hollins would not respond to requests by the media for information about her myths diktat.

Pretend physician, heal thine own damn self.

This article was posted by Steve on Thursday, November 22nd, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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