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Opinion Northwest

Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

June 7, 2013 at 6:30 AM

Seattle Public Schools stumbles on race, teacher Jon Greenberg

Supporters of Jon Greenberg rally at a Seattle School Board meeting. (Photo by Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times

Supporters of Jon Greenberg rally at a Seattle School Board meeting.
(Photo by Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times

The Seattle Public Schools would rather deal with outraged teachers and students at the Center School than confront race head on. Why else would district officials  transfer Jon Greenberg, whose Race and Social Justice class was once investigated for making one student feel uncomfortable.

The district had already investigated Greenberg’s curriculum for subversiveness. What do they think he’s doing: making white students stand up and apologize for slavery? The class was the subject of an investigation earlier this year after the parents of one senior complained their daughter felt intimidated by discussions of race. Greenberg is being  transferred to Hamilton International Middle School.

Greenberg defended his class in a Times Op-ed in March.

“Whether students move on to become cashiers or CEOs, they will inevitably fill, in varying degrees, positions of influence. Everyone benefits from analyzing the role race and racism play in our experiences — past, present or future. My students have provided 10 years’ worth of evidence of that.”

Eighteen Center School teachers had signed a letter urging Superintendent José Banda not to accept the transfer. Greenberg is a highly respected teacher. On the rigorous, four-tiered evaluation, Greenberg was ranked “innovative,” the highest level.

It is too bad that rather than lead a courageous conversation about race and inspire students to think about the difficult and uncomfortable topics, the district is silencing conversation.  Times columnist Jerry Large interviewed Center School senior Zak Meyer for a recent column. Meyer told Large: “I felt uncomfortable because I’d never talked about these issues before, but I never felt intimidated.” He said Greenberg made sure every student’s thoughts were heard and respected. He said most of the 45 students in the two sections of the course are white.

Meyer, one of the most outspoken supporters of Greenberg and the course, said he learned a different way of looking at the world. “I’d been friends with the minority students in the class since freshman year, but I didn’t know about the subtle racism that happens every day,” he said.

Seattle is an interesting place. Tongues wag mightily over testing, charter schools, teacher quality, you name it. But bring up race and the silence is deafening. Seattle prides itself on tolerance but even that is insulting, saying as it does that  people of color are something that requires enlightened good people  to tolerate them.

If people of different backgrounds are to live among each other they have to talk.

 

Comments | Topics: children, Education, race

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