How to Hijack a School Committee Meeting
Updated: Oct 5, 2021
The 6/22 Meeting Agenda did not include a DEI discussion. But a series of "ACTION ALERTS" sent that morning from concerned citizens who declare themselves to be "Against Indoctrination" (see screenshot at the end of this post) led to a whole hour of Citizen Comments about DEI. To view the entire testimony, start watching 31 minutes in, at this link. Just the first 12 minutes will give you the basic idea, with 2 speakers on each side of the debate.
Background info: In March the NKSC created a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Subcommittee "to ensure that students have equitable access to educational opportunities that help them achieve their full potential." You can read more about it here.
During the Citizens Comment period of Tuesday night's NK School Committee Meeting, supporters of current DEI initiatives outnumbered attackers. No current students appeared in person to raise objections--though someone read a letter purporting to be from a recent graduate who had Googled the term "affinity group" and become opposed to them based on the definition he read online. Several high school students who are current members of NKHS's affinity groups spoke in support of them, some of them testifying quite movingly about the positive impact membership in such groups has had on their lives. (Again, watch the testimony, beginning 31 minutes in.)
In my own spoken comments, I pointed out that every college Alumni Association is an example of an "affinity group." (Our flagship state university not only promotes DEI proudly but even uses the word "affinity" to boost donations.) When I got home Tuesday night and told my family about the meeting, my daughters--2012 and 2014 graduates of NKHS--informed me that the current so-called affinity groups at NK do not technically fit the strict definition, since any student can join, as we were repeatedly told by the student speakers. The Commenter who suggested choosing a different name might have been on the right track.
In the two days since, I haven't been able to stop thinking about that School Committee meeting. It began--like every School Committee Meeting and every publicly educated child's every single school day--with everyone in the room (including me) putting their right hand over their heart, turning to face the American flag, and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, which ends, "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
You want to rail against "indoctrination"? How about that Pledge? Or my entire 1960s-70s public school education in Massapequa, Long Island, where I learned that everything our nation had done since its founding was divinely sanctioned and unassailable? How about the full-page illustration in my U.S. history textbook, showing a golden-haired Manifest Destiny--one of very few females featured anywhere in the hundreds of pages--leading the white men inexorably westward while the indigenous people were literally getting forced out of the picture? Nobody objected. Nobody complained. Nobody even asked why we were all white in my 3,000+-student public school, including teachers. (Oh yeah, there was that one kid named Gregg who looked part Asian; we called him "Gregg Roll" because he was fat.)
I was still trying to process that Tuesday night meeting when I opened "Letters from an American" in my email inbox this morning. Its author, Heather Cox Richardson, is a Boston College history professor whose blog can be viewed with no login, and anyone can subscribe without paying, so I've taken the liberty of reproducing below some relevant paragraphs that shed light on what was happening the other night. Boldfaces are mine; you can read today's entire Letter online and see the meticulously cited sources.
Lawmakers in Republican-dominated states are focusing on cultural issues, apparently trying to keep Trump voters angry ... [T]heir biggest public relations angle has been the attack on Critical Race Theory, a theory conceived in the 1970s by legal scholars trying to understand why the civil rights legislation of the past twenty years had not eliminated racial inequality in America. ... While CRT is largely limited to legal theory classes rather than public schools, Republicans have turned this theory into the ideas that it attacks white Americans and that history teachers are indoctrinating schoolchildren to hate America. In the past three and half months, the Fox News Channel has talked about CRT nearly 1300 times. ...
At a [June 23] House Armed Services Committee hearing to discuss the 2022 Defense Department budget, when Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) suggested that Critical Race Theory was weakening the U.S. military, [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley] responded sharply: “A lot of us have to get much smarter on whatever the theory is, but I do think it’s important, actually, for those of us in uniform to be open minded and be widely read... I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military, our general officers, our commissioned, noncommissioned officers of being, quote, ‘woke’ or something else, because we're studying some theories that are out there."
I agree with General Milley: it's offensive for neighbors to levy accusations of "woke"-ness (as if being awakened is a bad thing) and "indoctrination," as if American public schools have not been indoctrinating children into unconditional jingoism for more than a century. If you believe that a primary purpose of education is helping to make our children and our society--in General Milley's words-- "smarter", "more open minded," and "more widely read," please push back against ongoing attempts to hijack the agenda. Sign up for monthly updates on this website (the "JOIN OUR MAILING LIST" button). Come to future School Committee meetings and watch the SC website for opportunities to send your comments via email or telephone if you can't attend in person.