By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – “(R)acism is caused by white people, by our attitudes, behaviors, practices, and institutions … How do you justify it for yourself?”
That’s the heavy-handed question asked of Wisconsin’s public school teachers, one of many similar assertions found in a conference handout from a controversial state Department of Public Instruction initiative to combat “white privilege” in the classroom.
The four-year-old CREATE Wisconsin education initiative was ostensibly designed to help public school educators reach disadvantaged students. Now, thanks to an EAG News expose, CREATE , the acronym for Culturally Responsive Education for All: Training and Enhancement, may be more notorious for its racially charged teaching points, including:
- From Examining the Dynamics of Oppression and Privilege, found in a 2009 CREATE conference handout: “In this country the institutional system supports the dominance of white people” and “More frequently than not, white people take advantage of privileges generated by a racist society.”
- From Paul Kivel’s 2009 CREATE conference handout, The Costs of Racism to White People: “We are given a false sense of superiority, a belief that we should be in control and in authority, and that people of color should be maids, servants, and gardeners and do the less valued work of our society.” According to his website, Kivel is a “social justice educator, activist, and writer, has been an innovative leader in violence prevention for more than 35 years.”
- In her 2009 CREATE conference presentation, Wisconsin DPI employee Dr. LaVerne Jackson-Harvey said, “There appears to be a national trend that can be attributed [to] the conservative agenda that currently exist[s] with former closet racist[s] leaving the closet and entering the light to write policies that support covert and overt racism that impact[s] students of color.”
EAG News, the content website of Education Action Group Foundation, a Michigan-based, conservative advocate for “sensible education reform,” takes aim at the CREATE Wisconsin initiative funded through federal taxpayer dollars.
The initiative, launched in 2009, “mobilizes educators to reflect on their educational practices,” to assist students from diverse backgrounds in achieving the same academic levels as their peers, according to the CREATE Wisconsin website.
CREATE Wisconsin hosts an annual conference and various workshops for Wisconsin educators.
Steve Gunn, author of the EAG expose, said it appears the goal of the initiative “is to build up guilt among white educators.”
“On the flip side of that are the resentments among minorities and minority students… They would have them feel like the entire system is against them. That isn’t going to make any kid feel like he stands much of a chance,” he said.
“There’s nothing wrong with white teachers taking a look at themselves and how they deliver lessons to make sure all kids understand what they’re talking about. But it seems this thing has taken on a far more radical tone,” Gunn added.
EAG also asserts the approach creates separate educational systems, ultimately patronizing minority students.
“It says Wisconsin minority kids aren’t capable of doing well in standard classrooms, and that’s just not true,” Gunn said. “To make it sound that if you don’t bend the curriculum to meet the standards of different cultures or they’re doomed to fail is being untrue to them.”
The view that public schools often fail to teach minority and disadvantaged students by failing to reach them culturally is a widely accepted tenet among the left-center education school of thought.
“Many American schools in general, attempt to deny the minority students of their culture,” notes a blog written by students enrolled in Philosophy of Education at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. The entry is headlined, “Keeping Minority Culture and Students in their Place.” “This happens because the social institutions reward those for living distinctly traditional American lives and punishes those who deviate from the norm. The American education system, as a social institution, attempts to mimic this reward-and-punish structure by creating a system where education is standardized.”
Supporters say they’re pushing for greater “cultural competency” in the classroom.
DPI spokesman Patrick Gasper defended the program, which is funded through the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act program, commonly known as IDEA.
“The CREATE Wisconsin initiative aims at reducing disproportionality in special education programs, increasing achievement for all students, and closing gaps which are serious issues facing Wisconsin schools,” Gasper wrote in an email to Wisconsin Reporter. He went on to quote from the initiative’s web page.
“CREATE begins with one question: Why? Why don’t students from diverse backgrounds achieve at the same level as their peers?
“Why are students from diverse backgrounds enrolled in special education more often than their peers?
“To answer these questions, CREATE mobilizes educators to reflect on their educational practices. The objective is to identify strategies that contribute to eliminating the achievement gap and utilize those approaches through professional development, training and technical assistance.”
The achievement gap among minority students and white students is very real and very pronounced, particularly in Wisconsin’s urban schools.
In Madison alone:
- 45 percent of 10th grade black males are proficient in reading, while 87 percent of white males are.
- The graduation rate for black males is only 52 percent, while the rate for white males is 88 percent.
- Blacks comprise 24 percent of the student population but 29 percent of special education students. Native Americans comprise 1 percent of the student population but 20 percent of special education students, according to the EAG report
School officials from the Madison Metropolitan School District or Milwaukee Public Schools did not return Wisconsin Reporter’s calls seeking comment.
Gunn said EAG attempted to dig deeper into the CREATE Wisconsin initiative but stopped when DPI sent a statement noting the bill for the public records EAG requested would cost about $19,000.
EAG asserts CREATE goes well beyond the scope of bridging the achievement gap, deep into the realm of racial inequalities viewed through the prism of some of the more liberal thinkers in education.
“None of this is particularly surprising when you consider who’s influencing CREATE Wisconsin. One of the program’s main consultants is Glenn Singleton, founder of the Pacific Educational Group. That group’s mission is to “enlighten” the nation’s educators about how public schools promote “white culture” and “white privilege.” EAG wrote.
CREATE Wisconsin’s website engages in some weighty questions about U.S. history. Case in point, a Teacher Resource Article titled “Did the Indians really invite the Pilgrims to the First Thanksgiving?”
The answer, the article states, is less important than how the “stereotypes” of the story of the first Thanksgiving have pervaded the classroom unexamined.
“We believe that the concept of giving thanks or gratitude should be impressed upon children and that the Thanksgiving season is a good time to do that in the schools. But we also believe that the stereotypes of “Indians” that we often see in classrooms around the time of Thanksgiving only reinforce the simplistic and misleading images of Native People that non-Native children may already have,” the article notes.
“As for the last question, about the ‘First Thanksgiving’:
“We feel that the term ‘First Thanksgiving’ is an extremely biased one. The ‘pot luck’ meal that is remembered today, whether it was truly a ‘thanksgiving’ or not, whether it really happened or not, may have been the first European ‘harvest home’ or fall festival on this continent. But for centuries — for thousands of years in fact — Indigenous communities here had been celebrating thanks many time a year for what Mother Earth gave them. They still do today.”
For the record, CREATE Wisconsin operates on about $890,000 in taxpayer funding per year, according to the EAG expose.
Contact Kittle at [email protected]