Monday, August 25, 2014

What A Difference A Day Makes

It's always nice to be able to post about good news for HSD!   As you have probably read in one of the local papers or on the HSD website by now, an unexpectedly large contribution from Gain Share resulted in about $728000 extra showing up in our budget.   At the August meeting, we agreed to use $466000 of that to restore the final 'budget reduction' day that had been cut from our district calendar.  The remainder will be targeted towards augmenting staff for particular classrooms which are identified as having special need, such as larger-than-expected classes in September (advance registration is never 100% accurate), or other academic challenges.

At the meeting, I was a little skeptical about restoring the day.   Of course restoring a lost day sounds like an objectively good thing.   But almost all the arguments in favor of this sounded to me like they were primarily based in either public relations, or in emotion:  "I want to feel like our district is no longer broken".  But as I see it, the question we should be asking is:  what will make the biggest difference in the lives of some of our district's children?

If students attend school for about 170 days of roughly equal importance, an additional day is only about a 1/170 (0.6%) improvement to each child's education, a barely noticeable amount of across-the-board change.   On the other hand, if we have a kindergarten class of 35 in one of our challenged high-poverty schools and are able to supply an additional teacher's aide to that class, that is probably a real, noticeable improvement to the education of those 35 kindergarteners.   So, my inclination would be to not bother with restoring the lost day, and instead direct all the extra money to such targeted local improvements.
I didn't argue too hard on this, though, because I saw one compelling argument in favor of restoring the day:  keeping our implied promises to the unions.  The employee unions had willingly agreed to the budget reduction days when times were tight, and though we did not have a contractual obligation, it was strongly implied that this decision would be reversed when we had the money.   Because of this, it made sense to me to follow through and restore the missing day, even though I didn't find the other arguments that convincing.
Anyway, as always, I would love to hear your thoughts on these issues.  Send me an email or FB message anytime, or come visit my next Constituent Coffee, held the first Saturday of each month, 10am, at the Human Bean at 10th & Oak.  I hope to see you there!

BTW- If you're curious about the followup on my discussions of problems with the district Equity programs:  In one of those "be careful what you wish for" situations, it looks like the solution will be to put me on the committee designing the next round of Equity training.   Stay tuned for further updates as that committee starts to meet...

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Public Schools Encouraging Anti-Semitism

When I first started writing this series on the politically biased, racist, logically confused, and embarrassing "White Privilege"-based Equity training materials used by many public school districts, including Hillsboro, earlier this summer, I wasn't planning to write this article.    After all, if you have read my previous blogs, you probably have noticed that I strongly advocate striving to treat everyone as individuals, not divide into groups and count up Victim Points.   But who would have predicted that in the summer of 2014 we would see a massive surge of anti-Semitism worldwide, including protestors chanting for the murder of Jews all over the Western world, leading to a Newsweek cover story on the Jewish community beginning to flee Western Europe again , and even local Portland seeing protestors supporting these calls for mass murder?  With all this happening, I find it very chilling that our local public schools are teaching Equity classes that directly encourage anti-Semitism.    In addition to all their other flaws, it is important to recognize that these Equity classes are failing on their own terms:  directly encouraging hatred of a particular minority group, for which open calls to murder have suddenly become fashionable and acceptable.

Why do I say this?   Well, keep in mind that the Equity training packet is full of articles discussing various minority groups sympathetically:  how they first came to America, their struggles fitting in and being accepted, etc.   But let's take a look at what they have to say about Jews:

For example, Jewish people of European ancestry sometimes do not think of themselves as White because for them the term means White Christian.  Also, in Nazi Germany, Jews were defined as a distinct, non-Aryan racial group.  In the context of an anti-Jewish culture, the salient identity may be the targeted Jewish identity.   However, in terms of U.S. racial ideology, Jews of European ancestry are also the beneficiaries of White racial privilege.  My White Jewish students often struggle with the tension between being targeted and receiving privilege.  (p.31)

Why should we consider this anti-Semitic?   Aside from the fact that this form of clinical racial analysis sounds like a throwback to a 1930's KKK pamphlet--  is it really appropriate to pick apart various groups and analyze their levels of Whiteness?--  this analysis is directly picking at one of the sorest scabs in the Jewish racial psyche:   the idea that the world has been secretly manipulated to bring invisible privileges to Jews.     You may recall that about a hundred years ago, there was a popular book being passed around called the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion", supposedly showing how the Jews were manipulating and controlling the world; and its ideas were used to justify rabid anti-Semitism that led to mass murder.     This scientific-sounding analysis is essentially making the same charge, that Jews secretly have invisible privileges that have led to their disproportionate success in the economic world.   How many who attend these seminars will have these ideas still floating around their subconscious, and have them magnified and legitimized when they are specifically taught to resent Jews for their secret privileges?   And worries about this perception leading to real physical danger are not naive or outdated:  the Hamas terrorist organization, which massive numbers of these protestors are supporting, specifically cites the Protocols in its charter  .  

This flabbergasting level of insensitivity to Jewish history is made even worse when you contrast it with the treatment of a fellow "model minority" group, Asians, in the same training materials:

The stereotype is that Asians are hard workers, quiet, and get good grades because they have tremendous pressure from their parents to succeed.  While initially appearing to be beneficial, the stereotype has had some negative effects.  It has pitted Asian Pacific Americans against other groups targeted by racism, often at the instigation of whites.  It has also contributed to White fear and resentment, leading to an increase in sometimes deadly violence.  (p.13)

Could there be a starker contrast between the treatment of two minority groups?   For the exact same set of stereotypical characteristics that lead to academic and economic success, Jews are guilty of perpetrating White Privilege, while Asians are victims of other groups pitted against them.    If you're looking for cases when groups have been "pitted against" each other in order to create violence, here's a question for you:  when was the last time you heard about marching crowds all over the Western world openly and unapologetically calling for the deaths of Asians, or for that matter for the death of any other group besides Jews?

Anyway, I'm not advocating that we add another unit to these ridiculous training materials to properly account for anti-Semitism.    Horrible gaffes like this are inevitable when you build your Equity philosophy around dividing people into groups and judging racial grievances.   If you weren't convinced to protest these materials based on their crazy definition of racism, denial of merit in America , or poorly thought out ad hominem rhetoric, how about the fact that it tacitly encourages anti-Semitic attitudes that are leading to death threats and riots against Jews today, in 2014, all over the world?    Be sure to contact your local school district (remember, I found this in Hillsboro, but the same program is being used in many other places), find out if they are teaching about "White Privilege", and carefully examine any materials they are using to train their faculty and staff.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Advancing Equity Through Ad Hominem Arguments

This week we continue our discussion of Hillsboro's (and many other public school districts') embarrassing Equity training materials, which are based in Critical Race Theory , redefine "racism" so that only white people can be racist, and teach that meritocracy in America is a myth, since most success really results from the exercise of White Privilege

An important principle of rational debate, which we should (hopefully) have all teachers understand and pass on to their students, is to avoid logical fallacies, unsound styles of argument that lead you to conclusions which do not follow from your premises.  One basic fallacy that most students learn early in their career is the fallacy of ad hominem arguments, arguments that attack the opposing speaker instead of addressing their ideas.   Aside from being logically invalid, such arguments are impolite, disrespectful, and ultimately unproductive, if the goal  is rational debate.  Sadly, the teaching materials used by our district's Equity training are built upon the concept of legitimizing ad hominem attacks, and effectively instruct the staff to both utilize and encourage this invalid form of argument when discussing racial issues.

To start with, the very concept of White Privilege has ad hominem reasoning built into it.  You may recall the internet article that went viral a few months back, by a Princeton undergraduate frustrated at being repeatedly told to "check your privilege" when he expressed politically incorrect ideas. Too many of the responses to that article were picking apart his exact level of social privilege, without looking at the most important point: your level of social privilege is irrelevant to the validity of your logical arguments. If someone makes a cogent point, its validity should not depend on whether they are black, white, Latino, or a purple alien from the planet Tralfamadore.     Sadly, this invalid mode of argument has become so common that some have proposed explicitly labeling the "Appeal to Privilege" as a new type of logical fallacy.  If you disagree with something someone says, find a rational way to refute their arguments; simply labeling a person's statements inherently invalid based on the color of their skin is logically incoherent, lazy, and contrary to the spirit of rational debate.   

But the materials used by our district also embed another, even more ridiculous, style of ad hominem argument: the elaboration of psychological stages. This is the method, increasingly popular in academic circles, where you supposedly analyze your opponents' psyches, and determine a series of stages they need to go through before coming to agree with your supposedly enlightened point of view. If someone is in a pre-final stage, there is no question of addressing the validity of their arguments; their disagreement is a kind of mental disorder, and you just need to guide them through the proper stages. Here are some of the stages of "White Identity Development" from these training materials:

- Contact: We think of ourselves as part of a racial norm with no awareness of white privilege... We may perceive ourselves as color-blind and free of prejudice. We think of racism as the prejudiced behavior of individuals, rather than an institutionalized system of advantage benefiting whites.
- Disintegration: We have a growing awareness of racism and white privilege as a result of personal encounters... We experience discomfort due to guilt, shame, and anger...
- Pseudo-independence: We have an intellectual understanding of racism as a system of advantage...maybe take on a "guilty white liberal" persona...
- Autonomy: We incorporate a newly defined view of whiteness as a part of personal identity.

So in their view, if you believe in the advancing the ideal of a color-blind society, of aiming for fairness to individuals instead of dividing people by race and "thinking about whiteness", you are simply mired in an early, immature psychological stage. The fact that I'm writing these blogs supposedly shows that I'm mired in the "Contact" stage due to not attending enough politically correct seminars. Even if you are a mainstream liberal, apparently you are only in a "Pseudo-Independent" stage if your mind has not been fully reprogrammed to condemn American society based on its pervasive White Privilege. Once you are bombarded with emotional "encounters" and heavy peer pressure, you will either advance to the stage where you fully agree with Critical Race Theory, and want to restructure society to eliminate the advantages of Whiteness, or you are in need of further treatment. Any rational arguments you make against this thesis are not worth discussing, until you make your way through the necessary psychological stages determined by the enlightened elite.

Should our Equity classes be modeling and enforcing ad hominem arguments, teaching that your statements can be dismissed as a product of White Privilege if your skin is the wrong color? Should we be teaching that if you believe in treating people as individuals and judging them by the content of their character, there is no possible validity to your rational arguments, since you are simply in an undeveloped psychological stage? If you disagree, please make your voice heard. Call the district at 503-844-1500, come and speak at the public comment period during one of the board meetings, or contact HSD through one of the other methods on the contact page

And remember--  if you live in another school district, or are more involved with some non-school public entity--  do not assume you’re not affected by this issue!   Radical supporters of Critical Race Theory have worked their way into Equity or Diversity positions in many school districts, and the organization Uniting to Understand Racism supplies training materials to many public bodies.   Call your administration and ask to see the materials they use to teach these subjects.   You will likely be in for an unpleasant surprise.