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Legitimate debate

Comparing the Paso Robles school district to Mississippi in the 1960s is hyperbolic



To the Shredder and political cartoonist Russell Hodin:

How incredibly sad and disappointing it is to see a legitimate debate about an obviously controversial issue slide immediately into hyperbole and name-calling.

More extreme supporters of critical race theory (CRT) label anyone who disagrees with its inclusion in schools as racists. Opponents of CRT similarly label anyone who supports CRT as Socialist/Marxist as well as racist.

The NAACP of SLO portrays the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District (PRJUSD) Board of Trustees as somehow attempting to lynch minorities under a likeness of a gallows. New Times follows up with a cartoon image of a noose hanging from the PRJUSD oak tree logo suggesting the district motto is "Protecting White Privilege" (Hodin, June 24) and an opinion piece wrongly conflating the debate on CRT with the recently-adopted ethnic studies curriculum ("Mighty white of you, Paso," June 24).

These exaggerated insults do nothing to further healthy debate and solely serve to inflame extreme perspectives. The board of trustees has openly and honestly engaged in a public debate of the ethnic studies curriculum. In that discussion, there was never any proposal to ignore or omit historical instances of racism. The only restriction was that historical atrocities be presented in historical context, not through a contemporary lens and that presentations and supplemental readings be balanced. At no point were any atrocities, be it the Tulsa massacres, Jim Crow laws, Japanese internment, lynching, or any of the evils of slavery to be ignored.

What was and is of concern are extreme efforts to rewrite American history, out of context, and extreme conclusions such as those reached in San Francisco that schools named for Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, Grant, and others be renamed so that no one who ever said or did anything now objectionable be honored, regardless of the balance of their historical legacy. Abraham Lincoln? Ulysses S. Grant? Seriously? Not pure enough?

CRT is loosely defined in ways that can be spun as fairly innocuous or quite extreme. Experts disagree on what the implications for its instruction are, but the appropriate audience is clearly post-secondary. The board of trustees entertained debate of CRT as a controversial issue subject to Administrative Regulation 6144, a portion of which stipulates approval only if, "The discussion does not reflect adversely upon persons because of their race, sex, color, creed, national origin, ancestry, handicap, or occupation."

I have stood at the former cell of Nelson Mandela outside Cape Town and listened to a former fellow political prisoner (now tour guide) describe Mandela's 18 years there. I have toured the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson and walked past the pillars that list the actual lynchings that occurred each year. Words fail to capture the absurdly inconsequential reasons for the murders. I lived through and participated in the civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s. I remember when racism was overt and institutionalized, without question or debate. I remember Dr. King asking that we be judged by the content of our character not the color of our skin. To equate this debate in Paso Robles to, "Mississippi in the 1960s" is really quite absurd.

Serious issues around race remain in our country; no one can credibly deny that fact, and the incredible hypocrisy of the promise of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution as juxtaposed to the unspeakable horror of slavery, the 3/5ths compromise, Jim Crow laws, and the like. To suggest nothing has changed though, and to equate even discussing contemporary issues with lynching is incredibly exaggerated and, at least in my mind, an insult to the memory of those who were violently attacked and murdered.

I am proud of the compromise reached in the PRJUSD concerning the ethnic studies curriculum. In it, CRT may not be taught as accepted fact but may be discussed as a controversial issue as appropriate to the class and grade level. A balanced reading list including varied perspectives is required.

Some have argued teachers have adequate training and experience and need no board direction. Academic freedom has also been mentioned. To be clear, the PRJUSD Board of Trustees has not only the right but the responsibility to supervise what is taught in our schools. This is not college; "academic freedom" in high school is in no way comparable to the college level where students are adults and there voluntarily.

Also, it is important to remember that parents have had the opportunity this year, with distance learning as their only option, to be much more involved in and observant of their student's classroom instruction. With this added exposure—and in addition to an appreciation by many of how difficult teaching can be—have come many more questions about what is being taught and what teachers have posted in their rooms. There are limits on teachers' actions while "on the clock" and specifically while in front of a captive audience of minor students.

The district has provided guidance as to which classes and under what circumstances controversial issues should and should not be part of the curriculum. Some of what was observed has led parents to question legitimately the adherence of several teachers to the approved curriculum. These are all legitimate issues for the board of trustees to consider and as we continue to identify issues and address them openly, I hope and trust there will be more legitimate debate and less name-calling, hyperbole, and pandering to one's base, whoever that may be. Δ

Dr. Curt Dubost is the superintendent of the Paso Robles Joint Union School District. Send a response for publication to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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