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VIEWPOINT: Anti-racism is an education issue

by Chris Naticchia

With the murder of George Floyd, the ensuing mass protests, and fast-approaching elections, a discussion of systemic racism has gained traction like never before. This discussion is long overdue.

What we’re finally acknowledging—collectively, as a culture, and among whites in particular—is that Blacks and other people of color frequently encounter discrimination in housing, employment, policing and healthcare. If there was ever a moment to press for real and lasting change, this would seem to be it.

What should Claremont’s role be in this larger anti-racist project? The upcoming local elections provide an opportunity to raise the visibility of this question. In fact, two recent viewpoint writers, Rolondo Talbott and Joe Salas, have begun to do just that. 

While most recent attention has focused on police tactics and funding, which are mainly the city’s purview, it’s time to take up this conversation with our schools too—especially since the last school board election was in 2013, the two intervening elections having been cancelled due to lack of competition.

Several ideas, introduced by those who have directly experienced racial harm, merit our consideration. Here I’ll mention four.

Right now, state assembly members Jose Medina (Riverside) and Shirley Weber (San Diego) are spearheading a bill that would require one semester of ethnic studies as a graduation requirement, either as a standalone course or embedded in an existing requirement.

Their reasoning is that, when Black and other students of color see their own personal history reflected in the history they study, they become more engaged and focused, leading to higher retention and graduation rates. Such study also fosters respect and empathy among all students, white and nonwhite alike.

Currently, the California Department of Education is working on a model curriculum, but Claremont need not wait for the state to move ahead on its own if it chooses.

While it’s one thing to include ethnic studies in the curriculum, it’s another thing to have a more diverse teaching force across the entire curriculum to serve as mentors, role models and advisors. Here, too, there’s room for Claremont to grow, as Claremont student leaders themselves have advocated.

Stubborn achievement gaps continue to persist between white students and Black and Latino students, both in Claremont and other school districts. Our district addresses them through a nested, largely decentralized, consultative process involving the district office, principals and teachers, who develop strategies that are reported to and approved by the board.

It may be time to think more expansively about this issue, however, by giving it greater visibility and reaching out to and engaging parents in more formal, structured, official ways, much as we find in San Bernardino, which organizes and supports an African American parent advisory council to address that particular group.

As one community member, focusing on the success of Black students, remarked to me, if all lives matter only when Black lives matter, then similarly, all students matter only when the education of Black students matters to the same degree.

As the city reexamines its policing methods and procedures, finally, it’s time for the district to raise questions about the role of school police in providing school safety.

Would our campuses be safer if funds were redirected to student mental health, for instance? How do different students feel about the presence of an armed officer on campus? Do Black and Latino students feel differently than white students? Should certain types of use of force be forbidden on our campuses? Should we separate functions, retaining some, such as the officer’s oversight of the school safety plan and drills, while reassessing others? These are all policy questions that we should be reconsidering. 

I don’t pretend to have the final word on any of these matters, but I do think it’s incumbent upon us all, especially as the legacy of systemic racism explodes onto our streets and fills our hospital rooms, to keep the question before us and dedicate ourselves to answering it.

What should Claremont’s role be in this larger anti-racist project?

Poll

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