As concern mounts regarding the upcoming December 15 NJUHSD Board meeting, I viewed the recording of last month’s meeting, posted on vimeo by NJUHSD, where a group called “Protecting American Ideals” (PIA) was allowed to present their views on Critical Race Theory. I will leave the question of why they were invited into the meeting in the first place to others, and I hope that investigation happens. As a concerned citizen and lifelong educator, I wish to address this issue on a far more fundamental level.
I appreciate that there is a student representative on the Board, that seat currently filled by Anthony Pritchett. At the close of the public comment period at the November 11 meeting, Anthony started the Board discussion by reading his statement (see link below). I wish the discussion had ended there. I wish Anthony’s words were given time and silence to sink in. Nothing more needed to be said.
One Board member chose to use his time to tell the youth in the room that a lesson they would learn as they mature is that of compromise. I found this ironic, as young people have been compromising their whole lives, the current generation perhaps more than any other. Compromising, conceding, accepting decisions made by those (adults) in power. I would ask the Board that rather than lecture to youth, to listen. When Vice-president Pat Seeley spoke, several times she said, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” The truth is, none of us “knows”. And as adults, even adults in positions of leadership – it’s OK to not-know. It’s OK to not have an answer. Let the answer arise from the collective wisdom of all, young and old together.
I fear that an attempt to appear “fair” or “open” in part drove the decision to allow the presentation. This was also reflected in Vice-president Seeley’s call to “tolerance for opposing views.” When “opposing views” are rife with falsehoods and misrepresentation; when they uphold a biased and false view of history and denial of painful historical truths, then that is no longer simply an “opposing view.” It is a call to maintain a status quo that is oppressive, unjust, and hateful.
It is the students’ right to rise up and protest against such views infiltrating their schools’ governance, with the intent to influence it. It is the Board’s responsibility to protect the students from threat such as this.
On the evening of the November 11 meeting, I happened to be at a friend’s home, where her daughter, a senior at NU, was getting ready to leave for the meeting with three friends. I asked one of them why he was going. He said, “I’m Japanese, so attending this meeting and voicing my dissent is really important to me.” I had just returned from a trip to Manzanar National Historic Site in the Owens Valley, the site of one of ten “war relocation camps” in the U.S. where Japanese-Americans were imprisoned during WW II, solely for being of Japanese descent. I asked if he had ever visited Manzanar. He replied, “Both of my grandparents were interned there.”
This young man was heading out the door to defend his right to learn about the truth, something no young person should ever have to do. In a democracy, it is the job of educators to protect that right.
Yes, these are times of divisiveness. And, I implore the Board to stand firmly on the side of our youth, who are better equipped than anyone to see injustice, and the threat of further divisiveness, and meet it not with “tolerance” but with clarity and knowledge. It is not enough to give them a seat at the table. We need to truly listen, and we need to allow them to lead.
I encourage anyone reading this to read Anthony Pritchett’s statement from the November 11 meeting.
In closing, I hope the Board will back the students 100% at this Wednesday’s meeting. I hope no adult publicly admonishes a student for standing up for justice. I hope they listen.