Teach Ethnic Studies at SPS, and do it well

Testimony to Seattle School Board, March 15, 2017

I am Marty McLaren, a retired K12 teacher in Seattle Schools, and, as you know, a former Board Director.  I’m here to speak in favor of Seattle Schools adopting the NAACP plan for teaching ethnic studies in Seattle Schools.  This is absolutely the right thing to do, and the NAACP timeline is reasonable in my opinion.

In making a commitment to ethnic studies, I believe it is imperative that Seattle Schools also commit to fully supporting its educators in the ways that the NAACP has outlined — teachers of ethnic studies deserve superb training and strong districtwide support.

We need to acknowledge that studying this history is highly emotionally charged. Ethnic studies can span the history of the concept of race, racism, white supremacy and white privilege — as these have unfolded in Seattle, in our state, our nation and the world. The courageous educators who already teach ethnic studies in Seattle can vouch for the challenge of creating a safe space for all students — It can be both severely traumatic and cathartic for students of color.  It has its own kind of pain for students who live with white privilege.  And, teachers can testify to the kind of pushback they can receive from white students and some parents.  

About 20 years ago, I took a teenaged white family member to a workshop on Undoing Institutional Racism.  In that workshop, he struggled with the pain of acknowledging his white privilege, and the facilitators offered neither compassion nor respect for his anguish.  And so, his continuing education on racism was compromised by his rage at the humiliation he experienced.  

This is difficult territory, and we must help our teachers navigate it skillfully.  Teachers must be honest about the history, yet avoid pitting our students against each other.  

Our ethnic studies teachers can be our leaders in fostering The Beloved Community — among all of our students, as well as staff and families.