June 2, 2020 -
The horrible and tragic killing of George Floyd has once again brought the longstanding issue of race and injustice to the forefront of our lives. Scenes of peaceful protests, violent protests, words that bring people together, and words that divide us are plastered on our television screens and social media feeds. Our kids are watching and listening.
While I was in my doctoral program at Boston College, we spent an enormous amount of time reading and discussing issues of race and social justice. I will never forget a discussion I had with a classmate, friend, and colleague that is African-American. He said to me, “ One thing you will never have to do as a father is to tell your son to keep his hands on the wheel when he gets pulled over. In fact, that is the first thing I told my son when he got his license.” My son is now 18 years old and I’ve never told him that he needs to keep his hands on the wheel when he is pulled over. When people say that race is not an issue, I share my colleague’s story because people can at least relate to that concrete example. That conversation took place in 2004, we certainly have a long way to go.
Growing up in a small city, race, and ethnicity were never part of the conversation in our schools. The city’s Catholic churches were all designated by ethnic background. The Irish, Portuguese, Polish, and French all had their own church. In elementary school, black kids, brown kids, and white kids were in the same classes and everyone played together. Somewhere around middle school and high school black and brown kids sat together in the cafeteria while the white kids sat together. It just happened that way. The problem was that no one ever talked about it...never. It wasn’t until I read (and highly recommend) Beverly Daniel Tatum’s book, “ Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in The Cafeteria?” did I begin to reflect on my own experiences growing up and how that shaped my thinking through my K-12 years. If we are truly honest with ourselves we all have some implicit bias. Tatum’s work, along with Pollock’s Everyday Anti-Racism (A former Blake MS book group read) can really help with reflection and self-examination of these issues.
Unlike my experience in school, in Medfield, we feel that we have a responsibility to address these issues with our instruction and learning. It’s no secret that we lack racial diversity in our community. In fact, two years ago was the first time our student population was below 90% white.
In the 2018-2019 school year, we began a Civil Rights Self Evaluation Review Committee that includes PreK-12 representation of teachers, parents, and administrators. This committee has begun to review the curriculum and practices within our district. We developed and trained our teachers on the Medfield Model for Evaluation of Bias Checklist. This tool is used when new curricula or materials will be introduced to our students. Our school libraries are beginning to be infused with books that are culturally sensitive and bring different perspectives to our students. Since early February, 20 teachers have participated in an onsite (now a zoom) 10-week college course on Culturally Proficient Teaching. Our leadership team is scheduled for a full-day workshop in August on supporting Cultural Proficient Teaching with follow up professional development during the year. Our strategic plan also addresses the issue of student diversity. This is clearly a focus of our district and we feel these changes can make a difference, but like our country, we still have a long way to go.
This topic is not easy or comfortable. Please talk with your children and help them process these recent events. I’ve provided a link that might be of help as our country continues to grapple with these issues. Now more than ever it is important to remember that our kids are watching and listening.