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Are We Still “Woke”

Howard Eagle

The 2021 campaign for three open seats on the Rochester Board of Education (Van White’s, he’s running for judge; Natalie Sheppard’s, which is being filled by appointee William Clark, who has said he won’t run again, and Cynthia Elliott’s seat, which is up for re-election again, after her 15-plus-years-stint) is in full swing. As at least 10 candidates for the three seats are “traveling” around the city via Legislative Districts’ Zoom meetings, guess what’s on every candidate’s tongue, you got it: “racial justice.” It’s also on the tongue of one of the Rochester City School District’s (RCSD) two, six-figured-salaried Superintendents (in addition to a six-figure-salaried, so-called “special monitor”), namely, (Superintendent #2), Mr. Shaun Nelms.

Mr. Nelms has declared that “across Monroe County, students will soon have anti-racist lessons.” According to a recent news article: “Last May, after George Floyd was killed in police custody and nationwide protests for social justice began, East High School Superintendent Shaun Nelms challenged his colleagues across Monroe County to teach students about Rochester’s history of segregation and disparity. ‘I would also say that the death of Daniel Prude in Rochester was also a reminder that this work is critically important,’ Nelms added, referring to the man who died last March after Rochester police restrained him.” So now, supposedly, “this spring eighth, 11th, and 12th-grade students in every district in the county will receive the same anti-racist classroom lessons.”

A very, very serious issue and problem is that, considering widespread white fragility and deep-seated, race-based-cognitive-dissonance among MOST white teachers throughout Monroe Country, including the RCSD (not to mention chronic lack of necessary, deep-seated knowledge, experience, and desire, e.g., pedagogical expertise) — do we really believe that eighth, 11th, and 12th-grade students in every district in the County will receive the exact, same anti-racist classroom lessons? Even IF that miracle were to happen — in order to adequately cover all of the subtopics mentioned in the above referenced news article, about how many lessons/days do we think this would require, especially on the part of novices?

It was also reported that: “History teachers across Monroe County are slated to undergo training for the course.” Again, even IF this miraculous feat was anything other than (basically) a publicity ploy — educators who have been around for any length of time, are well aware that, as soon as we hear the term “training” associated with complex, deep-seated, centuries-old, historical phenomena, such as the Tripartite Beast and Illness of Individual, Institutional, and Structural Racism — a “red-flag” should go up — because as it relates to education, especially and particularly URBAN EDUCATION (where frequently “accountability” exists only in rhetorical terms), “training” implies that after a certain amount of hours or a few days (at most), supposedly, some talking-head(s) will have “equipped” clueless practitioners with knowledge and skills that crowns them as “experts” regarding whatever it is the talking-head(s) are usually compensated quite lucratively to “teach.” KNOW THIS: ANTI-RACISM IS DEFINITELY NOT ABOUT SO-CALLED “TRAINING.” INSTEAD, IT IS ABOUT SERIOUS, ONGOING EDUCATION (FOR MOST, IF NOT ALL, ESPECIALLY AND PARTICULARLY WHITE FOLKS) LITERALLY FOR A LIFETIME — PERIOD.

Since one of the places where the so-called “training” and “lessons” will happen is in the Rochester City School District, which of course, is in “Monroe County” — those of us who are members of the RCSD’s Racial Equity Advocacy Leadership (REAL) team should request to observe both. This way the REAL team might be able (during the 2020-21 school year) to carry out one part of our responsibilities (at least partially), as defined in Rochester Board of Education Resolution No. 2018-19: 631, e.g., “assist the Superintendent in racial equity strategic planning, annually evaluating the impact of current racial equity initiatives on student achievement and making commitments to address newly identified race-based inequities in order to ensure that racially equitable educational opportunities are being provided to all of the students who attend our schools.”

Lastly, RCSD Superintendent #1 (Ms. Lesli Myers-Small) has already informed us of her participation in RCSD Superintendent #2 (Mr. Shaun Nelms’) so-called “anti-racist” initiative. However, she has not explained why she (the only Superintendent in Monroe County who “leads” a Racial Equity Advocacy, REAL team), and also the only one who has a Racial Equity Action Plan, which she has NOT embraced — apparently didn’t think that it was appropriate to involve her REAL team in Superintendent #2’s “anti-racist” work. She has stated that she will explain during the REAL team’s next meeting with her on January 25, 2021, which is absolutely intriguing.



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