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Renee Jones Schneider, Dml - Star Tribune

Running the wrong way on learning gap

  • Article by: KATHERINE KERSTEN
  • March 10, 2012 - 4:43 PM

The issue of Minnesota's racial learning gap -- one of the worst in the nation -- is heating up at the State Capitol. It's about time. University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler has called the gap "a catastrophe coming right down the pike at us."

Social-science research demonstrates overwhelmingly that the gap -- evident by the time white and minority children reach age 3 -- springs from socioeconomic and family risk factors. These include broken families, low parental educational attainment, and poor parental nurturing.

In light of these facts, Minnesotans may be astonished to learn that many of our state's school administrators have embraced the extraordinary notion that white teachers are primarily to blame for the racial learning gap. Twin Cities school districts are spending buckets of taxpayer money to convince teachers that their addiction to "white privilege" -- conscious or unconscious -- is preventing minority children from learning.

The Pacific Educational Group (PEG), a San Francisco-based "diversity" consulting group, is a central player in purveying this ideology in metro-area school districts. PEG's founder and executive director is Glenn Singleton, a black learning gap consultant and coauthor of "Courageous Conversations about Race" -- a kind of bible to many Minnesota education officials.

At least 16 districts -- including Minneapolis, Eden Prairie, Hopkins, Farmington, Rosemount/Apple Valley/Eagan and Rochester -- have worked with PEG on "cultural competency" training aimed at closing the gap. The estimated cost as of spring 2011? About $2 million.

Hundreds of Minnesota teachers have attended PEG's workshops and training activities, and Minnesota educators regularly present at the organization's national conferences.

Singleton insists that "institutionalized racism" is "the most devastating factor contributing to the lowered achievement of students of color." He claims that teachers' ignorance of minority students' cultures prevents them from communicating effectively with these children, whose daily experience of racial oppression they don't share.

In promoting the view that white people and "Black and Brown" people have very different cultures, Singleton employs crude racial stereotypes that most Americans rejected years ago. For example, he claims that "White individualism" fosters "independence," "individual achievement" and "upward mobility," and that white people are "intellectual" and capable of "quantitative thinking."

In contrast, "Black and Brown" culture promotes "collectivism." Black and Brown people are "emotional and "interested in feelings," and communicate through "body motions" like "rolling of the eyes" and "other nonverbal expressions."

Singleton's "Framework for Systemic Equity/Anti-Racism Transformation" offers little in the way of research-based instructional techniques. Instead, it focuses on getting white teachers to confront and confess their own presumed racial biases.

School district personnel -- "from the Board and superintendent to beginning teachers" -- must participate in PEG-led consciousness raising, according to PEG materials. Unless training is comprehensive, "educators who are disengaged will simply move to places in the district where fear, resistance, inequity, and racism remain unaddressed."

What comes out the other end of PEG's ideological pipeline? Singleton points to Graig Meyer, a "district equity coach" in Chapel Hill, N.C., as PEG's ideal white educator and "anti-racist leader."

"The truly difficult work is looking deep within myself to recognize where my own reservoirs of Whiteness reside," he quotes Meyer as saying. "My White guilt tends to creep up most when I'm forced to reflect on the power I wield."

Meyer goes on to condemn his own "engrained Whiteness and my own blindness to its perpetual presence." He laments "the deepest vestige of my own White supremacy that feeds this need to know it all, to be right, and to be in charge."

Minnesotans of all races are more likely to see Meyer's words as evidence of a need for therapeutic counseling than as educational expertise that will benefit students.

How does indoctrination like this help children who struggle to master phonics and the multiplication tables? How does the notion that black children are "emotional" and prone to "rolling of the eyes," while white children are "intellectual" and good at "quantitative thinking," support minority children in ways that will reduce the learning gap?

The tragedy is that schools that embrace such ideological nonsense are harming the very students who most need our help.

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Katherine Kersten is a senior fellow at the Center of the American Experiment. The views expressed here are her own. She is at kakersten@gmail.com.

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