Katherine Kersten’s thoughtful and well-researched commentary on the state’s efforts to equalize school suspension rates by race (“Undisciplined,” March 18) is being challenged, primarily by name-calling disguised as argument (counterpoints, March 20 and 21). In addition, the efforts of Kersten’s critics to shut down debate of this official government action reminds us of what is taking place on college campuses across the nation and speaks for itself.
One can only imagine the intimidation a teacher will feel in taking action against a student of color in this environment. It is very predictable what will happen to the learning environment as a result.
Kathy, in her piece, is asking all of us to confront some uncomfortable truths about the far-reaching impact of family structure and culture that exist in many parts of our community.
It is quite possible that the legitimate burden of introspection and change that existed in the majority community 60 years ago has now primarily moved to minority communities. That transition is, and will continue to be, very painful.
Peter Bell, Minneapolis
The writer is a former chairman of the Metropolitan Council and is a senior fellow at Center of the American Experiment.
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Kersten’s article should have been rejected on the basis of the first paragraph alone. “Brace yourself, parents of Minnesota” it begins, and then ends with “and some kids — no longer accountable for their behavior — will feel free to provoke mischief and mayhem.”
This is not just opinion; it is race-based fearmongering. “Some kids” is clearly used by Kersten as code for children of color. This tone continues throughout the piece. That the opinion section editors not only published this but gave it most of the front page of the opinion section along with another third of a page inside is irresponsible. The editors are right to publish conflicting opinions — they are wrong to allow their pages to contribute to the current climate of hate and fear.
David Mann, Minneapolis
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As a recently retired teacher, I couldn’t agree more with the “Undisciplined” commentary. Schools should be upholding standards of behavior, not excusing it or lowering standards. This is not how people act in responsible jobs or in society. Also, if schools and classrooms allow out-of-control behavior, why would a talented teacher stay in this situation? Teachers work hard; beginning teachers are low-paid. These, and then having to deal with the constant stress of students’ acting-out, are reasons for the teacher shortage.
Nancy Kaiser, Blaine
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Implicit bias is real, and is present in each human. Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald, in their book “Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People,” describe how the brain is wired to unconsciously sort incoming data into categories of information, starting with safety. These categories are developed from our past experiences, the media, the teachings passed down to us, etc. Because so many messages in our society have portrayed black, Latino and Native American people as violent, illegal or lazy, and whites and Asians as accomplished, any new interaction can get sorted into those respective categories first. We have to consciously unlearn those connections so that biases don’t become racist beliefs and actions as described in the article.
I have been a music teacher, and an elementary and middle-school principal. I learned about implicit bias while doing lunch duty one day when an African American girl asked me very respectfully, “Ms. Bussman, why do you always ask the white kids to do things and tell the black kids?” This young woman helped me see one of my implicit biases — my behavior of controlling students whom I unconsciously considered more likely to be noncompliant or aggressive. Becoming conscious of my behavior allowed me to interact more equitably, more authentically and in a more welcoming manner. As a principal, I wrestled with the discipline code “defiance,” because two students could make the same statement and receive very different teacher or administrator responses based on implicit bias, stress, racism and relationship. Learning to pause before reacting can change the response of the teacher and transform the experience for the student.
In Minnesota, we need to talk about race and culture, about implicit bias and systems that exclude rather than understand. That’s what the Minnesota Department of Human Rights is requiring us to do. Without the requirement, it’s too easy for us as white people to ignore the bias, racism and systemic oppression, because it doesn’t hurt us. In this global context, however, this does hurt us — all of us as a community, a state and a nation.
Mary Bussman, Minneapolis
The writer is a staff consultant for Equity Alliance MN.
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We need a better discussion about why students misbehave in school.
Rather than seeking the causes, districts seem to be addressing the symptoms. With suspension and expulsion out of favor, their “solutions” now run toward more social workers, counseling teachers not to be racist, better “classroom management,” more special-ed placements and tighter security.
For district officials, going to causes would take time. And perhaps seem pointless: The schools can’t much affect family life or the youth culture. So, be practical: Deal with the misbehavior directly.
But what if students are misbehaving because they find schoolwork of little interest, irrelevant? Might they behave better if school were more engaging? What would students say, if asked about that? Is anyone asking them? If not, why not?
The opinion survey for the Kappan magazine in 2015 shows the public now feels the top job for schools is not to produce high scores but to get students engaged, motivated to learn. Eight of 10 Americans want schools accountable for getting students engaged.
Motivation probably increases effort, and effort likely increases achievement. The discussion we need would begin if someone would just ask boards and superintendents: What is your strategy for maximizing student motivation?
Ted Kolderie, St. Paul
The writer is a co-founder of Education|Evolving and is the author of “The Split-Screen Strategy: How to Turn Education Into a Self-Improving System.”
Resistance to offered legislation is not ‘tone-deaf’ but sensible
After I read the March 18 editorial “A tone-deaf response to gun law reforms,” I had to respond. Either those on the Star Tribune Editorial Board did not read the proposed gun-control legislation or they need a good review of the Constitution.
I’ve read both. SF 3279 at the Minnesota Legislature would make criminals out of most gun owners for simply lending a gun to a friend. I’m thankful for those at the Capitol who understand that infringing on our constitutional rights is not to be legislated. I do agree that there are some common-sense gun-law reforms, just not in this proposal.
The Legislature and the governor need to pass “stand your ground” legislation to support law-abiding citizens and more severely punish those who violate the current laws. How about the death penalty for any crime committed with a gun, even a fake gun? Maybe that would make the criminals stop and think a bit.
All decent citizens want to reduce violence, not only gun violence. We also have a problem with teenage bullying. Are we suggesting banning or putting an age limit of 21 for social media? How many teenage suicides could be prevented by eliminating social-media bullying? That is only a common-sense restriction of the First Amendment. Just because someone says they are promoting “common-sense” laws does not make it true or even a shared belief. Just because the governor says it in his State of the State address does not make it a fact. It is only his liberal biased opinion.
Allen Soderbeck, Prior Lake