When I came home from school on Friday, I was greeted by an orange magazine featuring the headline, “WHOSE VALUES? Educational excellence threatened by ideology in Edina schools.” The publication included the full-length version of an Oct. 7 commentary by Katherine Kersten (“Racial identity policies are ruining Edina’s fabled schools.”)
As a student in the Edina education system, I was intrigued, and began to read.
The magazine article and the commentary assert that falling standardized test scores can be blamed on the Edina School District’s belief in valuing diversity and equity among students. The author attacks the “All for All” plan of district administrators, the mission of which is to view “teaching and learning experiences through the lens of racial equality,” claiming the plan is “a simplistic blaming of ‘white privilege’ for the racial learning gap.”
Kersten takes issue with an elementary school principal and the school’s “Melanin Project,” which is meant to teach young students about racial equality.
After finishing the article, I wondered if I had come into contact with the fabled “fake news” of our president’s tweets.
Kersten’s full article, which was mailed to every Edina household, illustrates many of the same concepts as the commentary, but it is much more explosive. Filled with hyperbole, hearsay and exaggerations, it claims that my school’s curriculum is “indoctrinating students into left-wing political orthodoxies” and uses the word “Marxist” to describe an AP English class that I attended. Kersten further claims that white males are labeled “rapists,” in the English curriculum — a claim based on a story told by anonymous parents. Finally, she asserts that free speech is being oppressed.
As to Marxism, I don’t recall learning that private property is theft in 10th-grade English. I also don’t think speech is being oppressed. There are school-sanctioned student clubs for every party on the political spectrum.
The section I found most troubling was Kersten’s attack on the Edina High School language-arts administration. According to Kersten, there is a “culture of intimidation” for students with nonconforming views. She describes how 10th-grade English should be renamed “Why white males are bad, and how oppressive they are.”
As a white, male student at Edina High School, I have never experienced or seen a “culture of intimidation” directed toward me or my white, male peers. The English class described in the Op-Ed piece is a pre-Advanced Placement class, meant to prepare us for college-level English courses, and the topics of race and gender are prevalent in American literature.
I don’t understand how it is a bad thing to teach young students that diversity is important. This is especially true in Edina, a city with a history of racial discrimination and a population that remains 88 percent white. Diversity is an essential value that we all must learn to appreciate. Learning that people with different skin colors should be treated the same is not “indoctrination,” and it is most definitely not prompting classification by skin color.
I’m also confused by the author’s association of lower test scores with teaching a diverse curriculum. According to the U.S. Department of Education, test scores across the entire nation fell between 2015 and 2017, particularly among low-income and minority students. Edina is still among the top performing public schools in the nation, and by 11th grade, Edina students perform up to 20 percent above statewide proficiency rates, according to the school. Kersten is using the dip in national test scores to advance her and her organization’s political agenda locally by blaming a liberal boogeyman rather than giving any empirical evidence of a link between a diverse education and lower test scores.
This magazine article and commentary piece are attempts by Kersten and her organization to tilt the school board election and the vote on a tax increase to support the school. Edina students are not being “deprived” of their right to an education, and Edina is headed in the right direction.
Charles Heinecke is a junior at Edina High School.