Controversial Teacher Conference Focuses on ‘White Privilege’

Ashleigh Costello, EAG News, May 1, 2013

More than 200 Wisconsin teachers and school administrators traveled to Green Bay last week to attend CREATE Wisconsin’s 2013 state conference.

EAGnews decided to join them, to get a first-hand look at what the program, sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, is all about.

State officials contend the CREATE program is nothing more than an effort to help teachers better understand and serve minority students. {snip}

Many of the presentations focused on how public schools supposedly promote “white culture” and “white privilege,” to the detriment to students of color. Presenters called on educators to recognize and acknowledge their white privilege and encourage their students to do the same. Only then, presenters argue, can all students truly receive a multicultural education.

The conference also focused on teaching race-based topics in the classroom and how to respond to student resistance when talking about white privilege. The goal seems to be to crush dissent, convince  white kids that they need to feel guilty about themselves and the society they grew up in, and convince minority kids that current American social structures are hopelessly stacked against them.

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In a workshop titled “Establishing Critical Thinking and Multicultural Education in Rural Wisconsin Schools,” Dr. Marguerite Parks discussed the importance of multicultural education and how to create culturally responsive classrooms.

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Parks, an associate dean for the College of Education and Human Services at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, said educators are often ignorant of their own “white privilege” or do not know how to broach the subject in class.

“What we often discover is that teachers don’t have the resources or don’t know what books to use,” she said.

To deal with that perceived problem, Parks included a list of “authentic multicultural books” for elementary school-aged children.

One of the recommended books is “The Jacket” by Andrew Clements.

The story centers around a young white boy named Phil. After wrongly accusing an African-American boy of stealing his brother’s jacket, Phil must confront the truth about his privilege and what it means.

It turns out, unbeknownst to Phil, his mother gave the jacket to the African-American grandmother. Phil later learns that was the case.

Phil asks his mother why she never told him he was prejudiced. His mother, clearly confused by the question, asks Phil if someone accused him of being prejudiced, at which point the boy responds:

“No, but it’s true. I know what it means because we learned about it on Martin Luther King Day. It means you don’t like black people.”

What exactly is the point here? Would Phil have reacted the same way if the boy wearing the jacket had been white?

Does being suspicious of a black person, or even mistakenly accusing that person, make one a racist?

Parks praised the book as a way to have an honest discussion about “white privilege” in the classroom.

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Another conference session labeled “Power, Positionality and Identity in the Culturally Responsive Classroom: White Privilege and Dismantling Student Resistance,” addressed challenges that may arise when teaching white privilege to upper level students.

A description reads, “This session centers on teaching dynamics that stand in the way of student learning and create resistance especially when the teacher’s position places them at odds with their students. Issues to be dealt with include examining those painful contradictions that arise while teaching White Privilege.”

Dr. Bola Delano-Oriaran, one of the presenters along with Parks, expressed her frustration at student resistance.

“I’m not trying to confront my students, but day in, day out, I keep getting that resistance,” Delano-Oriaran said. “I don’t even know how to describe it. You know the pain that goes through my mind as I keep talking about it, about this resistance, because for me the intent is not for my students to get annoyed with me.

“I would like to move my students beyond guilt and anger. And what I’m trying to get them to understand is we have to walk together. Now we wouldn’t have all these issues we’re having right now in present day society if we talked about it.”

Parks also discussed her experience with student resistance.

“Rather than hitting them in the face–because I was verbally hitting them in the face, you’ve got white privilege, you’re middle class, you’re white–I [realized] I need to back off,” Parks said. “So that to me was an ‘ah-ha’ moment. I’ve got to change my tactics. Not, not do it, because I still do it, I still hit them in the face quite a lot… But there is a better way of which to do it than just blame them, because that’s what I was doing. [I was] blaming them for the fact that they grew up in a small white town…”

Neither presenter acknowledged that students might have some valid criticism of the “white privilege” concept. Instead, they believe resistance is due to student ignorance, and that ignorance must be crushed.

There is an ironic humor involved in this sort of radical teaching. According to Parks, “multicultural education is about critical thinking.” Yet, both women only allow their students to engage in “critical thinking” when they are in agreement with the lesson at hand.

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Wisconsin parents would be wise to monitor the “lessons” their children are receiving at school, particularly if they have concerns about kids being doused in the philosophy of “white privilege,” or being taught that America is a racist nation with a corrupt and shameful history.

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