Thursday, October 28, 2021

Teaching About Indian Genocide in California


SAN FRANCISCO — It’s not often that research for an article begins with my daughter’s elementary school textbook, but for an article published this week it was appropriate. Earlier this year I was alerted to a controversy at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law about the role of its founder in Gold Rush-era massacres. I wanted to see what California schoolchildren were taught about that period.

“The large numbers of people who immigrated and migrated to California led to more problems for California Indians,” the textbook said, adding that “settlers often moved onto Indian lands, and many Indians were killed in conflicts.”

What I learned from subsequently reading a dozen books on the subject, interviewing leading historians who study that era and poring through documents at the California state archives was how understated the textbook was.

The men who killed thousands of Indians from the 1840s to the 1870s were paid by the state of California and the federal government. Like modern-day corporate travelers, they filed expenses and were reimbursed. The massacres masterminded by Serranus Hastings, the founder of the law school, were just a part of the state-sponsored killings carried out across the state.

During the course of my reporting I learned about “Indian baby hunters” who roamed what is now Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte Counties with the express purpose of killing Indians to take their children captive and sell them.

I heard from Kevin Waite, a historian, that at the site of present-day Los Angeles City Hall, the city held a weekly “slave mart,” where Native labor was sold to the highest bidder.

And I read about a handful of legislators who in 1860 objected that the massacres of Yuki Indians were referred to as the Mendocino Indian War. To use the term “war,” they said, would be to dignify what was in fact a slaughter.

The Indians, they said, “make no resistance, and make no attacks, either on the person or residence of the citizen.”

(The Legislature ignored their objections and voted to pay the killers $9,347.39 for expenses incurred.)

Continue reading the main story

In 1850 a U.S. Army captain, Nathaniel Lyon, wrote to his superiors about the “most gratifying results” of an expedition that trapped and killed Native Americans along the Russian River. Captain Lyon, a West Point graduate, wrote that an island in the river the Native Americans could not escape from “soon became a perfect slaughter pen.” He estimated the number of people killed at “not less than 75” and probably double that number.

Some of the documents I found at the California state archives were written in an elegant calligraphy that belied their searing content.

Walter Jarboe, a militia leader who worked for Hastings, wrote Gov. John Weller in 1859 about the pursuit of Yuki tribespeople through Mendocino County.

“The fight lasted two hours,” he wrote matter-of-factly. “Killed 23 Indians.”

I felt that I was reporting from a haunted land. It reminded me of walking through prewar Jewish cemeteries in parts of Eastern Europe where Jews had been driven out. Or reporting from Cambodian villages and realizing that anyone with an education who was over a certain age had been purged by the Khmer Rouge.

The knowledge of the massacres came with a heaviness.

“People want and like positive histories,” said William Bauer, a historian who grew up in Round Valley, Calif., and is a member of the Wailacki and Concow Tribes. “It’s easier and much more enjoyable to think about the past being this kind of rugged individualism coming to California, participating in the Gold Rush and ignoring the violence that attended that event.”

Continue reading the main story


Bauer told me he had visited Sutter’s Fort, the Sacramento Gold Rush landmark, when he was in high school. He noted that Indians were barely mentioned during the tour. He and many other historians believe that the way California history is taught needs to be changed to include more of the dark realities of what happened to Native peoples.

“I think it’s getting people to reckon with the fact that the history of the United States is built on the dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their land,” Bauer said. “And that the dispossession occurred violently.”

Greg Sarris, the chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, a Northern California confederation of tribes, has contributed profits from a tribal casino to a project at the Smithsonian to teach Native history.

“The American Indian is a prick in the American conscience,” Sarris told me. “The real question is how do you ensure that the story gets told.”

Thomas Fuller is the San Francisco bureau chief for The New York Times.



Saturday, October 23, 2021

The Right-Wing Attack on Racial Justice Talk

The Right-Wing Attack on Racial Justice Talk: How critical race theory has become a handy target for an old-fashioned assault on civil rights.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Teachers and Reading Books

A Curriculum of Irrelevancy
Another ridiculous Zoom meeting with a school leader on the precipice of deciding no more classroom libraries because "some of the books might make kids question what their parents want them to know" has encouraged me to think that a Bloody Mary, made with tomato juice remember, is an important part of the food pyramid and I should partake right now. And doesn't vodka come from potatoes?
It has also made me so sad. We are so quickly moving down the path of sustaining a curriculum that is focused on the irrelevant ("Show three ways the author created tension in this short story."), as it guards white fragility and continues to deny a history that is a critical part in the country we are today.
Here is the conversation. All knew I was recording it. I promised not to mention school names, district names, size of district, or anything else thing else that could suggest a particular identity if I wrote about the conversation.
Principal: Dr. Beers, thank you for joining us. We've been asked to take a deep look at the books our high school social studies and ELA teachers have in their classrooms to make sure they present more than a single side of an issue. We had a concern raised by one parent because of a book her ninth grade daughter chose to read. This book was in her ELA classroom in a section marked "Autobiographies." Mrs. X, thank you for joining our call. Would you like to tell Dr. Beers what happened?
Mrs. X: Yes. Thank you. My ninth grade daughter is very sweet, very smart, actually an above-level reader. Her teacher has books in her classroom the students can choose to read. My daughter loves autobiographies and so she chose this book called Warriors Don't Cry. Do you know the book?
I told her I did. I refrained from saying that I met Melba Beals, the author, before I actually read Warriors Don't Cry and I sobbed while reading it. I'm no warrior. I didn't tell her I thought this autobiography of one of the Little Rock Nine to integrate their previously all white high school, should be required reading. I just said, "I have read it. Several times." She raised her eyebrows and went on.
Mrs X: Well, I didn't know she was reading it until one evening she read a part aloud to me and she was crying. She was crying! She said it made her sad to see what white people did to Black people and she wanted to know why white people were so mean and is that why when George Floyd got killed Black people were so angry. She said "it was like nothing had changed." The mother paused then went on: It was obvious that this book was making her feel bad for being white. No book should make a child feel bad for being white. Or, I guess, any other race. We didn't even discuss that George Floyd incident. It wasn't about us, so we didn't see any reason to discuss it. And here she was, thinking about it.
Principal: So, we have some new regulations here in [our state] that encourage having books that present the other side of a controversial issue in libraries, especially classroom libraries. We'd like your opinion on that.
At this point, I was wondering why I had agreed to be a part of this conversation, but I took a breath and began. "I think it is very simple. You have to define controversial. There is nothing controversial about what happened to Melba Beals and those other eight Black students. There is nothing to be controverted with her account - we know that because her account is documented by too many confirming stories and the white students who were the most consistently cruel to her have stepped forward, as adults, and recognized their abuse. There is no "good side" to the horrific year in her life and the abuses by many white people during this time of ending segregation in the South. If you want an example of a controversial subject that should show various positions, I suppose there is some controversy over whether people should eat a plant-based diet rather than a meat-based diet. In a health class I'd like to see students read about that issue from multiple doctors including heart specialists, environmentalists, farmers and ranchers, and nutritionists. But this book, this issue, these facts - I think you are asking the wrong question.
Principal: What's the right question?
Me: Mrs. X, what's your real concern?
Mrs. X: My daughter. She was upset. Books at school shouldn't upset anyone and certainly should not upset a young person just because she is white.
Me: Sounds to me as if your daughter has a huge heart.
Mrs. X: Well, yes. She does. Thank you.
Me: It's hard when our children begin to learn certain truths, isn't it? I bet your daughter cried a lot when she learned about Santa Claus.
Mrs. X (smiing): She did. And she said we could not tell her little [sibling] because she wanted that belief to continue.
Me: Yes. Sometimes we want some beliefs to continue. We don't want to know the truth. And sometimes the truth, when we learn it makes us cry. This is a far harder truth than Santa, isn't it. Learning this country's history is hard. I'm proud of her for feeling what Melba Beals was sharing. Have you started reading the book, Mrs. X? (She shakes her head no.) I think when you do - and I think you should - you will be proud of your daughter for crying and you will thank the teacher for having this book the classroom. Think of it this way: From your description, it sounds like she is smart enough to ask some really tough questions. Perhaps questions she hasn't considered before or things that haven't been discussed at home and maybe you aren't ready to discuss those issues. I don't blame you, they are hard ones.
Mrs. X (defensive): That's right. We don't sit around discussing how white people are bad. That's what you are suggesting, right? All white people are racist. Well, we don't believe that and I don't like my child, she's just in ninth grade, wondering that.
Me: Again, I'm deeply impressed with the questions your daughter was asking. I wonder if she'd be interested in reading more about racism and discovering what others have to say about systemic racism in the country. You know, Mrs. X, having compassion for what someone else experienced and trying to see how patterns of behavior have continued is important if we want those patterns to be interrupted. And this isn't about what I think or don't think. It is about the wonderful daughter you have who is thinking. You wouldn't want to discourage that.
Mrs. X: No, of course not. But she just doesn't need to be thinking about that. My word, that was in the previous century. My daughter is not a racist. I am not a racist. And I don't think we need our students reading things that make them feel bad for being who they are.
Me: Yes. I think a lot of people would agree. You know, for the longest time, no children's books had divorced parents in them. None. I wonder if the kids who sat in classrooms with divorced parents felt left out, unseen? I wonder if they felt bad. And for a long time, no books, or almost no books, featured children or teens who were any color other than white. I wonder how those kids felt? And for a long time, in books and on TV, the Indiginous People of this nation were portrayed as savages or simple minded or alcoholics. I wonder how those children felt. Books ought to make us feel something, and sometimes that feeling is regret; other times it is horror; others times it is courage; other times it is relief at finding someone who looks like we look. Your daughter found one of those books - a book that showed her someone, at her grade, living a very different ninth grade year, a horrific ninth grade year. And that hurt her heart. And that led to her questioning if we're treating one other justly now. And that's a great thing. I think you should be proud of her and should be thanking the teacher.
Mrs. X didn't say thank you, but she didn't say I was wrong. She said that she wasn't sure she had made her point exactly right but did see what I was saying. She said she would "certainly" be reading the book. I honestly don't know if that will make things better or not.
And then she left Zoom. And the principal said to me that this is happening almost daily now. "I don't know. Maybe the only way we can get covered what we need to teach for [our state] test is to take out books like this. I just don't know." I liked this principal. He was conflicted and willing to sit in that for a moment before rushing to a bad decision.
So, I'm mailing him a copy of Forged by Reading, which he has promised to read. I've sticky-noted the section I've pasted below which begins on page 30 of the book. I want him to seriously consider what happens when we begin removing books from shelves. What do we remove next? Who - or what - do we become?
From Forged by Reading (Beers and Probst)
Sailing into tomorrow may require us to rethink assumptions
and values so that we act differently in the future. There will
be implications and consequences for considering the new and
reconsidering what we have long thought. The only way to avoid the discomfort is to avoid the issues. If we can avoid talking about and reading about problematic matters, issues that might require us to rethink values and assumptions, then we won’t feel the discomfort that such difficult thought might entail.
If we banish from our minds, our libraries, and our classrooms any examination of politics, religion, race, environment, sex, justice, and the like, we might protect ourselves from the possible discomfort we might experience. All we have to do is trivialize the curriculum to the point that few will be bothered by anything.
If we can make instruction completely insignificant, utterly irrelevant to anyone’s emotional and intellectual life, then absolutely no one should rise up to protest the threat we pose to treasured beliefs, valued affiliations, or well-established habits of thought and action. We can teach kids how viruses are different from bacteria but avoid discussing why the health care system better serves the wealthy than the poor. We can teach what events led up to World War II and which countries fought on which sides and the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps but fail to mention our own concentration camps for American citizens of Japanese ancestry or consider why the 761st Tank Battalion or the 555th Parachute Battalion consisted solely of African American soldiers. We can give the facts of Brown v. Board of Education but never read what happened to the Little Rock Nine, never discuss how the integration of schools caused thousands of well-qualified Black teachers to lose their jobs because white parents refused to let their children be taught by a Black teacher.
We can teach the definitions of “preposition” and “conjunction.”
That will raise few hackles. “Onomatopoeia” and “zeugma” are
unlikely to drive marchers into the streets, even if we require
students to learn both definition and spelling. Better yet, we
can teach penmanship—that will threaten the values of neither
the conservatives nor the progressives, neither Republicans nor
Democrats, neither those drilling for oil nor the sailors on one of the Greenpeace ships.
Total irrelevancy, absolute insignificance, and unwavering stasis are effective strategies for avoiding the discomfort of thought and change.
We cannot, dear teachers, ever give in to the demands of irrelevancy. So, Mr. Principal, you must be brave. You must steer the ship into tomorrow. Your teachers will be there with you. And students, they may shudder at past injustices - long past and recent past - and I hope they do. If they don't, we are in more trouble than I thought.
I wish you all bravery. Stamina. And the knowledge that your hard work is the good work; the best work; the needed work. We need you.

Kylene Beers 

reposted from Facebook. 

Monday, October 18, 2021

SCUSD Proposes to Freeze Teachers' Salaries


In spite of a $19 million dollar surplus, ( see blog post below)

News Messenger
Volume 42, No. 6 | October 15, 2021
SCUSD Rejects SCTA Olive Branch,
Demands 5-Year Wage Freeze
And Other Concessions That Would REDUCE Take-Home Pay by an Average of

On August 25, we presented an olive branch to the District.

There are several crises impacting the District:

  • The approximately 200 vacancies among certificated staff;
  • The massive shortage of substitutes that has resulted in an average of 54 classes per day (affecting 2000 or more students without either a regular or substitute teacher)
  • The District's failure to provide services to students with disabilities that resulted in legal action by the California Department of Education;
  • The challenges in providing a safe and healthy learning environment with the resumption of in-person instruction; during the pandemic;
  • The need to establish and staff an Independent Study program for those students unable to return to in-person instruction.

In order to work together to focus on these crises, we proposed to extend our contract with a modest salary increase (3.5%) through June 30, 2022. You can view our proposal here.

SCUSD Rejects SCTA's Olive Branch
After refusing to respond to our proposal for weeks, on Wednesday SCUSD's bargaining team formally rejected our proposal.

Unlike other school districts (including others that are in significantly worse financial shape than SCUSD) that are offering salary increases and other significant incentives to recruit and retain staff, SCUSD's demands for concessions became even more extreme. SCUSD presented its proposal as a package, meaning take it or leave it. The District reiterated it was maintaining all of its previous proposals, as well as additional or changed demands in the following areas:

  1. A 5-Year Wage Freeze; Until Wednesday, the District's unacceptable demand for wage freezes was for three years: school years 19-20. 20-21, an 21-22. On Wednesday, the District increased its demand for an additional two years--22-23 and 23-24. You can view the SCUSD proposal here. By comparison, during the same five-year period he is demanding wage freezes, Superintendent Aguilar's pay will increase by 17.5%.
  2. Concessions in Health Insurance that Would Result in $750 PER MONTH Reductions in Take-Home PayIn addition, to the new 5-year wage freeze demand, the District re-proposed its demand for significant cuts in health insurance, including the right to change insurance at any time to any plan the District determines is "appropriate" and increasing costs to employees that would reduce the take-home pay by an average of $750 per month per employee. Some employees would see their health insurance costs increase by $17,500 or more per year. You can view the SCUSD proposal on benefits here.
  3. Increased Work Time for Staff, Without Additional CompensationIf a 5-year wage freeze and enormous reductions in take-home pay through health insurance concessions weren't enough, SCUSD re-proposed significant changes to the employees' work day, including eliminating pay for educators who work through their prep periods and other unnecessary changes.
  4. Off-Salary Schedule Bonuses: As part of its take it or leave it proposal, the District offered three one-time bonuses of $1000 per year (before taxes) for 21-22, 22-23, 23-24. The bonuses which, according to the District, are "to address additional costs and duties related to COVID-19, less any and all applicable taxes and withholdings." The District specifically excludes substitutes from receiving the "bonus." For the average regular staff member, the "bonus" would only offset approximately 15% of the $750 per month reduction in take-home pay and no one would be eligible for the "bonus" unless we agreed to every other concession the District is demanding--including the 5-year wage freeze.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

California Schools to Require Ethnic Studies


By Soumya Karlamangla

California Today, Writer

It’s Thursday. California has become the first state to require high school students to take an ethnic studies course to graduate. 

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Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a bill that requires public high school students to take an ethnic studies course before graduating.Allison Zaucha for The New York Times

The hundreds of new laws that Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed over the past several weeks include plenty of “firsts.”

California has become the first state to force the garment industry to pay workers by the hour, instead of per item. The first to ban the sale of gas-powered lawn mowers. The first to target Amazon production quotas. The first to outlaw removing a condom without permission during sex.

Of these landmark bills, perhaps the most controversial is one requiring all public high school students to take an ethnic studies course to graduate.

Under the new law, high schoolers will be taught about the struggles and contributions of African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans and other ethnic groups, “which have often been untold in U.S. history courses,” according to the state’s model ethnic studies curriculum.

California’s student population is highly diverse — less than a quarter of public K-12 students are white. Through ethnic studies courses, students can learn their own stories as well as those of their classmates, Newsom said.

“America is shaped by our shared history, much of it painful and etched with woeful injustice,” Newsom wrote in his signing message. “Students deserve to see themselves in their studies, and they must understand our nation’s full history if we expect them to one day build a more just society.”

What’s the new law exactly?

Assembly Bill 101 adds one semester of ethnic studies to the state’s high school graduation requirements.

This will introduce high schoolers to concepts that have typically been reserved for the collegiate level.

Not only was ethnic studies born on a Bay Area college campus, but it’s also already a graduation requisite at California community colleges, the California State University system and some University of California campuses.

The specifics of what will be taught in high schools are up to local districts.

The nearly 900-page model curriculum approved by the California Department of Education this year includes dozens of sample lessons, such as “#BlackLivesMatter and Social Change,” “Chinese Railroad Workers” and “U.S. Housing Inequality: Redlining and Racial Housing Covenants.”

Whom does this affect?

The first high schoolers subject to the new mandate are those graduating in the 2029-30 academic year. Schools don’t have to begin offering ethnic studies courses until 2025.

The requirement applies to students at all California public schools, including charters. There are currently about 1.7 million public high school students in the state.

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A demonstration in front of the Los Alamitos Unified School District building against the teaching of critical race theory.Etienne Laurent/EPA, via Shutterstock

Is anyone else doing this?

Several districts in California have already added ethnic studies to their high school graduation requirements, including San DiegoSan FranciscoFresnoand Los Angeles Unified school districts.

In 2017, Oregon passed a law ordering that ethnic studies concepts be integrated into existing social studies courses for K-12 students. The rule differs from California’s in that it doesn’t create a distinct course focused on ethnic studies.

Who opposes the law?

California has been working for years on developing a model ethnic studies curriculum, but early drafts faced heavy pushback from many quarters. Amid these concerns, Newsom last year vetoed a nearly identical version of the bill.

Previous drafts of the state’s teaching guide were criticized as too left-leaning, filled with jargon and promoting “critical race theory,” an academic concept that argues racism is ingrained in American laws and government institutions.

There was also condemnation from Jewish groups, who felt the curriculum emphasized Palestinian oppression while barely mentioning the Holocaust, as well as other ethnic groups that felt excluded.

The final version of the state’s curriculum, approved this March, deleted references that offended Jewish groups while adding lessons about the experiences of Jews, Arabs and Sikhs in America, The Los Angeles Times reports. It also struck terms such as “cisheteropatriarchy” and “hxrstory,” as well as language connecting capitalism with oppression.

Yet critics remain. Some supporters of the original guidelines feel the scope should not have been expanded beyond the four ethnic groups that lived in America before Europeans arrived.

Others find the current version too radical still. Williamson M. Evers, a former assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education, told The Los Angeles Times that the model curriculum was “permeated” with content that made it “racially divisive and burdened by faddish ideology.”

As districts across the state figure out how to put into place this new mandate, the debate will undoubtedly continue.

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