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Monday, January 23, 2012

Lolenzo isn't enough

Here's a bit of a startler from the Trib: Over the past four or five years, the Portland public schools have spent $1.7 million on an outside consultant to conduct diversity training. Sheesh. The school district already has Lolenzo Poe on the pad as "chief equity and diversity officer" at around $122,000 a year. There is also one, and who knows how many other, "equity specialists" on staff. But apparently, an outside consultant is also a necessity.

And oh, what a message he is delivering:

White Talk is "verbal, impersonal, intellectual and task oriented," Singleton describes, while Color Commentary is "nonverbal, personal, emotional and process oriented."

"Safer interracial dialogue," he writes, happens when we "monitor" our styles and balance the conversation to ensure fuller participation — for instance, if a parent wants to hear from a teacher that her child is being respectful in class, while the teacher is just focusing on the child’s academics.

The thinking is that such background will help teachers avoid labeling their students "disrespectful" for talking out of turn in the classroom, says PPS equity specialist Paula DePass Dennis.

"They’re not meaning to be, it’s just who they are or that’s what their communication style is," she says. "They need to not be penalized every time they do something that’s natural to them. They’re being penalized because it doesn’t fit well in the structure we set up for them."

Does that sound like a recipe for success, in school and in life? Sometimes we can't help feeling that with friends like the Portland School District, racial justice doesn't need enemies.

Comments (27)

I can relate. My natural communication style, 'smartass', was brutally penalized during my school career. There's no telling what heights I might have reached if they hadn't repressed me like that.

My favorite part is the teachers ranking themselves according to "white privilege". They didn't really explain how that's done, so I assume the most pasty-faced white people are ranked higher (?)

OK to vomit in the brown pail?

Stop disrespecting my right to be disruptive!

And when the cuts come, they will be teaching positions-not staff. If I remember correctly PPS runs about 4% above national average for staff.

The more I read about "equity" the less I understand it. Some aspects of this approach sounded downright racist to me. For instance, the premise that black students are incapable of behaving in the classroom seems racist to me. As does having separate, but equal, standards for students based on race.

I think a far better book for teachers to read is The Other Wes Moore which follows the lives of two young black men from Baltimore, one a Rhodes scholar and one in prison for life, and looks at the key differences that led to their very different lives as adults. Spoiler alert, the guy that became a Rhodes scholar didn't get there through a lack of discipline and accountability, the other one did.

I'm afraid that the current recession isn't going to be deep enough to get rid of the idiots. We need a full blown depression to get rid of useless BS artist like this.

Diversity trainers like that are just scam artists. And public officials are very vulnerable to being scammed because they don't have strong leadership. In fact, the local leaders are probably in on the scam.

"White Talk" How rascist is that? If I believed that equity was somehow related to tolerance of poor manners, language, and behaviour in the classroom then I would be redefining equity in the most inane fashion possible. Ask people of all races what that think of this kind of relativistic definition and I am sure the answer will be the same. Institutionalization of low expections will yield only poor results...

It's "natural" to hit somebody who makes you mad. Just ask any 2 year old. But somehow that just doesn't fit in the structure we set up for them.

I'm a little confused about the example given of the parent who wants to know that her child is being respectful, while the teacher wants to talk about academics. Is he saying that's a racial issue?

With the multitude of ethnic and cultural groups now in the school system, think of how many different methods of discipline will be required. This book of discipline standards will be so thick, the teachers will have to take a version of the SAT to see if they pass. Although the book will be the largest book ever used within PPS, it will be the most worthless and will not help educate the students.

"They need to not be penalized every time they do something that’s natural to them."

And THAT'S not racist? "They don't know any better!" Sheesh.

If you simplify the message down what they are saying is that white people are bad and everyone else is good.

I think that Orwell nailed this behavior in Animal Farm.

Nobody takes the diversity crowd seriously -- especially the bureaucrats who hire them. It's just a way to keep AA numbers up without having to hire black people for jobs that matter.

Diversity programs could be as easy as doing unto others as you would have done to you. I've come to the conclusion that the largely symbolic diversity positions could be eliminated to the benefit of all, and that goes double for sustainability, or any other idea ending with "ity".

In my own workplace, the diversity types seem to hinder more than help, and are almost to a person staffed by well meaning yet otherwise less than employable people whose best skill is pointing out self perceived problems usually best resolved using common sense.

Yes, I am a middle aged white guy, but I try to treat everybody as I want them to treat me. And yet somehow I feel like even stating the above opinion would get me branded as a knuckle dragging racist, or worse, a Gingrich supporter, neither of which is true.

Don't you dare call me a Gingrich voter by the way, them's fighting words.

Seems the schools are placing more emphasis on racial and cultural awareness than education these days. It's good to be sensitive in these matters when asking, "Would you like fries with that?"


I know that in other posts you have been upset about the number of shootings by young men here in town. If you would just take this diversity class then you would understand that some people solve their problems with guns and that you need to be sensitive to that practice. You seem hung up on how you were raised to solve problems and you don't adequately value the diversity of problem solving practices which others employ.

These diversity and equity people need to step back and read the silliness they are spouting.
It would make a die hard Klansman proud.
I would hope they would then be shocked and appalled at the path they are on.
The quickest way to get the attention of someone who constantly talks out of turn is to do the same to them, interrupt them constantly. At some point they get the point.
Respect is earned not given.

Every education fad (some OK, most useless) ushers in experts who appeared out of nowhere and offered certified learning experiences for school districts, and none dare skip out on the opportunity for fear of being considered behind the curve. Money, money, money. Fuzzy, fuzzy, fuzzy. I would rather have a doctor who knows what he/she's doing and has crappy bed-side manners than the other way around. Same with teachers. Education is way too important. And my kids had to do the attitude adjusting, not the teachers, as long as they could teach. (Do I have to say that I am not advocating abusive teachers?)

Nothing scares me more than my kid starting kindergarten in a PPS school in the fall. Nothing.

Thank goodness that my kids made it through school before all this "Diversity" crap became fashionable.

But I am worried about my Grandkids.

My granddaughter should be OK. She's smart and goes to a private school. But my grandson goes to public school and may be exposed to this toxic gas.

Attorney at Large -- there are many times I elected to keep my kids from attending a particular lesson and/or coached them on how to handle an invasive lesson. There were a few times I made sure we didn't get teachers who were known for their social manipulation and slanted education. It just pays to be aware of what is happening in the classroom. Go to all parent nights, talk to other parents, talk to your kids, get to know the teacher, read the district curriculum and talk to the school administrator in charge of curriculum. Math and grammar were sticking points for us too -- since we couldn't change the school, we worked around it and made sure the kids got what they needed elsewhere. The work was worth it. Kids can get a good education just about anywhere if parents are involved.

We are PPS refugees. The worst thing to sentence a black or brown kid to is PPS. And probably unlike any other commenters, I know that PPS has inequitable practices when it comes to students of color, childen with disabilities and pretty much anyone who isn't the landed gentry. The Juvenile Rights Project did a study of inequitable disciplinary practices in the school system. Where kids are punished diffrerently for the same offenses depending on the type of school. Which I saw firsthand at both "marquee" and "Title I" schools.

If you believe that these trainigs acutally reflect what happens in class or that anyone is really bendng over backwards to create "equity", I have a train to sell you.

PPS is just trying to avoid lawsuits that many communities have been discussing about seperate-and-unequal school practices. There is no plan to change a thing. That's how diversity works in Portland, stick a well-connected black/brown face behind a nameplate, leak some controversial plan to media and keep doing what you're doing. Too many folks are getting paid. . . .one way to squash dissident.

I forgot to add -- wherever your kids go to school, no matter who the teacher is or the reputation of the district, parents should trust their guts. If something feels wrong, it probably is. Then do whatever you have to do to get your children the education they deserve.

I know an after-school homework tutor who volunteered at several PPS eastside locations, primarily a middle school. The focus was on ESL kids. There were many -- some very interested in learning, others not so much.

At it's root, that school was essentially a holding tank for children whose parents couldn't find a better spot for them, or perhaps didn't know the difference. The building even looks like a prison.

How PPS can spend so much per student with so little result is not even interesting anymore. Their system has become a microcosm of the grown-up's City of Portland society, with all of it's strange and artificial pressures.


I started to type up a detailed comment but feel I can't really be honest without giving too much detail to be professional. So, this will be pretty vague, but from the point of view of this PPS math teacher, this training is complex, thoughtful, involving, and extremely helpful.

I'm teaching as a second career and my biggest strengths as a teacher are an extremely strong math & science background and a LOT of thought and work on what helps people do math, understand it, and apply those skills outside of the classroom. I don't want to trash other forms of professional development here, but trust me when I say I haven't found it all relevant to being a good math teacher.

This training is different, at least at the school where I work. I am newer to it than the other teachers, and I noticed the difference right away when I joined the staff. It has especially affected the connections they make with families, the ways they help steer relations between students, and the warmth and respect between staff members. It has affected how I've brought out the best in my students and when I've kept pushing for more, how I've set up students to work together, and who I've asked for help when I wasn't sure how to understand different students. And at my school, white and black students work together far more comfortably and effectively than the vast majority of folks my age do (I am in my 40s), which helps make school work better for everybody.

A few paragraphs in a newspaper article can't really do this work justice (nor can I in a blog comment). Your guesses of what each person or each training exercise means are understandable but don't match my experience.

In general, I think everyone at schools needs to be aware of why they require or expect certain behaviors and what conclusions they're drawing about people who don't act that way. And I'm not just talking about race here. I'm sure we've all had teachers who were entirely too prone to feel there is One True Way to learn and behave and who emphasized getting their students to comply with that over actually educating them. The fact that teachers are overwhelmingly white and female has a big effect on how this happens and who bears the brunt of it.

When my daughters were in middle school we always tried to have them placing in one particular teachers class.
He didn't put up with goofing off or playing the "race card". Students were expected to come to class prepared and to learn.
Unfortunately PPS thought he should leave the classroom and become an administrator.
So he retired and moved on to a charter school.

Do what ever you can to keep your children OUT of PPS. There is no hope that they will get a good education.

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