Providence Teachers Union Confirms Affinity Group Segregation, Historical Books Destroyed, Holocaust Education Ended (Ramona Bessinger Update)
Union president: “So there’s people of color in one group and white folks in another group…. both the people of color and our teachers of color and our white teachers have said that they’re uncomfortable with it … some people feel like this is further segregationist and feel like it’s more divisive than helpful.”
Ramona Bessinger is the Providence, Rhode Island, middle school teacher who went public in a post at Legal Insurrection about the negative impact of Critical Race teaching, I’m A Middle School Teacher And See How Critical Race Curriculum Is Creating Racial Hostility In School:
This past 2020/21 school year was a sad and worrisome turning point for me as an educator. Providence K-8 teachers were introduced to one of the most racially divisive, hateful, and in large part, historically inaccurate curriculums I have ever seen in my teaching career.
Yes, I am speaking about the controversial critical race theory that has infiltrated our public schools here in Rhode Island under the umbrella of Cuturally Responsive learning and teaching, which includes a focus on identities. You won’t see the words “critical race theory” on the materials, but those are the concepts taught. The new, racialized curriculum and materials focuses almost exclusively on an oppressor-oppressed narrative, and have created racial tensions among students and staff where none existed before….
We did not need a new curriculum for students to learn about slavery and racism. We already did that, in great depth, relying in part on the writings of great African-American authors.
American history now is being retold exclusively from the perspective of oppressed peoples during the Revolutionary period through to the Civil War, and also in the literature of the Civil Rights movement. From my position in the classroom, it seemed that much of American history and literature was getting wiped out….
Missing from our curriculum during the 2020/ 21 school year was the diversity, perspective, truth, and rigor that previously were taught. Previously vetted books were removed from our classroom and sent to recycling. Gone was the diverse collection of American and World Literature: House On Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, James Baldwin Go Tell It On The Mountain, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, essays by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., poetry by Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, Anne Frank, Night, The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, Macbeth, Walt Whitman, The Salem Witch Trials, The Crucible , Holocaust studies, world genocide, world art, universal themes, universal characters and any book or short story from the literary cannon.
What saddened me most was that I would not be teaching the Holocaust any longer. The Holocaust unit included one of the following: either Anne Frank, The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, and depending on reading level, Elie Weisel’s Night When I asked the school reading coach where all the Holocaust books were, she said “we do not teach the Holocaust because kids can’t relate to the story.”
Bessinger pointed out the growing racial hostility:
This was a system-wide directive to separate white and non-white teachers for training….
Midway through the academic year, some students started calling me “America” because I was white. These students, whom I love, were turning against me because of my skin color. I don’t blame them, I blame the racial narratives being forced upon them in school.
Several of my colleagues stated I had “white privilege.” I was quickly made to feel as though I was becoming the enemy. My black colleagues added more similar comments in passing, for example: “You have white privilege Bessinger, your gestures are a rich person’s gestures.”
Bessinger’s story has spread nationally, including in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Examiner, FoxNews.com, Breitbart, and The Jewish Voice. Like Rhode Island mom Nicole Solas before her, Bessinger used a column at Legal Insurrection to alert the nation to the dangers of CRT as it manifests itself in K-12.
Much as Solas was smeared by a public relations firm hired by the South Kingstown School Committee and that district’s local NEA-affiliate, I expected similar attacks on Bessinger. Those smears and attacks may come (and may already be going on), but something completely unexpected happened today.
Maribeth Calabro, the head of the Providence Teachers Union, an affiliate of Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers, appeared on the show of talk radio host Tara Granahan on WPRO, one of the two large AM stations in Providence. While Calabro denied that CRT is taught in middle school, she backed up many of the key factual assertions by Bessinger about removal of historical books and books by great authors, including black authors, the narrowing of the curriculum, and the removal of teaching the Holocaust. She also confirmed that the school system separates white and non-white teachers into separate affinity groups to discuss issues related to race.
Here is the full segment broadcast, with a partial transcipt below. I’m still shaking my head in disbelief in a good way.
(if player doesn’t load, click here)
Partial Transcript (auto-generated, may contain transcription errors)
Granahan: Okay, do you have any knowledge of, uh, did she ever come to you let’s say and say, you know, some of these examples of listen, I don’t, you know, things have changed for me. Um, you know, kids are calling me ‘Merica saying, I, you know, because she’s white and there’s just a, such a disconnect, if not a bad rapport now with the students, have you heard any of these complaints or concerns?
Calabro: She hasn’t brought those specifics to me or this organization, that I’m aware of. I mean, I, you know, I just checked in with folks around here and no, so the answer is no, I do know that she was unhappy and she voiced her concerns on a public forum. I believe it was either, I believe it was a RIDE [Rhode Island Department of Education], it was a RIDE meeting talking about the curriculum changes, moving to American Reading Company from what we used to do. So she did, she did say that publicly. Yes.
Granahan: Okay. So in, in her writings, this particular Providence teacher, Ms. Bessinger, she talks about, we did not need a new curriculum for students to learn about slavery and racism. We already did that in great depth, relying in part on the writings of great African-American authors. And then she says missing from our curriculum during this past year, 20-21 school year, was the diversity perspective, truth and rigor that previously were taught previously, vetted books were removed from our classroom and sent to recycling. Gone was the diverse collection of American and world literature house On Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, essays by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Poetry by Maya Angelo, Robert Frost, and Frank Knight, The Boy in Striped Pajamas, Macbeth, Walt Whitman. It goes on and on. These books have all been tossed?
Calabro: They’re not utilized, they’re not being utilized unless students choose books from the shelf for their personal independent reading. So what, what the American reading company does is, it’s an assessment based direct instruction product where students take an assessment to, to gauge their reading level. And then there are a variety of books at that reading level, on a variety of topics, that students can choose. And then teachers have books that they are supposed to be utilizing in their instruction, based on the scope and sequence of, of the, um, directions coming from the American Reading Company. So to give you an example, in middle school where I was, the sixth grade does Greek, Greek gods, Greek myths, and things like that, in seventh grade, it was American history. So what happens is the English language arts and history are now the humanities.
And so they’re taught in tandem. And so there’s identified standards that there are focused on and then identified specific books and, and tasks that students are being asked to complete. And so for this year, one of the texts was about the Revolutionary War, and then we went to the Battle of Bull Run. So there was a lot of missing content if you will, and I think that’s where Ramona, Ms. Bessinger is talking about the gap in what’s happening and, and to be, you know, to be honest, the rigor is not there, and in terms of the book selection and the topics that are being discussed.
Granahan: Why, what, what happened? What, what is the shift about?
Calabro: I think that it was the shift was made to the American Reading Company in the hopes that it would be a supportive product to help improve student reading, student understanding, comprehension, et cetera. But what I think that it lacks is in depth, critical analysis for students to become critical thinkers. And so, and there are gaps. Like I said, we went from, you know, the Revolutionary War to the Battle of Bull Run, and there’s a whole host of things that happened in between those two topics that was missed by our students. And so I think it puts them at a disadvantage to have a curriculum that is not encompassing of all of historical history, in a relatively sequential manner, because obviously what happened in the past impacts what’s happening, what happened in the future and what is currently happening now,
Granahan: … This is kind of mind boggling when you go through some of the authors that we all grow up with, you know, and to take out Dr. Martin Luther king Jr, or Maya Angelo who was my favorite poet, and Anne Frank, not learning about the Holocaust. This particular teacher, went on to say, what saddened me most was that I would not be teaching the Holocaust any longer. The Holocaust unit included one of the following either Anne Frank, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. And depending on the reading level, Elie Wiesel’s Night. And when I asked the school reading coach where all the Holocaust books were, she said, quote, we do not teach the Holocaust because kids can’t relate to the story. How is that possible?
Calabro: I don’t, I don’t know what that rationale was that to me even make that comment, but, you know, it, it used to be a couple of years ago, a few years ago. And before that, that we taught about the Holocaust specifically, we taught about the Vietnam war and we taught about enslavement of peoples indigenous peoples. And, African-Americans. What’s happening now is we’re doing touch points and we’re not digging deep enough. I don’t think to provide our students with the foundation that they need to be critical thinkers or analytical thinkers. And I think we’re doing them a disservice by giving them this, flash in the pan, very superficial understanding of historical events that have been chosen obviously by the company and not by, you know, what actually happened in history.
Granahan: So Marybeth, is that what critical race thinking is, let’s get rid of the old way of teaching. Let’s focus more on what, what are, what, what are we doing? What in your mind is critical race thinking, teaching?
Calabro: I don’t know what critical race theory. I don’t know that there’s a standardized definition of critical race theory. And, I can tell you that we don’t teach critical race theory in our schools. What I can say is that there has been a shift in curriculum and curriculum products, that was made by people other than teachers. It was made at a much higher level, and teachers have complained across the district about the change, and the lack of rigor that these products have brought to our district.
Granahan: So are they known to be behind critical race theory? Is that what it is? Is this particular company behind what people are starting to understand if they can critical race theory?
Calabro: I don’t think that they are, I mean, I don’t know that much about the American Reading Company’s perspectives and origins to make that leap. But I can say that critical race theory is a term that is clearly being weaponized across the country, for a whole host of reasons. But, we don’t specifically teach white folks are bad. And we teach, we’re looking to teach, or we’re seeking to teach. the truth….
Granahan: … what’s the truth. I mean, the fact that, you know, the historical facts happened and then people can form an opinion as they get, grow and experience and get older, but, you know, changing the curriculum is one thing, but throwing out books that were historically valid in my opinion seems bizarre.
Colabro: Oh, it’s, it’s listen. I have as a, you know, typically English teacher, and a person who is an avid reader, the fact that books were thrown away at all makes me nauseous. And those weren’t the only books that were thrown away. That unfortunately, that’s what this district does, and has done historically, is when they change curriculum or they change courses, they throw out the old, rather than keeping them for resources or providing them to schools, whether it be in our district, in our state, in our country or outside of our country who cannot afford the resources, we throw them in a dumpster. That to me is the sin of this whole thing.
Granahan: Marybeth, could you hold on just a moment so I can squeeze in a break here. All right. We’re going to come right back, Marybeth Colabro from the Providence Teachers Union, the president, we’ll be right back. I have two questions for you, and I don’t have much time, but are you finding teachers other than this one particular teacher that wrote, you know, spoke out and wrote about it, are other teachers coming to you saying, what the hell is this all about?
Colabro: They’re coming to me more about the gaps in the curriculum, … the lack of rigor. So their concern is that we’re not teaching in a sequential manner, first of all. And second of all, we’re skipping very significant historical events, the Holocaust being one….
Granahan: Are they saying it’s too it’s too race-based as opposed to just give us the historical events?
Collabro: No, no, no, no, no, no. Not at all. Not at all. I think that, I just think that the way that the American Reading Company is designed is to basically being like, again, an overview rather than a deep dive into historical perspectives, and it will hurt in the long run. It will hurt our students’ ability to make critical and impactful decisions.
Granahan: What is it to, what, what is this thing that I have gotten several emails on, including looking at a memo and I don’t have it in front of me, but is there such a thing as affinity groups where white teachers are in one group and teachers of color are in a separate group? Yes or no?
Granahan: Why, why is that?
Colabro: Um, well, historic and, you know, historically the, and talking about, and having difficult conversations about race, racism and bias, the groups are separated by affinity. So there there’s people of color in one group and white folks in another group. And so that people of color can feel safe as, as well as white people feel safe about how they are interacting, feeling about racism, race, and the, all of the things that are impacting us. It’s not meant to be divisive. It’s just meant to be a safe space for people to be able to speak freely.
Granahan: And how long has this been going on? You said historically, but technically how long?
Colabro: This past year we, we had affinity groups. We have had affinity groups.
Granahan: Okay. And no one’s complaining about that. Or people say I’m feeling very uncomfortable that I’m on the white side of the room, and then there’s a people of color on the other side of the room.
Colabro: So it’s voluntary and people who are not comfortable. And we have had people, many people on, on, of both the people of color and our teachers of color and our white teachers have said that they’re uncomfortable with it, but, you know, talking about race and racism is uncomfortable. I think that some people feel like this is further segregationist and feel like it’s more divisive than helpful. But, you know, like I said, it was voluntary and, it’s hard to have difficult conversations if people are feeling guarded in a room where everyone is engagedDONATE
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