Ramona Bessinger: I’m A Middle School Teacher Facing Retaliation After Blowing The Whistle On Critical Race Curriculum
After going public about the radicalized and racialized curriculum changes that have increased racial tensions and distorted education, I have been the subject of escalating retaliation, some of which is racially-tinged, from colleagues and administrators.
I am a Providence, Rhode Island, public middle school teacher with 22 years experience teaching English at the high school and middle school levels. After blowing the whistle on radicalized and racialized curriculum changes that have increased racial tensions and distorted education, I have been the subject of escalating retaliation, some of which is racially-tinged, from colleagues and administrators.
Background – Why I Spoke Out
Over the past year, I have seen a disturbing and frightening radicalization of the school curriculum, in which race became the central focus, with heavy emphasis on oppressor-oppressed narratives. The result was increased racial tension in school, particularly directed against me as a “white” teacher both from students and other teachers.
I decided to blow the whistle on what was happening, and did so in a column at Legal Insurrection on July 13, 2021, I’m A Middle School Teacher And See How Critical Race Curriculum Is Creating Racial Hostility In School:
In that blog post, I covered what I observed happening in school:
I love being a teacher and I care a great deal about my students, almost all of whom are non-white. 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.
I also detailed how vetted classic books by well-known authors, including many African-American authors, were removed from my classroom and replaced with propaganda-style pamplets, and how this new curriculum turned students and staff against me:
I asked a teacher leader what was going on and he looked jokingly at me saying “Comrade, we were told to remove all classroom sets of reading material in order to make room for the incoming sets of books.” I laughed, assuming this was a joke. But it was not a joke, this was real and happening in my school, in my classroom.
In isolation and without historical perspective, the thematic message in every book was clear: White Europeans were and are evil and African Americans were and are victimized by white oppressors. Woven into this new curriculum was a school-wide social push to focus on Black Lives Matter support groups and other social justice identity groups.
Finally, for some students, standing for The Pledge of Allegiance was no longer something they did. We are not allowed to question why, and the truth is, I knew why. Already these young people were beginning to hate America. I was the only person standing and the only person that could be heard saying “liberty and justice for all”.
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.”
The school culture for many was becoming increasingly tense. Children asked questions about the never-ending thematic focus on slavery. They asked me to tell them why I lived in a “white castle.” Where were my students hearing this? For sure in the new books and new curriculum.
While disagreeing that Critical Race Theory was being taught, even the President of the Providence Teachers Union (an affliliate of the American Federation of Teachers) confirmed on local radio the use of teacher affinity groups and removal of great vetted books previously used.
After my column at Legal Insurrection, I received widespread national and international media attention, including in The Wall Street Journal, FoxNews.com, Fox News television, ABC TV (Tamron Hall Show), as well as multiple radio appearances and digital articles, among many others. I even appeared on Australian television,.
The Escalating And Racially-Tinged Retaliation and Hostile Work Environment
After writing the initial blog post, I received a great deal of support from educators and parents all over the world, yet my administration and colleagues in Providence for the most part were radio silent, that is until school started and the silence turned to retaliation.
The first sign of retaliation was evident even before school restarted, when I received by 2021/2022 teaching assignment.. I was pulled from teaching one of my English classes and assigned to teach using CNN news sources, as well as Time for Kids, in a course structured to rely on racialized articles that separate children by the color of their skin. After a lengthy review of the biased articles, I could see the message was clear, like the race-based paperbacks and comics style books, articles in CNN News would be the same.
Everything in school now is about race. During orientation, teacher professional development included a”privilege walk,” in which teachers were requested to talk about our personal bias, to share our personal trauma, and to connect with children on their personal trauma. Much of the bias focus was on race. I declined to participate in the voluntary privilege walk, but observed it. We also were told to be surrogate parents to our students, given lesson plans on Malcolm X, and that discussions around justifiable violence towards white people should be taught to children of color.
On the first day of school during professional development orientation the week August 30th, there was a verbal attack on me in front of other staff by one of my colleagues who shouted at me that I had white privilege. This colleague went on to say that she would teach her students Malcom X’s message to use violence as payback for crimes against slaves. I asked her who the recipient of this Malcolm X style attack would be, and she said everyone who harmed slaves. Since all those people are now dead, clearly the intent was to intimidate me openly at work and to send a message.
During the week of September 13th a student accused me of going on TV to remove “Black books” from school. According to the student, another teacher told him this.
The week of September 20th, my Principal sent me multiple emails during the school day questioning me about my social media posts. He requested a meeting where he grilled me for almost an hour about content in social media posts. At the end of this meeting, he said he would monitor all my social media but was particularly bothered by my posts exposing the harmful racialized curriculum, books and projects. The message to me was and is clear, I am being watched.
— Ramona Bessinger (@RamonaBessinger) September 24, 2021
Monday September 27th, a colleague demanded a mediation occur to discuss offense she took when I requested to collaborate. Again, multiple emails to me asking me to meet during my lunch, and times that were not possible for me. This teacher would not say what offended her about my request, just that she was demanding a meeting with an administrator present.
On September 29, before a faculty meeting, my Union rep made it a point to say teachers circulated a petition about me. What exactly is in this petition? He would not say. Judicial Watch has served a public records request seeking the petition against me.
That same day, during a faculty meeting while I was sharing reading strategies with co-teachers, a colleague screamed in front of the group that he did not want to hear my “crap” about anything. This outburst was unsettling and obviously related to my speaking out in the media. The faculty member later apologized in passing, citing a “bad day,” but prior to my speaking out about the curriculum, in 22 years a colleague never had a “bad day” that caused them to scream at me this way.
On October 1, a faculty member told me that students were starting to call me racist. The teacher said that when she asked the students why they feel this way, they could not respond.
The administration was well aware of this retaliation and hostility as it was happening. My union also is aware, but I have not confidence the union will stick up for me and protect my rights. So today I formally filed an internal complaint about the retaliation and hostile work environment. I fear that I am being set up for discipline, transfer, or even termination, so I need to go on record and go public.
The Retaliation Is Intended To Silence Me And Others
The impact of all this retaliation has been hard on me personally. I love teaching, and I care about my students and the constant badgering takes precious time away from doing my job. As I watch education transform from a student centered career to a highly racialized, politicized battle ground, I am profoundly sad for all students who are caught in the middle of this hostile environment.
I will post continuing updates on my situation and what is happening in Rhode Island school at my Twitter account, @RamonaBessinger. Featured Image: Me decorating my classroom.DONATE
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