In case you were wondering, “Ed.D.” also stands for “Educrat Dolt.”
Apparently Ms. Harris teaches in Fayetteville, not Asheville, in the Cumberland County system. Not that it matters to me – I don’t care which city or state she’s in. She’s an awful, destructive teacher.
Dr. William Harrison, Cumberland County Schools Superintendent, released an obnoxious yawner of a video statement today about the taped incident. As usual, this school official thinks you’re an idiot. He expects you to swallow his tripe uncritically.
Not today, Dr. Harrison – and not tomorrow, either.
I was shocked when I saw the clip of an interaction between a Cumberland County Schools teacher and her students as posted on YouTube. While neutral discussion of the political process is appropriate, at no time, particularly with elementary students, should a teacher infuse his/her political views into the discussion. Most disconcerting was the military slant that made its way into this discussion. We are a military community, serving over 15,000 military students and their families. We value the sacrifices, not only of the military parents but also those of their families.
We believe that military children are our children, military spouses are many of our employees, and military service men and women are our heroes. We proudly serve our military children and have received national awards for our support of military families.
I was particularly disturbed to see the uncomfortable position in which our children were placed due to the inappropriate actions of one of our teachers. Please be assured that the actions exhibited in this video are not consistent with the vision of the CCS. Moreover, the actions of one teacher do not represent the 7000 employees in our organization.
Once the video was brought to my attention, I immediately launched an investigation. Personnel laws prevent me from releasing information regarding individual employees and personnel action taken. I can assure you that upon completion of the investigation, I will take appropriate action.
Dr. William Harrison
Standard stuff here – we’re sorry, it’s an isolated incident, we’d love to tell you more, but we can’t. I’m going to parse his statement.
“I was shocked when I saw the clip of an interaction between a Cumberland County Schools teacher and her students as posted on YouTube. While neutral discussion of the political process is appropriate, at no time, particularly with elementary students, should a teacher infuse his/her political views into the discussion.”
Dr. Harrison, you were shocked because you don’t have a damn clue what goes on in your school district. Get your fingers on the pulse of your schools and teachers, or start delegating properly so your underlings can do it for you.
I understand that Harrison has a large system in Cumberland County and it isn’t practical to know what every teacher does every day. But he’s also got a series of principals, assistants, team leaders, etc. who need to know what’s going on a bit better than they do now. Admit that and fix it – don’t patronize me, taxpayers, parents and other interested parties with some third-rate statement written by someone who may have taken PR 101.
And personal politics? Dr. Harrison, you’ve got it all wrong. One can discuss personal politics – even in a K-12 classroom – while doing it fairly, responsibly and respectfully. Because you and Ms. Harris don’t know how to do it doesn’t mean that others don’t.
I’ve got a ‘Contact’ tab on this site – feel free to use it if you’d like to learn. Lucky for you, I charge less than Vanderbilt did for that useless Ed.D. your attendance and tuition earned.
“Most disconcerting was the military slant that made its way into this discussion. We are a military community, serving over 15,000 military students and their families. We value the sacrifices, not only of the military parents but also those of their families.”
No, that wasn’t what was “most disconcerting.” That Harris’ tirade against the military occurred in a ‘military community’ has no bearing on how awful it was – it’s just a detail.
Most of the conflicts I get into involve defending the dignity of the US military or our government. I’ll be damned if I’ll let some edu-dolt hide behind that dignity to avoid being accountable for his poor administration.
“We believe that military children are our children, military spouses are many of our employees, and military service men and women are our heroes. We proudly serve our military children and have received national awards for our support of military families.”
Really, stop this – it does a disservice to that military you claim to respect.
“I was particularly disturbed to see the uncomfortable position in which our children were placed due to the inappropriate actions of one of our teachers.”
You’re a bad writer, too.
“Please be assured that the actions exhibited in this video are not consistent with the vision of the CCS.”
If the actions of CCS employees fail to be consistent with the ‘vision’ of your district, then there’s a problem fulfilling that mission. You’ve just admitted your own administrative failure, Dr. Harrison, and I hope Cumberland County realizes that.
“Moreover, the actions of one teacher do not represent the 7000 employees in our organization.”
Dr. Harrison and others – let me introduce you to the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect. In short, you read something patently false/inaccurate, then turn the page and revert to trusting the content. Harrison has outlined his system’s total failure regarding Ms. Harrison, then assures us that the failure isn’t repeated 7,000 times over.
It’s a logical mismatch.
I’m not suggesting that all 7,000 CCS employees are clones of Ms. Harris – that’s ridiculous. But do I believe for a second that Dr. Harrison and his staff have a handle on the CCS climate? Not for a second.
“Once the video was brought to my attention, I immediately launched an investigation.”
I’ll rephrase: “Once my professional irresponsibility was exposed, I decided to release a statement in which I pretend to have done my job and in which I commit to the most basic functions of my professional contract.”
“I can assure you that upon completion of the investigation, I will take appropriate action.”
I don’t think you’re capable of it, but I encourage you to surprise me. I’ll believe that ‘appropriate action’ was taken when there’s proof of it.
For an update from Cumberland County Schools Superintendent William Harrison – and for analysis of his statement – check out the new post.
Discussing politics in the classroom is a delicate thing. It’s a bit like open heart surgery; if you know what you’re doing, you can perform miracles. If you don’t, you’re going to cause irreparable damage.
A couple of months ago I heard of a local school district board member who curtly instructed staff that politics are not to be mentioned in the classroom. That stance is absurd and there’s no inherent, justifiable reason for it. Politics past and present can be discussed by any two reasonable, informed parties.
I assumed that this board member’s worry was that some teachers wouldn’t approach the subject honestly or in a disinterested, unbiased way – she was playing it safe. Some teachers can’t be objective because they don’t want to be; others simply don’t know enough about politics and history to engage in a proper discussion of either.
It’s time to meet Diantha Harris of Asheville [turns out Ms. Harris is from Fayetteville in Cumberland County] North Carolina.
Ms. Harris was included in a recent Swedish-language Finnish documentary called From Bill to Barack. She’s shown teaching a class of what looks like ~7th graders. In an interview portion of the documentary, Ms. Harris explains her philosophy for discussing politics in the classroom:
Diantha Harris: “Now I can support whomever I want to support, as long as I don’t browbeat another person for the candidate that they supported. Like I have some students that support John McCain, and when they told me that, I said ah … “that’s good’ and I just moved on. So, I think that everybody is entitled to their own personal opinion.”
Not terribly eloquent, but we get the idea. What Ms. Harris describes is a mix of freedom of and respect for intellectual diversity. This is a fine foundation on which a teacher might build a disinterested discussion of politics in the classroom.
That Ms. Harris didn’t show up for class. The real Ms. Harris lured her students into a degrading, brow-beating indoctrination session that buffed her 13 year old political allies and demeaned her barely-pubescent opponents.
The entire exchange – caught on tape below, with transcript – shows Ms. Harris:
Demeaning a student for supporting John McCain, with dismissive laments of “Oh no, John McCain… Oh Jesus, John McCain…”;
Coaching another student on reasons to support Obama;
Berating a girl whose father is apparently in the military over the “senseless war” and how her dad will be in Iraq for “100 years”;
Setting same girl up for ridicule from peers, Harris pushes her until girl almost cries.
Here’s the video clip – it’s a harrowing three minutes. The English portion begins 15 seconds in. [Click here if you're reading this in RSS]
Diantha Harris: We want to talk about the presidential election. Ok, what I want to ask you, who are you pulling for? Raise your hands.
(Kids seen dutifully raising their hands one states ‘Obama’)
Diantha Harris: You’re pulling for Obama
Diantha Harris: (Speaking to another student) Who you’re pulling for? And if you’re pulling for John McCain, that’s fine say him as well. Who are you pulling for?
Student’s answer: Obama.
Another student: John McCain
Diantha Harris:Oh Lord John McCain!
Another student: John McCain
Diantha Harris:Oh Jesus, John McCain! Ok, Now I want to ask you something. (to the girl who is ‘pulling’ for McCain) Why are you pulling for John McCain. Now it’s ok! But why are you pulling for John McCain?
Student: I think it’s because of my parents are going for him too.
Diantha Harris: Ok, your parents are going for him. (Now to another student) Why are you pulling for Barack? (pronounces it differently) Or Barack?
Student: Because I just want a black president sometime.
Diantha Harris: Ok, you want a black president. Addresses another student.
Student: The reason I want to pick Barack Obama is because he is making good changes, in the good country and stuff like that.
Diantha Harris: So he’s making good changes for our country. (Shaking her head affirmatively) Ok, now can you tell me just a little bit more like, like what type of changes?
Same student: Like, …..not having um, a fight between Iraq, and having soldiers killed.
Diantha Harris: Shaking head up and down) So in other words, B-a-r-a-c-k is going to end that war (shaking head up and down) in Iraq. (Speaking to the classroom) What do you all know about that war in Iraq? Now talk to me, because your dad is in the military!
(Same female student who supports McCain shown noticeably biting lips)
(Female student shown again but doesn’t speak)
Diantha Harris:It’s a senseless war! (shown staring at her) And by the way Kathy (the girl’s name), the person that you’re picking for president said,(Harris seen shaking head)that our troops could stay in Iraq for another hundred years if they need to! (emphasis added),
(Kathy shown biting lips and looking nervously in silence, while kids stare at her smiling, laughing and smirking)
Diantha Harris:So that means that your daddy could stay in the military for another hundred years!
During an interview later:
Diantha Harris: Now I can support whomever I want to support, as long as I don’t browbeat another person for the candidate that they supported. Like I have some students that support John McCain, and when they told me that, I said ah … “that’s good’ and I just moved on. So, I think that everybody is entitled to their own personal opinion. And we have something in our school system that called ‘Kids Voting’, and in my class….Barack Obama won. (Smiling).
Over the last three months, the level of discourse at that point where politics and education meet has been disappointing and worrying. Public school teachers aren’t all Diantha Harrises, but tendentious, overzealous, underinformed discussions are more common in the classroom than most folks realize.
It isn’t clear what Ms. Harris’ job was in Asheville, though I’d find it odd if she was filmed for a documentary while serving as a substitute teacher. Either way, Ms. Harris needs to find a new line of work.
Teaching is a tremendous responsibility. That’s no secret. If you, as a parent, teacher or administrator, can’t discuss politics or history responsibly, don’t do it yourself. Find someone who can, sit back and learn.
Ms. Harris has embarrassed herself, her school system and her profession – and in that order of importance. But what she taught 15 young kids about political discourse is the real problem. Harris showed these children that it’s acceptable [and a desirable means to an end] to abuse someone into submission over ideology; that it isn’t important to respect one’s views, or engage in discourse that furthers understanding; that intellectual diversity and dissent is to be crushed for political expedience; that a sneering, mean-spirited contempt drives politics.
We’ve heard a great deal about hope, change and goodwill over the last two years. Ms. Harris’ disgusting display undermined the efforts of folks on both sides of the aisle.
[ Photo: William Ayers, Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago, compares tattoos with a developing revolutionary. When asked the location of Ayers' tattoo[s], our young comrade replied, “lemmie [sic] just tell you this, we both wear red underwear.” ]
“But is this case one of abridging academic freedom? I don’t think so. No one is demanding that Professor Ayers stop saying and writing what he believes. The University of Nebraska’s decision to disinvite him is bad manners, but it no more attacks his academic freedom than if he had never been invited in the first place. Academic freedom does not entail a right to speak wherever you might want to.
This tempest in a teapot does no credit to the University of Nebraska and state political leaders, but neither does it for those who cry that academic freedom is in peril.”
“What’s happening to Ayers is intense and certainly unpleasant. But public figures–and Ayers most certainly is that–invite scrutiny, challenge, and criticism. The marketplace of ideas can be a rough place. And we should remember that Ayers does have legal recourse if he is libeled. We should also remember that none of this has anything to do with academic freedom.As long as Ayers’ employer leaves him alone–as long as there is no attempt to investigate or discipline him for his speech, as long as he is left alone to teach and research as he sees fit–his academic freedom is fine.”
Education blogger and GCS board of education candidate E.C. Huey recently examined the role of the Diversity Officer for the 71,000+ student school district. He found that Walker, a relatively new hire compensated at ~$80,000/year, is sending curious messages about race, ethnicity and diversity to the Guilford County community.
â€œCreating a World Without Racism: What It Would Mean for Peace, Justice and our Planet,â€ was the topic of the guest speaker, Monica Walker, at the ninth annual Peace and Justice Network Potluck, Sunday, Nov. 11, at the Central Library in Greensboro.
Walker, originally from Alabama and recently moving to Greensboro from New York, is an anti-racism trainer and the Guilford County Schoolsâ€™ diversity officer. Before taking her current position with the Guilford County Schools, she taught in the justice and policy studies program at Guilford College. Walker has also worked as a trainer with Guilford County-based Partnership Project, which conducts anti-racism workshops.
Using her training skills Walker asked the audience to write down five words: remember, reconcile, reconnect, rebuild and redefine. She then connected each word to her main theme. Walker said, â€œYour ethnicity connects you to your community. It is so important to connect with our ethnicity.”
So far, Walker sounds like the garden variety, milquetoast diversity-monger that is increasingly common in public education. It could be worse, though such actors can certainly be employed for less than $80k. The article continues:
“She moved about the room and asked people, â€œWhat is your ethnicity.â€ The answers, of course, varied. She explained to those who said, American, that the country of oneâ€™s birth is their nationality, not ethnicity. She noted that race is a political description. She said that ethnicity is the traditions that have been passed on to one from their ancestors. She said to remember these traditions is important.”
And so it begins. I commented on E.C.’s post and will reproduce portions of that comment here:
What Walker is peddling here is an absolute load of tripe.
That Walker doesnâ€™t seem to think that there are uniquely-American traditions is not only troubling, but shows a serious misunderstanding of the populations sheâ€™s supposedly trying to bring together. Iâ€™d be happy to spend 5 minutes with Walker in front of the magazine rack at any bookstore and bring her up to speed on American culture, which parts were unique and why.
Then Iâ€™d explain to her how her positions as an anti-racism and public school district diversity officer are uniquely American.
Reporter: What are you?
Connerly: I am an American.
Reporter: No, no, no! What are you?
Connerly: Yes, yes, yes! I am an American.
Reporter: That is not what I mean. I was told that you are African American. Are you ashamed to be African American?
Connerly: No, I am just proud to be an American.
Connerly went on to explain that his ancestry included Africans, French, Irish, and American Indians. It was too much for the poor reporter from our Paper of Record: â€œWhat does that make you?â€ he asked in uncomprehending exasperation. I suspect he was not edified by Connerlyâ€™s cheerful response: â€œThat makes me all-American.â€
As a descendant of Francis Cooke, my answer would’ve been similar. Nearly 400 years in the same spot is usually enough to forge the basic traditions and values that make up one’s identity.
But Walker wouldn’t have accepted that.
She also reminded us that:
â€œ…race is a political description.”
It would come as a surprise to those descendants of peoples from Asia through Africa who carry sickle-cell alleles – or the Ashkenazi who carry Tay-Sachs – that their afflictions are simply a result of synthetic political constructs.
â€œAlways directing her talk toward racism [emphasis mine], Walker said that oneâ€™s external constructions are what someone else had created. â€œSome of us need to redefine ourselves.â€â€
To which I responded with:
Hopefully – though it is unlikely – Ms. Walker will realize that not everything in society is grounded in racism. That, along with a hefty dose of real understanding of race/culture/ethnicity, might help her â€œbegin to connectâ€ to others.
Until then, Walker will continue to have all the authority of a third-rate freshman in a Sociology 101 class.
The Rhino Times reported back on March 29 of this year that Walkerâ€™s position as a diversity officer is a first for Guilford County Schools. See this excerpt:
Walker is not only new to the school system, but her position was just created in the 2006-2007 budget. Walker has never presented the board data at meetings. Walker has attended at least one of the boardâ€™s Shared Communications Committee meetings and she has attended a handful of community forums. Other than that, what exactly she does in that position has not been brought forth to the board and she is earning more than $80,000.
I looked at the job description for Walker’s position [PDF, opens in new window]. It’s a masterful 4-page display of mealy-mouthed eduspeak that offers little in the way of helping us understand the GCS Diversity Officer’s responsibilities [though it does mandate that a successful candidate must display a reasonable amount of "Manual Dexterity" and "Must have minimal levels of eye/hand/foot coordination"].
Huey’s research uncovered a resume full of unfortunate associations:
Walker is also listed on a site titled â€œAnti-Racist Allianceâ€œ. I brought up this site because this portion of this particular homepage is troubling:
It’s not far from what popped up recently in Delaware, that charming residence life program which reminded us that all whites are, by definition, racist oppressors.
Guilford County is a diverse place and GCS is a large system; that there’s a director of social/cultural programs is not unreasonable. But paying $80k to a race-baiter so she might advance her ideology – including convincing children that race is just a social construct while centuries of bred-in guilt [and all related reparations] is a necessary burden for every white – is outrageous. Walker should be ashamed of herself and the GCS board/administration should be doubly ashamed for promoting her service.
The District would know her harmful ruse [or at least have the opportunity to recognize and ignore it] if they had any clue what Walker does. Simply put, they don’t. From The Rhino Times:
Attending her first Guilford County Board of Education meeting since she was hired in August 2006, Chief Diversity Officer Monica Walker had no clear explanation as to why she had not been at any previous meetings, but she told board members at the Tuesday, Oct. 9 meeting that she has been very busy…
… Walker said much of her time has been spent providing â€œUndoing Racismâ€ training at Mission Possible schools.
Board members didnâ€™t have many questions for Walker, just a lot of thank yous for the work she is doing. Chairman Alan Duncan said he would like to â€œsee you more often from here on out.â€
To which, Walker said, â€œThatâ€™s OK. You donâ€™t have to.â€
Superintendent Terry Grier said Walker has one person helping her in her department and that he thought Walker was â€œcarrying a big load.â€ The support staff that Grier wanted to go along with Walkerâ€™s department was cut in the 2007-2008 budget.
â€œShe is doing a marvelous job,â€ Grier said, about Walker working with various departments.
A quick recap:
She doesn’t go to meetings for the organization she’s charged with bringing together and stated clearly that she won’t in the future;
Her job description is vague and open-ended;
Board members don’t have a clear picture of what she does;
I wrote last week about the use of blog-style websites as an effective tool for educators to communicate with parents, students, the broader communities we serve, and to network with professionals across the country. Today, Letitia Stein of The Gradebook highlights a blog used by Hillsborough County, Florida School Board member April Griffin for exactly that purpose:
Post anonymously. Post regularly. She just wants to know what’s really on your mind.
“I just wanted to have my finger on the pulse of what’s going on,” Griffin says.
Griffin’s got it – the key to public service is having your fingers on the pulse of the community so you can factor in their concerns to the policy decisions you make. Soliciting opinions from the community doesn’t preclude a member’s individual leadership; instead, the two forces work together.
She won’t share her opinions online, saving them for School Board meetings. She has two rules: Don’t be vulgar and don’t waste her time with insults.
I have to assume that Hillsborough County’s public meetings include full, public discussion of issues. If that’s the case – and I have every reason to believe it is – then she is candid and open about her opinions without having to air them on the site. Her request for an acceptable level of decorum is a reasonable one. And April’s no stranger to blogging; she authored April Griffin’s Campaign Blog to help with her election to the board.
Calls for blogs by school officials are growing in both volume and frequency. Kimberly Moritz, principal at Gowanda High School in New York, has challenged her superintendent to start blogging to erase misconceptions about the school budget and, in general, to improve communication between the district and community.