As Dave explains, I’ve spent part of the week getting embroiled in local affairs. Our school district devoted another in-service training to the Courageous Conversations program; every employee (except the many who took sick days) had to participate. Dave’s own experience reflects pretty accurately the experiences I’ve had related to me. It’s a kind of involuntary therapy session—the kind of thing that my friends who used to be in obscure Maoist organizations report having gone through regularly. The pretext is a concern with minority underachievement, which the District regards as being caused by institutional racism, on which the day’s conversation focused. You might expect that a focus on institutional racism would look at the racism in the criminal justice system and the labor market, which deeply affect the prospects of minority males and, presumably, therefore indirectly effect their aspirations and marriageability (with predictable consequences for family structure). But: no mention of these things. It is all about the racism inherent in the schools, and particularly in the attitudes of teachers.
Prompted by one very pissed off, but honest, left-wing, and good, teacher, I wrote an op-ed for the local paper, simply arguing that the focus is misplaced and suggesting some rather dull measures which, unlike involuntary and inconsistent therapy for school employees, have a good track record of slightly raising the achievement of low income and minority students. I have to admit I was nervous about doing it, both because the racist teacher theme is popular, and because lots of people don’t like open criticism of the District for wasting resources, because that creates an atmosphere in which voters are les likely to vote for tax raises. But I’m pissed off with the District for wasting resources, both because enough waste creates a perception of waste, and because I think the achievement of low-income and minority students should be the most urgent priority of our education system; and programs like this not only have no benefits, but give ammunition to those who don’t take it seriously as a priority.
In fact the response so far has been unremarkable: a nice note from a School Board member thanking me for writing it, and a series of emails from random people expressing their own feelings. I have, though, heard from a reliable source that the program was opposed internally by the main person responsible for equal opportunities and minority achievement. The Superintendent has not commented.