Archive for the ‘racism’ category

Feeling Uncomfortable

December 31, 2015

Recently Friends Central, a Suburban Philadelphia private Quaker High School removed The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from its teaching curriculum. The school said the book, with its wide use of the N-word, made some of its students uncomfortable. The school went on to say it thought removal was not censorship but rather a testament to listening “to our students”. Hmmm.

Any school’s teaching curriculum can only be so big. All the possible important pieces of literature cannot be included, simply due to teaching time. So one must assume that Friends Central had included the classic Huck Finn for an academic reason. To remove it because some students felt uncomfortable must raise eyebrows. Aren’t students in school to learn from those who presumably have the benefit of greater knowledge and experience?

Huck Finn is considered important because it describes a segregated America which current white generation have not experienced. While the text may make some African American students uncomfortable, do these students (and their adult supporters) recognize that Huck Finn does not endorse segregation. Rather Mark Twain uses the book in an attempt to open the minds of white Americans to a period of insensitivity and hypocrisy. Hmmm.

This past year has also seen a number of college protests (Missouri, Ithaca College, Virginia Commonwealth, Yale for examples) where African American students have alleged school policies were not inclusive enough and racial insensitivity made them feel uncomfortable. Some of these “uncomfortable” situations lead to the resignation of senior Administrators. These incidents, however, differ markedly from removing a classic text from the curriculum. The college incidents involved the overall learning environment while the Friends Central involved learning materials.

Feeling uncomfortable in the learning process is a natural by-product of education. Feeling uncomfortable in a social setting is not a necessary condition. Improving the University level social setting could spell a more productive learning environment. At the end of the day, however, the burden to learn still falls back to the student.

Feeling uncomfortable with the teaching curriculum begs the question of whether the material was academically worthy in the first place. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has a well established reputation.

If Friends Central felt there was a book more important than Huck Finn and used the new book to replaced Finn in the curriculum, the decision could be tested on the basis of academic merit. Removing a book for “comfort” reasons begs the question of whether Friends Central has “dumbed down” its curriculum in an effort to achieve comfort.

Is that what learning is about?

Missouri Post Ferguson

November 10, 2015

The past few days have witnessed a surprising drama on the campus of the University of Missouri. Briefly, a large portion of the student body lead by the men’s football team demanded the resignation of the University President (or else the football team would not play in its next game). Game cancelation would come with a $1 million penalty for Missouri. Yesterday the President resigned along with the Chancellor. Hmmm.

News reports indicate the protests were about discrimination and the apparent lack of concern exhibited by the University to combat the alleged discriminatory or racist incidents. Like Ferguson, African American students claimed the otherwise “white” institution did not care about “blackness”. Hmmm.

In the upcoming days and weeks more information will come forward and a more coherent picture should emerge. Discrimination and racism are denounced in all major universities including Missouri. One question about Missouri will be what de facto policies (or lack of policies) existed to cause the student body to rise up and demand the President’s resignation.

While that story develops there are three big yellow (which may later turn red) flags to consider.

Student leaders cited several recent incidents where the President did not personally address the concerns and complaints of “some” African American students. For these students lack of a President’s statement translated into a lack of interest or concern. It is not hard to see the perceived connection between no concern and unacceptability as President.

Most university President’s are hired and retained by how well they do in “growing the university” and even more importantly, how much outside funding the University and its endowment funds attract. In other words, the President’s job is tied to money.

Sports reputation, academic recognition, and a growing student population are all marked as signs of a successful President but normally at Universities the size of Missouri, the operations of these programs are overseen by others.

Does this incident mark a change in university President’s remit?

The NCAA and all other Division 1 “big time” football and basketball programs do not need to drink any coffee today. The Missouri incident has gotten their attention. Student athletes can unite, refuse to play unless certain demands are met, and bring Universities to their knees.

The current money making juggernaut called the NCAA could be out of business in weeks if the “student athletes” on Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, and Baylor said “pay us or we won’t play”. Hmmm.

Lastly and the most difficult is the quandary over what have the University of Missouri African American students just won? Will they be free of further discrimination or racist motivated slights? Will these students be more prepared to enter the greater work place and win in the work place with superior problem solving, steadier emotional IQ, and harder work than their competition? Will the resignation in someway set these protester on a path to success in life?

Every road has forks where one can take one path at the expense of not talking the other. The University of Missouri, like all other schools of higher learning is standing at a fork.  Will they recognize that universities should be about learning? Sports are nice, beautiful campuses are a plus, and charismatic university Presidents are well received. Without preparing the student to survive, thrive, and succeed in real life, the University has failed. Let’s hope the University of Missouri makes the most of this situation and that other universities and organizations adjust before they meet their “protestors”.