Woog's World: Criticism of diversity education invades Westport

The Westport Public Schools do not teach youngsters to hate their country. Administrators have not developed Marxist curricula, and educators do not tell students that it is bad to be white.

But opponents of Critical Race Theory charge that this is the case. CRT is the latest FOX-fueled “controversy” ginned up to distract viewers from more pressing matters like climate change, infrastructure collapse and voter suppression. It had burrowed its way into state legislature and school board meetings around the country. Westport, with its top-rated district and highly regarded teachers, seemed immune to such shenanigans.

Until it wasn’t.

Links to a website called “WP06880”created a stir last week on social media. The site — it stands for “Westport Parents” and the town’s zip code — is anonymous. Organizers explained that they feared being attacked for their positions, perhaps even terminated by employers eager to “protect their public relations image and deflect accusations of racism.” There is no way to contact anyone associated with the website.

The anonymity is striking. Among the “quotes” is this, from a “Staples mom”: “I send my kids to school to learn how to read and write, add and subtract. They are not there to be guinea pigs in some ‘anti-capitalist’ sociology experiment.” I can’t imagine any parent sending her child to high school to “learn to read, add and subtract.”

One of the group’s “demands” is “access to current student curriculum.” That’s important, of course — and already available. In fact, there is an entire section on the Westport Public Schools web site devoted to this. Just click on “WPS Curriculum.”

The group describes itself as 37 parents who got together in June. They wanted to share concerns about “the increasing focus on assertions of racism in our community, especially after our new Superintendent of Schools made these assertions in his Strategic Plan.”

The website calls CRT “a Marxist based ideology that seeks to divide people by separating them into groups based on power dynamics, with white people seen as white supremacist being dominant and all others being the marginalized groups of oppressed victims. This oppressor vs oppressed division into identity groups would necessarily create division and be harmful to our school aged children.”

That would be harmful indeed, if it were true. It’s not.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice delivered a powerful response. “Culture wars are not new to public schools,” he said. While some stemmed from “outlandish claims, emotional appeals, inaccurate inferences and personal attacks,” others were “honest inquiries from curious and inquisitive parents and community members.” Whatever its root, “finding common ground” is essential.

Scarice said that there is no CRT “curriculum” in Westport. “We study all types of thinkers and theories in schools. Teaching kids ‘how’ to think, not ‘what’ to think, is an obligation of educators. Teaching kids to use critical thinking skills to analyze, synthesize, evaluate, etc., is a primary goal of education.”

Preach!

I have been part of the Westport Public Schools my entire life. I was educated at Burr Farms Elementary, Long Lots Junior High and Staples High. I’ve served as a substitute teacher, and currently coach the Staples boys soccer team. I was proud to be part of this district as a student, and I’m even prouder to be part of it now.

In high school, Dick Leonard encouraged me to write my author paper on the Black author Richard Wright — and to analyze thoroughly his beliefs. Today, Staples English students take courses like African American, Caribbean (and Irish) Literature. There, and in a variety of other English and social studies courses, they are exposed to the world far beyond Westport.

That’s the world they’ll live in, for the rest of the 21st century. It is an imperfect world, and a district like ours must give them the tools to make it better.

Westport schools were forward-thinking back in the day. But, although I learned about the pilgrims’ Thanksgiving, we never studied anything about the Native American tribes who lived here first. The “Westport History Trail” we all took in third grade said nothing about the enslaved people — or the freed Blacks — who are part of this town’s history, too.

I applaud the inclusion of those ideas in our curriculum. I don’t fear it. I don’t worry that learning that our Westport ancestors owned slaves will make white youngsters hate their heritage. If anything, it will make them understand it.

If they question some of the past, wonderful. If they understand that their Westport bubble is not the real world, fantastic. If they are inspired to think about American history — and where we are today — from a variety of perspectives, awesome.

In fact, it’s “critical” that they do it. And there’s no place more appropriate to do it than in the Westport Public Schools.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.