GRESHAM, Ore. – Go ahead and call Dan Chriestenson out of step with the times.
The two-term school board member from Oregon’s Gresham-Barlow district yearns for the hopeful goal of the 1960s civil rights movement – to eliminate race as a factor in American society.
He’s sickened to see just the opposite happening today, due to the bizarre theories of a group of radicals who use stubborn racial problems in K-12 education to promote their leftist political agenda and make a lot of money.
And he’s troubled that the employees of his school district are being immersed in those theories.
Every year the Gresham-Barlow school district, like many others across the state, sends teachers and administrators to a week-long “Coaching for Educational Equity” conference in Cottage Grove, Oregon. The Conference is presented by a private non-profit organization called the Oregon Center for Educational Equity (OCEE).
The event is based on the concept of “white privilege,” which is the idea that all white people are racists, whether they realize it or not, and that racism permeates American society and the nation’s education system.
The theory says that school curricula, instructional methods and disciplinary policies are hopelessly based on the norms of white culture, for the exclusive benefit of white students. It teaches that black students cannot possibly succeed unless K-12 education is modified and customized to their supposed culture.
The “white privilege” crowd claims that fundamental ideals of American society, like hard work for personal gain and personal ownership of property, are products of white culture and completely foreign to black students.
That means schools that try to prepare black children for success in the American free market economy are spinning their wheels, because black culture is collectivist in nature. The obvious political message is that black kids will only thrive in a socialist economy.
Chriestenson thinks all of that is a dangerous recipe for more division between the races, and continued failure for too many black students.
“If you tell a black kid that if you work hard you can achieve anything you set your mind to, that’s racist, because you are perpetuating a myth of meritocracy,” Chriestenson told EAGnews.
“They are setting black kids up for failure by telling them that whitey will never let them do it – this culture will never let them succeed. And they’re telling white kids that their best efforts will only produce undeserved rewards, because it was all handed to them.
“They are segregating students. They are spreading anger among students of color and guilt among white students.”
‘All white people are racist. I am a racist’
The Gresham-Barlow school district spends about $100,000 per year on the Coaching for Educational Equity (CFEE) conference, which is optional for teachers but mandatory for administrators, according to Chriestenson.
Earlier this spring Chriestenson asked to see a copy of the manual given to participants of the conference. He had to fight and beg to get the request filled, because the OCEE is not a government agency and therefore not subject to freedom of information laws.
The director of OCEE at first refused to turn over the document, claiming it was meant to be “experienced, not read,” according to Chriestenson. But she finally relented when he agreed to sit for an hour with an administrator from his school district who had attended the conference, so that person could explain the materials in their intended context.
Chriestenson soon understood why the OCEE only wants to present the material in carefully controlled environments.
One section of the conference manual – titled “What is CFEE?” – offers the following summary statement:
“…Many white people in Oregon have no idea that our schools and state are immersed in white culture and are uncomfortable and harmful to our students of color, while also reinforcing the dominant nature of white culture in our white students and families.”
Another section suggests that academic and behavioral standards (presumably for minority students) should be adjusted, because the failure is in the expectation, not in the outcome.
For example, schools should be “examining their own beliefs and practices when students don’t meet standards,” the conference manual says.
Instead of “controlling or teaching discipline to students,” schools should be “changing school practices that alienate students and lead to disruptions,” the manual says.
Translation: If minority kids act badly or flunk a test, it must be the fault of the school and its policies.
If a student drops out, that’s also a sign of failure for the school. Those kids should be called “pushouts” instead of “dropouts,” according to the manual.
The critical notion that race, gender or socio-economic background should have no bearing on the way students are treated is also dismissed. The manual says schools should be “framing issues in terms of race, class and gender.”
Certain ideals commonly taught in schools are completely foreign to black culture, according to the manual.
That list includes “independence, self expression, personal choice, individual thinking and achievement (vs. adherence to norms, respect for authority/elders, interdependence, and group consensus and success).”
One concept in particular – “I earned this through hard work and effort” – is particularly meaningless to black students, according to the manual.
For white people to play a positive role, they must become “anti-racist white allies” and subscribe to certain ideas, including the following:
“All white people are racist. I am a racist.”
“I will never know what it is like to be a person of color in this country,” according to another page.
“Despite my best intentions I will still act out of racism and people of color may have reason to be angry with me.”
There is also a handy chart about certain things one should not say in the presence of minority citizens, because those statements qualify as “microaggressions.”
For instance, the statement “America is a melting pot” is really telling people of color to “assimilate/acculturate to the dominant culture.” The statement “there is only one race, the human race” is really “denying the individual as a racial/cultural being.”
Saying “I believe the most qualified person should get the job” is really code for saying “people of color are given extra unfair benefits because of their race.” And saying “everyone can succeed in this society if they work hard enough” is just another way of saying “people of color are lazy and/or incompetent and need to work harder.”
The financial health of the white privilege movement is also addressed in the conference manual.
One section, titled “Moving From Concern to Action,” asks participants if they have “contributed financially to an organization, fund or project that actively confronts the problems of racism.”
There’s no word on whether handy envelopes are provided for financial gifts.
Another section says that, as an anti-racist white ally,“I am part of an active, anti-racist, freedom movement which began long before I came and will carry on long after I am gone. I am proud to contribute to that movement and to be building a support community of white anti-racist allies.”
Chriestenson said that kind of language is a sure sign that the OCEE, and other purveyors of the “white privilege” product, want to continue to make millions of tax dollars from public schools, for as long as possible.
They don’t offer many solutions to the horrific racism they describe, probably because solutions might solve problems and eliminate the need for their services.
“There are people far more interested in having this problem than solving this problem,” Chriestenson said. “It’s a fantastic business model all across the nation. All white people are and always will be racists, which gives (the white privilege crowd) a perpetual reason to exist and continue to bill the public.”
Taking a stand for common sense
About a year ago the Gresham-Barlow school board approved the formation of a “superintendent’s equity advisory group,” to look more closely at how minority students are served in the district.
Some officials went so far as to claim that some minority students “were not being allowed to participate in their own education.”
Chriestenson admits he was cynical about that claim, and demanded to know the identity of the children who were being underserved. He said he asked repeatedly and never received a response.
“In February we received an update on the superintendent’s equity advisory group,’ Chriestenson said. “They reported that they had held three meetings, selected a facilitator, identified the membership of the group and found somebody to take notes at their meetings.
“By May they were planning to start having a ‘courageous conversation about race.’ That was it. They were proud of those accomplishments.”
Finally Chriestenson decided he had seen and heard enough, and formally addressed the topic at an April school board meeting.
He reminded everyone that he had sought and finally received a copy of the manual given to school employees at the CFEE conference, and was deeply disturbed by what he read.
He said the obvious fact is that all students, regardless of skin color, need to be treated as unique individuals, with unique strengths, weaknesses and needs. He said that reality is tragically lost with the hyper focus on racial groups.
“CFEE encourages our teachers to frame issues in terms of race, class and gender, focusing on that which divides us from each other,” Chriestenson said. “They are told to focus on systemic privilege and oppression as opposed to the ability and character of individual students. They are being told that it is racist to tell a student of color that if they work hard they can succeed in life.
“Interestingly, page 13 of the CFEE manual warns against stereotyping, yet page 31 declares as an oversimplified generalization that all white people – ALL white people – are racist and are part of a white supremacist culture.
“CFEE declares that it is oppressive expression of white privilege and white culture to encourage among our students independence, personal choice, self-expression, thinking for yourself, working hard and achieving much. And God forbid we should ever encourage students to grow up and buy a home, because private property and individual ownership are hallmarks of the white supremacist culture.
“I have no doubt that everyone in this room desires the very best for our students. Sadly, this is the very worst we can offer them.
“If the CFEE concepts are allowed to take hold, our schools will become places where students of color are taught that their very best efforts will never be good enough because white people are just too oppressive and white students are taught that their best efforts will only yield undeserved privilege and that anything they earn or achieve is illegitimate because of their skin color.
“In light of budget news coming out of Salem this week, I once again ask this board and the administration to dissolve the superintendent’s equity advisory group and to focus our resources on the essentials of our mission – to prepare every student, irrespective of their skin color, for success in life, and to stop funding racist, segregationist groups like the Center for Educational Equity.”