ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Officials at the College School in St. Louis want all of their students – from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade – to focus on race, an effort that ties in with Witnessing Whiteness teacher training program at the “progressive” independent school.
Only about 26 percent of students at the College School identify as racial minorities, but school officials believe it’s important to highlight the racial differences between them, and to ensure white students don’t inadvertently offend their colored classmates, The St. Louis American reports.
During a recent pre-kindergarten lesson, for example, teachers went out of their way to point out that students can use a wide range of skin colors in their drawings, pointing to crayons in various shades from beige to brown.
“Equity and inclusion are key components for us here, but we also don’t have students of color in large numbers here,” Vincent Flewellyn, the school’s director of Equality and Inclusion, told the news site. “I want our faculty and staff to then understand what it must be like for those students of color to be part of a population that is not so well-represented in most spaces for them.”
College School is among a large number of schools, many of them public, that are training teachers to hone in on students’ race to educate about perceived social injustices experienced by minorities. In St. Louis, College School staff are receiving training through a program called Witnessing Whiteness that’s sponsored by YWCA and based on a book by the same name authored by Shelly Tochluk, the American reports.
About half of the school’s staff signed up for the 10-week voluntary training sessions, in part because of racial tensions sparked by riots in Ferguson in the aftermath of an officer-involved shooting of a black criminal.
“I think they saw participating in this as the first step in understanding and unpacking some of their own biases about race,” Flewellen said. “As a person of color, it gets exhausting at times trying to help folks who are well-intentioned.”
College School’s director of Institutional Advancement, Jaclyn Stewart-Strothmann, said white teachers need the training sessions to understand their black students.
“Maybe a student of color might need something different from their white counterpart,” she said. “We’ve started talking about what support structures we have within our community that help people get what they need to be successful.”
One of the key components to helping minority students succeed, Flewellen alleges, is to reeducate white staff on how to do their jobs.
“In order for us to dismantle racism, white folks have to change,” he said.
Tochluk’s “Witnessing Whiteness” focuses on producing that change.
“The author illustrates how racial discomfort leads white people toward poor relationships with people of color,” according to the book’s description on Amazon. “Questioning the implications our history has for personal lives and social institutions, the book considers political, economic, socio-cultural, and legal histories that shaped the meanings associated with whiteness.”
And while the race-based approach to teacher training and classroom lessons is a source of pride for the College School, it’s created public relations nightmares in other places.
In Eden, North Carolina, for example, parents raged when the white privilege teacher training sessions spilled into the classroom. This spring, parents complained that at least one teacher forced her white students to the front of the class to apologize to their black classmates for their “white privilege,” the American Lens reports.
And in the affluent Chicago suburb of Winnetka, officials at New Trier High School were forced to cancel the school’s second annual mandatory “All-School Seminar Day” after more than 800 parents flooded a school board meeting to complain about this year’s event, according to North Cook News.
The “Seminar Day” focused heavily on white privilege theory, racial oppression, as well as other far left issues, such as climate change and LGBTQ rights. More than 950 students skipped the event, which featured talks titled “Whose Civil Rights? Transpeople of Color Navigating the U.S.,” “Western Bias in Science,” and “Blackenomics 101,” among others.
The “Blackenomics 101” seminar featured “rapper, entertainer, and activist, John the Author,” whose lyrics are not appropriate for young students.
John the Author musical prowess includes the lines:
That’s when I look to the Lord
And when he tells me to kill
That’s when I reach for my sword
Die motherfu*ker die
“What happened this year was so divisive – best not to repeat it,” Betsy Hart, spokeswoman for Parents of New Trier, told the news site in April.