To the Editor;
Recently, regional news reports have chronicled actual behaviors now occurring within local school districts that point to racism: pure and simple. And the removal (banning) of select literary classics from school library shelves that has come to be reveals to me—a retired high school English teacher—that there are people in our society who—willfully or not—prefer going backwards into the segregated and closed-minded times of the 1950s rather than openly welcoming the diversity that our current 21st Century society reflects.
Tri-Town Against Racism or TTAR, founded by Rochester resident-moms, Alison Noyce and Rhonda Baptiste would not have needed to exist if accounts of various race-related mistreatments from within their children’s ORR school district had not—purely by chance—meandered into to their consciousness a few years ago. Noyce, the mother of two adopted sons who are Black, and Baptiste, the mother of a biracial student at Old Rochester Junior High School realized how when school district families are isolated one from the other—whether by design or by choice—unchecked race-related mistreatment within schools is allowed to continue, and unchecked misinformation is allowed to dominate over truth. I am heartened that Noyce and Baptiste have made available the TTAR non-profit initiative that includes its website where open and truthful communication can perpetuate moving forward.
Mattapoisett residents of 25 years, Bev Baccelli and Liz DiCarlo have likewise published their views in their town’s January 5th publication, The Wanderer not only about incidents of racial bullying in Mattapoisett schools, but also about attempts being made to remove junior and senior high school library books, particularly those having to do with LGBTQ individuals and those of color. Baccelli and DiCarlo are quick to commend what they’d encountered at community forums where school administration officials and professional librarians discussed issues brought before various board members, but they were also “amazed at some of the language and innuendos expressed by others in attendance, including some elected officials”.
When a librarian or language arts teacher works closely with students within academic settings, every single vetted piece of literature being selected for study is one of WHOLE purpose. And the wholeness cannot be appreciated without the scope of understanding and knowledge that the trained and seasoned professional applies to the learning process.
It is time to stop pretending that our society is made up of only the “tribe” that each of us might be in. It is time to stop pretending that the other families within our various school districts ought to be just like our own in color and culture because if they are not, there must be something about them needing to conform to our limited scope. It is time to stop pretending to convince ourselves that what we never bother to explore must be okay as is. It is time to stop pretending that works of literature can be defined by a phrase on a page, or a title, or by what a single individual—with no contextual understanding of content or potential value within the teaching and learning experience—defines that work to be.
Stifled and non-communication imposed by the few is never the evolutionary path to healthy growth for any community. This is precisely because each community—our human race—IS diverse. Embracing our human melting pot is embracing our whole truth, our whole reality, no matter the generation.
Gina L. Despres (retired high school Language Arts / English teacher of 30 years)
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