Traditional Mountain Culture and Social Justice Culture Clash At BOE Meeting Part 2 of 2
Sarah Riley spoke up in defense of Mrs. Mann.
“…Mrs. Mann has been an outstanding teacher” said Riley. I’d like to begin by commending Mrs. Mann publicly for the challenging novels and materials that she assigned. These reading assignments have a high degree of academic rigor, and give students the opportunity to explore realities and issues past the day-to-day of their own lives. Mrs. Mann encourages her students to engage critically with these tasks, but certainly does not tell them what they should agree or disagree with in these books.”
Riley added that said that this assignment was necessary because racism is a systemic problem, but West Virginia has “structural racism.”
“What’s racism; what’s anti-racism; why is it important to understand that?” asked Mrs. Riley. “I understand that racism does exist in our country, in our state and in our community. Racism is a systemic problem where a whole group of people are not afforded the same opportunities for educational, economic and career advancement based on the color of their skin. If seventeen percent of the population were black, then in our community we would expect that seventeen percent of the college students were black; seventeen percent of the small business owners were black; seventeen percent of the people receiving snap benefits were black (and) seventeen percent of homeowners were black. We know that in West Virginia and in America, that’s not true. That is not a partisan issue, it’s just the numbers. That’s structural racism. There is also institutional racism, in which policies, practices and procedures, usually unintentionally or inadvertently confound people of color. For example, a book ban or curriculum ban would fall into that category here. Last, but not least, there is individual racism, which is the form of racism or discrimination we are most used to recognizing, making personal biases against people. If the status quo normally results in unequal opportunity for groups of people based on the color of their skin, then the way we are used to doing things, the way we grew up, perpetuates a racist system. And that to be an anti-racist, is to work towards a place where those statistics and the numbers are going with the general population.”
Others spoke in support of Mrs. Mann’s use of these materials, including Silas Riley and Alan Gibson.
Mrs. Mann addressed the board herself. She said the survey, which was done in November, was designed to address mental health issues caused by the pandemic, and she never intended to have the students turn them in. She said the survey was designed for students to use as a tool for self-help and suicide prevention. She also addressed her use of the two books in her ELA class.
“In all my classes, I try really hard to be balanced politically” said Mann. “I don’t try to push an agenda. It has never been my intention to do so…ever! I always encourage my kids to be independent (thinkers.)”
“These two texts: they would have one book that would be the scaffolding to understand the other book. So, when we talk about systemic racism, it is very different from the personal. And it is also about informational writing and how they build it and literary, how these guys; characters show you what is happening in our world. And, yes they are realistically worded to reach audiences. ‘This Book is Anti-Racist’ was intended to be a scaffolding, and has been assigned in middle schools in our nation. So, I thought ‘Hate you Give’ would be an event. And this girl lives in different neighborhoods, she moves around, so the character represents so many perspectives that we could talk about and discuss. And I felt that I grew up in a very small community and I wanted to give them the benefit that I didn’t have when I got thrust into the real world with real people that didn’t look like me and I wanted to give them more.”
Since the board members are not allowed to discuss or take actions on matters brought up during delegations, these issues will certainly spill over onto the agenda at the next board meeting on March 9th.