A recent series of articles, in The Seattle Times, details the suspension and eventual re-instation of a controversial course on race and privilege at a small Seattle public school. The school district suspended the class at The Center School following a student complaint that the “way the class was taught created an intimidating environment” and made students feel uncomfortable. The school district responded to the complaint with an investigation that “corroborated the student’s concerns.”
A majority of the students in the class, however, were shocked and angered by the school district’s decision. They began holding lunch meetings to determine how to get their class back and created an online petition urging the district to reinstate it. They even organized attendance at a School Board meeting where they defended the course. This response, according to student Zak Meyer, was the result of the class’s emphasis on social activism, “…That was one of the things that [we were taught], about how to advocate in the community.” Meyer also stated that though the class could stir uncomfortable feelings, its frank discussions on race “forced a level of self examination [he] had never before explored.”
It “forced me to take an inner look at myself and examine how I lived compared to others and how I always thought race played a small role in my life,” he said.
District officials insisted in their belief that issues concerning race and social justice are very important and should be taught in their schools, arguing that the dispute was not about social justice but about protecting students, “We don’t want to put any child into a situation where he or she feels so intimidated by the manner in which these issues are taught that the course is no longer effective.”
Here, it is important to note that The Center School is an “alternative public high school with a focus…on community engagement,” and that the course is required only for seniors. What does it say about our country when a school district suspends a class, in a liberal high-school, because a senior student was made uncomfortable by its frank discussions on race? Ultimately, the class was re-instated, but that does not erase the fact that the school district found it okay to suspend it in the first place. Is the issue of race so taboo in American society that it cannot even be discussed in schools?
To me, the initial suspension of the course is horrifying; however, I am pleased by the response of the students to its suspension. Their organization in defense of the course speaks to the growing social conscience of American youth and, because it was a result of their experiences in the course, it also speaks to the necessity of incorporating classes on race and social justice into the curriculums of America’s schools.