By Dennis Anderson
Friday brought a short-notice visit from Gov. Jared Polis to Delta Middle School and Delta County Memorial Hospital. He originally requested to tour an elementary school, but district representatives wanted to show him their new state of the art facility at DMS.
Prior to his visit, a small group of citizens gathered on the sidewalk facing the main entrance of the school. The signs they held varied from mundane to aggressive. Their political affiliation was, as you can imagine, very clear. Signs and flags supporting President Donald Trump’s and Lauren Boebert’s campaigns were also part of the peaceful demonstration.
I was part of the group that toured DMS with the governor, and the school represented itself well.
But the visit wasn’t without incident, and the adults who showed up to protest forgot where they were. As we went from the main building to the gym, where students were waiting to hold a question-and-answer session with the governor, Rep. Matt Soper and State Sen. Kerry Donovan, the adults appeared on the fence line. Some were in full shouting voices calling out the governor. Profanities echoed through the school grounds. Children were within earshot of the tirades. It wasn’t the best of looks for Delta.
We are a divisive lot these days: politically, spiritually, socioeconomically and racially. People want their voices heard. This includes a group called Decolonizing Delta County School District. Paonia High School alum Marisa Edmondson and Jordan Evans have taken the lead. What they want, and the story has been published in the Montrose Daily Press and Delta County Independent, is to make changes within Delta County School District.
The changes look more like demands and include a statement from the district condemning violence and hate crimes against people of color in America; a voice in curriculum which includes expanding literature by authors from various racial backgrounds; and a three-tiered punishment system to encourage education while making sure students understand the weight of their actions when it comes to racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, homophobic and anti-semitic actions. They even go as far as asking the district to adjust and revise summer reading lists.
I have some issues with their demands.
There is value in all literature, and to insist that certain authors or subjects have to be included in the curriculum is no different than insisting certain authors or subjects should not be included.
Recently in the Mat-Su Valley of Alaska, where I am the publisher of the community newspaper, the school board voted to eliminate five books from its curriculum.
The books are “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison; “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller; “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien; “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou; and “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The reasoning behind the decision was the racial overtones, and, in the case of Maya Angelou’s book, she writes about being sexually assaulted as a little girl by a family member. There was, as you can imagine, an outpouring of community outrage stemming from the decision — so much so that a local lawyer paid students to read all five books. The popular band Portugal the Man, whose members are from the Mat-Su Valley, bought the above title books from a local bookstore for students who wanted to read them. The event made national headlines. The board eventually rescinded its decision.
Back in Delta, the decolonizing group has come before the school board to ask for changes. Good for them, but only where changes are truly needed. The DCSD shouldn’t turn itself on its head for a problem it doesn’t have. Are there racially charged incidents? Probably so. But I’m a product of the district, as are my wife and our adult children. I also have three grandchildren who attend various schools in Delta. I can say unequivocally that in my roughly 40 years of experience in the district as a student, parent and grandparent, students of all backgrounds have been included and not ostracized by the school district.
We elect school board members to represent us. A positive that I see from the decolonizing group is that they are out and about helping people to register to vote. And certainly there is nothing wrong with them presenting their issues to the school board, but insisting that a detailed list of steps they deem necessary be taken by the school board and district is too much.
If there is a racially motivated event that makes a student feel uncomfortable, excluded or discriminated against, then action by school administrators should be swift and clear to demonstrate that this behavior will not be tolerated. And lessons learned in the classrooms should be all inclusive. I believe the district has a handle on both these points.
Those who are marginalized due to socioeconomic status need special attention. These are the students who typically fall through the cracks. But this status can blur racial lines. In other words, this status is an equal opportunity deterrent from success. Public education can lift children out of poverty. But those students have more obstacles in their way than those who have more resources at home. We as a society and a community have to assist these students to increase their chances of success.
Religious institutions will tell their parishioners that faith begins and should be taught at home — the domestic church, as the Catholic church has labeled it. Eradicating racism starts at home as well. Some of the slurs that get hurled at Polis because of his sexuality shows we have work to do. Using the ‘N’ word, even as a term of friendship, should not be accepted, no matter the color of your skin.
Teaching our children to debate or protest without causing emotional injury starts and ends with all of us adults and the examples we set. Unfortunately, some of our adults didn’t set the best example on Friday. We have to do better. I know many of the teachers and administrators in the Delta County School District. I can attest that they nurture a loving and caring environment. Teaching our students to respect each other’s differences doesn’t have to be mandated to them because they live it in their everyday lives.
Dennis Anderson is group publisher for Wick Communications, Alaska and Colorado. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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Good points, Dennis! Those "adults" should be ashamed of themselves!
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