The Omaha Public Schools used more than $130,000 in federal stimulus dollars to buy each teacher, administrator and staff member a manual on how to become more culturally sensitive.
The book by Virginia education consultants could raise some eyebrows with its viewpoints.
The authors assert that American government and institutions create advantages that “channel wealth and power to white people,” that color-blindness will not end racism and that educators should “take action for social justice.”
The book says that teachers should acknowledge historical systemic oppression in schools, including racism, sexism, homophobia and “ableism,” defined by the authors as discrimination or prejudice against people with disabilities.
The authors argue that public school teachers must raise their cultural awareness to better serve minority students and improve academic achievement.
The Omaha school board approved buying 8,000 copies of the book — one for every employee, including members of the custodial staff — in April. The decision to buy the book was made 11-0, with board member Mary Ellen Drickey passing on the vote.
Janice Garnett, OPS assistant superintendent of human resources, said she could not recall another time that the district had bought copies of the same book to give to every staff member.
Employees will be asked to read a couple of chapters each quarter and then meet in study groups to discuss the book using a study guide produced by the district, she said. For teachers, the study sessions will be a part of their professional development.
School board President Sandra Jensen said the district doesn’t endorse everything in the book, nor does she expect employees to adopt the authors’ positions. The book is intended to open a dialogue, she said.
“The purpose of providing this resource is to help staff see that people come from a multitude of different backgrounds which cause them to respond differently to the same set of facts, depending on their personal perspectives,” she said in a statement. “Recognition that one might have a certain perspective is critical to treating all people equally.”
Representatives of other large Nebraska school districts — Lincoln, Millard, Papillion-La Vista and Bellevue — said they have not used the book for training teachers, nor have the Council Bluffs Community Schools and Des Moines Public Schools.
Lincoln officials bought copies of a different cultural proficiency book to train administrators later this summer, according to spokeswoman Mary Kay Roth.
The book that OPS bought, “The Cultural Proficiency Journey: Moving Beyond Ethical Barriers Toward Profound School Change,” includes a worksheet for teachers to score themselves on a continuum of cultural sensitivity. The continuum ranges from “cultural destructiveness,” as evidenced by genocide and ethnocide, to “cultural proficiency,” depicted as the highest level of awareness.
Only those educators who acknowledge the existence of white privilege in America, that “white” is a culture in America and that race “is a definer for social and economic status” can reach proficiency, the authors contend. Those who score poorly on the worksheet are asked in the book what they will do “to align yourself with the values expressed.”
Jensen said the district will not use the book to eval
uate or judge employees.
The book says teachers must overcome irrational fear of homosexuality and reject the “color-blind” approach to teaching in which teachers treat all children the same. Instead, the group identity of students of color should be recognized and esteemed, the authors say.
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