PRESS EDITORIAL: School curriculums need Diversity and Inclusion 101

The racial incident during a Port Washington High School baseball game on May 24 was more than an embarrassment to the school district and the community.

It was also a revealing indication of the harm Wisconsin legislators will do if they pass a proposed law that would restrict what schools teach about racism. What happened on the Port High baseball field made it obvious that education in that subject is needed.

In a junior varsity baseball game, a Port Washington player used the N-word in referring to a player on the Nicolet High School team.

This was so upsetting to the Nicolet team that its coaches gave the players the option of abandoning the game in protest. The team elected to keep playing, but a strong protest came later from the superintendent of the Nicolet School District in a statement that pointed out “this is not the first time that our students have been subjected to similar behavior from Port Washington students.”

He was referring to a 2019 basketball game during which Port students mocked Nicolet’s star player by waving enlarged photo reproductions that appeared to show him wearing blackface.

That display made national news and was widely publicized—and condemned—on social media, which ensured that the latest occurrence of race-related bad behavior would bring further negative attention to Port Washington and its school district.

The state’s largest newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, featured its news story about the affair on the front page of its sports section and followed up with an opinion column lamenting the racial insult and ignorance displayed in the game.

Port High Principal Thad Gabrielse issued a statement saying, “Port Washington High School does not tolerate racial slurs and has provided significant consequences for this player’s actions.”

Both Gabrielse and Port-Saukville School Supt. Mike Weber, however, bristled at comments from Nicolet Supt. Greg Kabara calling on the Port administration to “demand a culture of respect and inclusion, and teach their community that racism is unacceptable and should never be tolerated.”

The Nicolet administrator may have come across as condescendingly preaching the obvious to his Port Washington peers, but his point was valid, even though Port has been attempting to address the issue of “respect and inclusion.”         “We have and will continue to provide diversity education to this student and to all students at Port Washington High School,” Gabrielse said.

But if a bill now in the Wisconsin Legislature becomes law, Port Washington High School and other public schools might not be able to do that. The legislation would bar public schools from teaching broadly defined aspects of racism. Supporters say the bill is aimed at preventing the teaching of the theory that racism is inherent in society, but critics say the wording is so vague that almost any instruction about racism could subject school districts to the severe penalties prescribed by the bill—loss of part of the state aid they need to operate and vulnerability to lawsuits by parents.

Similar bills are pending or have been passed in other states, over the strong objections of teachers and school boards.

The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teacher organization, warned last week that the laws would lead to a sanitized version of American history being taught in schools.

Aside from its chilling effect on teaching racial issues, the Wisconsin bill is an egregious affront to the principle that public school education should be locally controlled, which ironically is frequently applauded in other contexts by the bill’s Republican sponsors. Decisions on what will be taught in local school districts should be made by the school boards elected by district residents.

Racism is a complex subject that varies from vile premeditated acts of prejudice to hurtful insults that derive from ignorance and insensitivity. The latter was likely the case with Port player in the Nicolet game, and it was a clear call for an educational remedy.

A second racial incident in the same game would seem to require a different remedy. An adult umpire, setting an incredibly bad example for the teenagers on the field with him, used racially offensive language in enforcing a call against an arguing biracial Nicolet player.

Nicolet reported the umpire’s behavior to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, and he has been suspended. If that does not teach a lesson about racism, perhaps revoking the umpire’s license as is being considered by the WIAA, would do it.

 

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494
 

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