A Massachusetts school superintendent told a community audience on Tuesday that white people in our “systematically corrupt system that oppresses black individuals” need to “rewire their brains” in order to overcome their biases.
Pittsfield Public Schools chief Jason McCandless (who’s white) also blasted President Trump, saying that the commander-in-chief’s words “are being used to divide,” and that he “preaches hate on a daily basis … which is utterly unacceptable.”
McCandless’s comments were reported in a Berkshire Eagle story about his district’s plan to pilot black history courses this fall.
The courses taught at two district high schools, Pittsfield and Taconic, will focus not only on black oppression, but the “contributions black people have made to society,” according to teacher Jamal Ahmad. McCandless added that Pittsfield is working to better a system which has “long has overlooked the work and contributions of people of color.”
Along with the history courses, a teacher professional development seminar featured a college professor who enlightened educators about their implicit biases.
“This was perhaps a life-changing course for some people,” McCandless said.
The professional development training also helped teachers work to make sure every subject, not just those specifically about African American history or arts, is emphasizing the work of people of color, he said.
For the pilot of the history courses, the district reached out for advice from people in the community that it felt were experts in the field. McCandless hopes that students will contribute to the curriculum, too.
Heather McNiece, a teacher who works on curricula design and embedding at the schools, said that [Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Professor Frances] Jones-Sneed’s institute was eye-opening.
“I learned that I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” she said.
Up until that point, when talking about implicit bias, she had only been told to “check your white privilege,” which prompted a defensive response.
But after working with Jones-Sneed, and reading the book “Waking Up White,” she has a better understanding of what white privilege means.
When asked by a member of the audience if the black history courses could be made a graduation requirement, McCandless replied that he “would be open” to it; however, he noted such dictates usually come from the state, not district, level.
According to its district profile, Pittsfield is over 63 percent white, 14.5 percent Hispanic, and 11 percent black. Based on 2012 figures, only about 9.5 percent of the city’s residents are registered Republicans.