Recently I attended an event at the Chaska Event Center that had a display of posters prepared for Black History Month by several Chaska High School students.
The event came about because of a conflict between the students and the high school’s principal over censoring. After reading the piece in the March 7 newspaper the details of the dispute are not clear.
My view is that the specifics are not the important issue. The main concern is that recent events at the high school, along with the poster incident, have left these and other students of color feeling uncomfortable and maybe unwanted in their own school.
I know that Eastern Carver County Schools is working on improving the environment for all students, with the goal of eliminating the achievement gap. Unfortunately, the recent events at Chaska High School show they have a long way to go. For students to do their best, they have to feel part of a welcoming community.
In recent years I have been doing some tutoring at the district’s Integrated Arts Academy. IAA is the district’s third high school and has a “personalized, inquiry-based education combining art and core academic standards.”
IAA promotes training in the arts, but also provides a home for students who have trouble fitting into a traditional school environment. In recent years, I have watched the staff work very hard to make all their students feel welcome and part of their school family, and the result, from my viewpoint, has been a major change in student attitude.
Students and staff seem to have gone from adversaries to members of a community, and it is showing in performance and the future plans of the student body.
Of course, it is easy to say how things should be, but more difficult to define how to get there. To me, it seems that Chaska High School should have been more proactive from the start. Instead of students coming to the administration with the suggestion of posters, the administration should have asked students to do something for Black History Month.
When there were cases of students painting their face black, the school should have brought in speakers explaining the history of racial bias in this country and why actions such as putting on blackface are so offensive. I know some people will never get it, but I feel many attitudes will change.
At this point an important question that some people will have is “Who cares what students of color want? If they cannot fit into our schools, let them leave.”
I can give you a couple of my reasons.
First there is the religious and moral training of my youth. I learned that there were two great Commandments — first, love God; and second love thy neighbor. The second of these commandments did not say anything about the color of my neighbor, or where they came from, or what they believed. It just said love thy neighbor.
Now this is from my Christian roots, but Christianity is not the only religion that believes in loving our neighbors. From the Old Testament, Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And from Islam’s Hadith (sayings of the Prophet): “None of you has faith until he loves for his brother or his neighbor what he loves for himself” (Sahih Bukhari, Book 2, Hadith 12).
Beyond the Golden Rule philosophy, it just makes sense that if we want the United States to be great, then we have to utilize the skills and talents of all our citizens. This means all should receive the education and training to fully develop those skills and talents. It also means that all of our citizens, independent of where they were born, what they believe, or the color of their skin, should be made to feel welcome.
My ancestors came to this country for a better life; they came in pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. They came to earn a good life through hard work, and they were willing to fight in our wars to keep that true for future generations. The same is true for the vast majority of Americans today no matter their roots or their complexion.
In the 1940 Census, almost 90 percent of those counted were white in the 2010 Census only 72 percent considered themselves white. There has been much talk in recent years about America’s greatness and remaining great.
I can say this America will not remain great unless it develops and utilizes the abilities of all and makes all feel welcome. As an old white guy, I can tell you we have not done that in the past, and if we continue along that path, the rest of the world will pass us by.
My hope is that next year the students and staff of Chaska High School will work together for Black History Month, and maybe other history months as well.
If we want to get the best out of all our students, we have to make them feel welcome and valued.