CRT and 1619 Project Content Taught in WPSD High School - Formal Complaint Filed
The Woodland Park School District administration has always claimed that racially divisive educational material such as Critical Race Theory (CRT) and the 1619 Project are not used in any curriculum utilized by any class at the district. Information obtained by CORA Paints a very different picture. In February of 2021, the WPSD BOE (this is a prior board, not the current board members), asked if 1619 Project material or CRT was being utilized in any courses, as it had become a topic of conversation among community members and parents (and the country as a whole). The emails that followed from High School Assistant Principal Karen Hamlow and High School Teachers paints a very clear picture: not only was 1619 Project material being utilized in some course, other teachers were interested in utilizing this material in their courses as well. Interestingly enough, Hamlow reported back to Assistant Superintendent Linda Murray that no one is using the curriculum - but it is a topic of conversation. This half truth led school administration and the then BOE that none of the courses were utilizing this info - when the email dialogue presents a much different reality.
One of the Courses that does utilize 1619 Project material is ENG0132 "Civil Disobedience". This teacher for this course, David Graff, also known to some readers as the former Vice President for the local NEA chapter, responded to Karen's email stating "I have used a little bit from the 1619 Project for Civil Disobedience, but have not dabbled too much with it's curriculum as there are some similar themes between it and Civil Disobedience. But yes, I am very with it."
We CORA'd the course material for ENG0132 and identified that only one book was read in this Junior/Senior level English course: Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World in Me. This book has widely been recognized as CRT material.
When we approached the WPSD to ask them about the divisive material and course, we were told that no one had ever complained. We later learned that what the administration meant was that a formal complaint had never been filed as defined by their policy documents. We of course, wanted to help them correct this gap. Below is the "formal" complaint that has been filed with the WPSD in re the course and the course material. This complaint also contains quotes from the book in question. Please read and make your own determination:
Formal Public Complaint in re: Material Covered in Civil Disobedience ENG0132
To: Kenneth Witt, Interim Superintendent, Tina Cassens former Co-Superintendent (and former Curriculum & Assessment Supervisor), Karen Hamlow Curriculum & Assessment Supervisor and WPSD High School Assistant Principal, Kevin Burr WPSD High School Principal
From: Jameson Dion, resident within WPSD district boundaries
Date: Jan 7th, 2022
CC: WPSD Board of Directors
Attn WPSD Administrators: I am filing this formal complaint about the instructional resources utilized in the ENG0132 Civil Disobedience Class, specifically the use of the book Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Note that my complaint about this specific book, and my request for an official review of the course and course material comes after obtaining information from CORA requests that indicate that this course is intended to pursue the spirit of the 1619 project (see attachments). The 1619 project is a creation of the New York Times and attempts to redefine the history of the United States through the lens of slavery. It even asserts that the true founding of America was 1619, when the first African slave was imported into the country. It has been widely condemned and criticized as being historically inaccurate and its intention, as asserted by numerous historians, is to define America as a hateful, racist country that is forever defined by a particular dark element of its history: slavery. The 1619 project fails to account for the fact that slavery was widely practiced throughout history, introduced to the United States by the British and ended through both proclamation, legislation and an incredibly bloody Civil War in which 620,000 Americans of all races sacrificed their lives in a war that was largely initiated to permanently end slavery in the United States.
My complaint about the use of Ta-Nehisi’s Between the World and Me is based on three assertions:
1. Intention to define American History through a racially divisive reframing of history: The instructor, David Graff has demonstrated an intention to define America to his students through the lense of the 1619 project as evidenced by his emails obtained through CORA.
2. Racist assertions in course material without an adequate contrast or counterargument presented through other works: Ta-Nehisis book breaks down American’s into two categories: victims (African Americans) and oppressors (White Americans). He consistently demonizes an entire race of Americans solely because of the color of their skin. This, of course, is the literal definition of racism as defined by Oxford. Racism: the believe that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another. The book serves to demonstrate to readers, specifically a more impressionable and less knowledgeable reader base such as a WPSD Junior or Senior, that individuals should in fact be judged not by the content of their character, but by the content of their skin. I’ll note that no other contrasting work is used to contrast and compare the arguments made by Ta-Nehisi as this is the sole book reviewed in this English course. No other books by authors such as Thomas Sowell, or Jason D. Hill who authored a rebuke of Ta-Nehisi’s book in his work entitled We Have Overcome, who offer a much different view on race in America are used and it appears that is book is used in isolation with the purpose to indoctrinate, not education students.
3. There appears to be an emphasis on pushing an racially divisive message to students instead of improving their knowledge of notable literary works or improving their reading comprehension of such works: This book is only 152 pages long – a book I was able to finish this past week on a two hour flight. While the author’s writing is quite eloquent, the work does not utilize particularly difficult vocabulary, nor is it notable in any way outside of its author’s racist views.
In my research of this piece, I found a large amount of criticism that has been levied primarily by liberal African American professors. In fact, almost all positive reviews of this work are almost solely voiced by woke, white liberals. I find it notable that the views of this writer have been strongly rejected among his closest peers. One of the strongest rebukes of this piece I found was written by Jason Damian Hill, a Jamaican immigrant who immigrated to the U.S. in 1985 at the age of 20 to escape what he describes as “the most homophobic culture in the world.” Hill, a homosexual that was discriminated against in his own country, sought the freedom and opportunity that the United States provided all regardless of their race and sexual preference. His open letter is attached, and offers a more eloquent rebuke of Between the World and Me than I could ever hope to rival.
Jason Damian Hill’s open letter to Ta-Nehisi can be found here: https://www.commentary.org/articles/jason-hill/open-letter-ta-nehisi-coates/
There are a number of excerpts that I have provided below to stress my previous assertions that this book is inappropriate as course material, especially in the absence of a contrasting work:
Page 6: American History:
“Specifically, the host wished to know why I felt that white America’s progress, or rather the progress of those Americans who believe that they are white, was built on looting and violence. Hearing this, I felt an old and indistinct sadness well up in me. The answer to this question is the record of the believers themselves. The answer is American history.”
Page 8: what it means to be white:
“As for now, it must be said that the process of washing the disparate tribes white, the elevation of the belief in being white, was not achieved through wine tastings and ice cream socials, but rather through the pillaging of life, liberty, labor, and land; through the flaying of backs; the chaining of limbs; the strangling of dissidents; the destruction of families; the rape of mothers; the sale of children; and various other acts meant, first and foremost, to deny you and me the right to secure and govern our own bodies.”
Page 42: how the color one’s light skin defines one:
“ “White America” is a syndicate arrayed to protect its exclusive power to dominate and control our bodies. Sometimes this power is direct (lynching), and sometimes it is insidious (redlining). But however it appears, the power of domination and exclusion is central to the belief in being white, and without it, “white people” would cease to exist for a want of reasons.”
Page 54: how the color of one’s dark skin defines one:
“Did black skin really convey nobility? Always? Yes. What about the blacks who’d practiced slavery for millennia and sold slaves across the Sahara and then across the sea? Victims of a trick. Would those be the same black kings who birthed all of civilization?”
Page 79: the problem with the police:
“The problem with the police is not that they are fascist pigs but that our country is ruled by majoritarian pigs.”
Page 86: Ta-Nehisi describes his feelings as the World Trade Center buildings collapse on September 11th2001 in front of his eyes:
“That evening, I stood on the roof of an apartment building with your mother, your aunt Chana, and her boyfriend, Jamal. So we were there on the roof, talking and taking in the sight – great plumes of smoke covered Manhattan Island. Everyone knew someone who knew someone who was missing. But looking out upon the ruins of America, my heart was cold. I had disasters all my own.”
“In the days after, I watched the ridiculous pageantry of flags, the machismo of firemen, the overwrought slogans.”
“I could see no difference between the officer who killed Prince Jones and the police who died, or the firefighters who died. They were not human to me. Black, white, or whatever, they were the menaces of nature; they were the fire, the comet, the storm, which could – with no justification – shatter my body.”
Page 89: Ta-Nehisi describes watching white families in New York City:
“That was where I saw white parents pushing double-wide strollers down gentrifying Harlem boulevards in T-shirts and jogging shorts. Or I saw them lost in conversation with each other, mother and father, while their sons commanded entire sidewalks with their tricycles. The galaxy belonged to them, and as terror was communicated to our children, I saw mastery communicated to theirs.”
“This is how they steal our right to smile. No one told those little white children, with their tricycles, to be twice as good. I imagined their parents telling them to take twice as much. It seemed to me that our own rules redoubled plunder.”
Page 103: Ta-Nehisi defines his view of the American legacy:
“All you need to understand is that the officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of an American legacy, and they necessitate that of the bodies destroyed every year, some wild and disproportionate number of them will be black.
Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body – it is heritage.”
In conclusion, this book is a tool of a teacher who appears intent upon using this course as a indoctrination tool and critical race theory, through a view of America, it’s people, its races and its history as defined by the authors of the 1619 project. In its isolation without contract it is dangerous to the students that are exposed to it. I can’t help but think – what must the African-American student who is subjected to this material think about the prospects for their future in a world defined by Ta-Nehisi where they have no real shot at the “American dream”? What must the Caucasian student think of their self-worth when they read that they are the oppressor, guilty of crimes of humanity solely because they were born with a specific skin pigmentation? This course needs to be reviewed and I would recommend, based on what I know, that this course be remodeled with a more balanced and contrasting view of race and American history – so that students can be presented with a diversity of opinion rather than an overt attempt to indoctrinate them.
4 email chains between school administration and teachers regarding 1619 project and it’s material. Note: I will point out that David Graff, reports back to school administration on Feb 24th, 2021 that he is indeed using 1619 Project material in his course, Civil Disobedience: “I have used a little bit from the 1619 project for Civil Disobedience, but have not dabbled too much with it’s curriculum as there are some similar themes between it and Civil Disobedience. But yes, I am very with it.” On February 26th, Karen Hamlow (Assistant Principal) reports back to Linda Murray, then Assistant Superintendent, that “no one is using the curriculum – bit it is a topic of conversation.” This seems to be an omission of the full responses from teachers, a couple of which do admit to using or who intend to use 1619 Project material. Kevin Burr responds only to Hamlow the same day stating “Well done. Nice response. Very Good.” It is my assertion that administration knew that this material was being taught and covered it up when reporting back to the BOE. I would suggest a further review of what administration members knew of this material and if they intended to deceive the board and deny the board would also be in order.
Syllabus for ENG1032