The Bolles School of Jacksonville, Florida announced this week that it was halting its implementation of a curriculum written for the purpose of promoting racial literacy in the form of understanding diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The attempt to lead students into considering these issues followed a summer of embarrassment, when former and current black students created an Instagram account titled “Black at Bolles” and posted anonymous accounts of harassment and discrimination based upon their race.
At the time, the school’s leadership seemed apologetic and persuaded to begin attempts to promote understanding and a conversation among its students and staff about these issues.
But now, they have decided to stop because it was creating ‘too much angst among the community.’
That’s the point; until we become willing to be discomforted by hard conversations, we won’t progress.
More on that later. What caught Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) eye was the name of the curriculum–Pollyanna.
Pollyanna is the title character of a book whose unending sense of optimism leads her to deny tragedy has been made into several movies. While the author meant for readers to conclude that maintaining a positive attitude in the face of adverse circumstances is best, Pollyanna has come to be known as a person who denies the reality of evil by pretending that everything is fine and persisting in that belief even as her world falls apart around her.
The antithesis of Pollyanna is said to be Cassandra, the Greek seer of myth, who warned Troy of impending doom and was killed by sea serpents sent by the god Poseidon, who favored the Greeks in the coming war.
A strange name for a curriculum that wants to guide hard conversations on race between students. GOT had lots of questions, so naturally he went to their website to find out more.
The Pollyanna Curriculum is designed for grades K – 8. Its self-stated goal is to “help students gain knowledge about race as it has been constructed in the United States and aims to help students acquire an awareness of their own racial socialization and skills for engaging in productive conversations about race and racism.”
Quoting the website, the people behind the curriculum hope to:
- To encourage kindness, bravery, and empathy when exploring and better understanding the cultural and racial diversity of local and global communities.
- To develop a more inclusive and positive perspective of self, others, and the larger world in regard to race, ethnicity, and culture.
- To analyze history and other social assertions that fabricate myths of innate racial superiority, in order to dispel myopic, discriminatory perspectives of race.
- To analyze race as a primary institution of the United States.
- To critique the biological fallacy of race, while simultaneously unpacking its social truths
Above all, the aspiration is to build connections among children of different races, “to recognize similarities among their peers along lines of race, while also celebrating perceived differences.”
The curriculum comes from a non-profit of the same name, Pollyanna, who incorporated as a 501c(3) in New York.
No wonder that a curriculum with those goals was causing angst in the community. If there’s one thing that causes a problem, it’s having a conversation about race. Very few want it.
It’s easier to pretend that everything is fine. Maybe that is why black students had enough and began talking on Instagram. They couldn’t find support for a conversation in their schools. Too much angst, a word defined as meaning “a feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general. (from Oxford Languages via a Google search)
It would be easy to go, “Oh, wow, Bolles, really?” After all, an elite private school that caters to the wealthy and well-connected not only in its city, not only in its state, but in the many areas of the world where it draws in the children of those who can afford to pay, presents an easy target.
Oh, that angst! Because the truth is that it’s the same in all schools, including the traditional public schools in a city of broken promises, whose history is often described as a tale of two cities, one white and one black, the city where GOT works.
We want a veneer over the issues that divide us like we want frosting on a cake. The cake might be made of sawdust, but as long as the butter and powdered sugar that covers it looks and tastes good, we eat and pronounce ourselves satisfied.
We don’t want to talk about race. We don’t want to consider the experience and history of others. The Manifest Destiny of the usual history book is the genocide of Native peoples. Two differing perspectives that no one wants to talk about.
It’s too uncomfortable. Pollyanna would tell us to cheer up and look on the bright side. Thus, GOT’s wonderment at the strange choice of name. Even the moon has a dark side. For every 1619 project, an attempt to look at the beginning of slavery and how it grew on this continent, there is a 1776 commission to whitewash history because that is the only perspective that counts.
When the NFL franchise is losing all its star black players due to the racism in its front office, when the mediocre white player got an undeserved contract extension but the talented black players got the stiff arm because it’s business after all, GOT’s call-out was met with scorn. How could a team with a Pakistani owner be racist against its black players?
Long ago, GOT was a staff auditor. One day, he was verifying inventory in a warehouse supervised by a Polynesian woman. Among the conversations about the counts, the supervisor dropped comments about dumb Mexicans.
Wowsers! The toxicity of American racism is seen in how it infects non-white immigrants to its shores.
But that’s a conversation no one wants to have.
Too much angst in the community.
Translation: White people don’t like it. White people don’t want it. White people are uncomfortable.
So, regardless of the name, regardless of the Bolles school saying it was only going to use parts of the curriculum, not all of it, let’s ditch the whole effort and pretend there’s no problem.
As we do every day in the district’s public schools. Do we have a race problem?
GOT has written about this before: here, here, here, and here. He remembers the day he had to put down a near riot in his classroom over issues of race. He remembers how students trying to say Blue Lives Matter riled up those who proclaimed that Black Lives Matter. Heels were dug in, attitudes were hardened, no one would listen to one another.
As February rolls in, we need to do better. This first week of Black History Month is also the week of Black Lives Matter at School. All of us should stop, listen, and then talk about these essential and basic needs of black students:
- End zero-tolerance discipline policies.
- More ethnic studies/black history courses. (And not just for black students!)
- Hire more black teachers. (They have been a casualty of NCLB/RTTT/school-reform test based policies.)
- More counselors, not cops.