A post at Feministe alerted me to the recent firing of an English teacher, Karen Salazar, from an LA high school for being too afrocentric and supposedly indoctrinating her students. Democracy Now! interviewed her this week and in that interview she says that she was negatively evaluated for teaching a lesson from The Autobiography of Malcom X, an approved text for her school district:
KAREN SALAZAR: Sure. There was actually one lesson in particular that’s been extremely controversial. I used a three-page excerpt from The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which is an LAUSD-approved text. It’s widely used around the country, in other countries, as well. I used a three-page excerpt, standards-based. They never denied that it was standards-based. But the administrator who observed my class—
AMY GOODMAN: When you say “standards-based” and “LAUSD,” Los Angeles United School District, but LA “standards-based”?
KAREN SALAZAR: Standards-based for the California Content Standards for English Language Arts.
AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.
KAREN SALAZAR: So it was a standards-based lesson. The administrator who came and observed my class later wrote in an evaluation—this is a written evaluation that goes into my file—that I was brainwashing students and imposing extremist views on them, based on this lesson. So that’s one of the controversial lessons, I guess, that I am being accused of indoctrinating students with Afrocentrism with.
I did have a mentor teacher observe the same exact lesson that same day, just coincidentally, because she is my mentor teacher. She comes in periodically to observe my lesson. And she took away something completely different from that lesson than what the administrator did.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident, as the Democracy Now! interview discusses. A book about Chicano-American history may soon be banned from public schools, and a teacher in Colorado was fired a few years ago for saying to her students, “I honk for peace.”
These incidents are downright frightening. The little critical thinking that gets taught in public schools is being stifled due to xenophobia. Apparently, we do not want people who know how to think in this country, or people who are proud of their ethnic and cultural background. No, we want brainwashed people who will blindly believe that the United States is a benevolent savior everywhere it goes.
I have always felt that the way history (and many other subjects, but history is the most relevant to these particular situations) is taught in K-12 schools is shameful. Students read eurocentric textbooks and are made to memorize “facts”. Primary sources are rarely used, and students are not encouraged to question what they read. If we want to teach history in a way to make students totally uninterested in either history or learning in general, and totally unable to read something critically, and in a way that is irrelevant to many students’ cultural backgrounds, we could not do it any better.
One point about trying to teach students to think critically is that it necessarily requires teaching non-eurocentric points of view. This is because the eurocentric point of view is the acceptable status quo. So part of teaching critical thinking is showing that not everyone thinks the way the textbook author does. Apparently, doing this is seen as threatening, since Salazar was fired for doing so.
To make the situation even more depressing and frightening, the students loved Salazar. I think this video they made advertising their planned protest speaks for itself:
Clearly, this teacher is doing something right if the students like her that much and feel encouraged by her to strive for more education and not settle for the same patterns that are expected from people of their ethnicity. It is frightening that school administrators would do something that goes against what is best for the students, simply because they are frightened of what could happen if not everyone thought in the same eurocentric way that they do.