Anne Frank. Credit: Photo provided by Anne Frank House

As a lifelong member of New Bedford’s diverse minority community and as a veteran educator, I have often observed examples of how one’s priorities are guided by one’s perspective.

In reading Jack Spillane’s recent article on the NBPS’s middle school curriculum changes, it appears to me that the persons who made the decision to remove, perhaps temporarily, specific reading materials on civil rights and the Holocaust, prioritized one goal (to raise all 8th grade ELA students to grade level) at the expense of a second, and equally important goal, (to include those historic events that helped shape who we are.)

One’s priorities are guided by one’s perspective.

Some folks in the community assert that the second goal should take precedence over the first. Again, one’s priorities are guided by one’s perspective.

I suggest that achieving both goals simultaneously is not only possible, but preferable. To accomplish this presents a challenge to all decision-makers who view this issue from an either/or perspective.

At the outset, the responses offered during the New Bedford Light interview with some NBPS administrators were that, “The needs of (some 3,000 or so) 8th grade middle school students can’t wait and that we can’t afford to waste time. We don’t have another year to bring all 8th grade students to appropriate grade level reading,” reflect their perspective.

From my perspective, those same 3,000 students can’t wait for NBPS to find and adopt inclusive reading materials at an 8th grade reading level that illustrate, for example, the experiences of those effected by the Holocaust, the civil rights movement, and the historic and current conditions of indigenous populations, such as the Wampanoag and Mayan cultures.

I would hope that by the term “waste time” they were not referring to the inclusion of these topics in the curriculum, whether at 8th grade reading level or not.

Furthermore, given that our students are currently performing only at the 1st or 2nd percentile of MCAS scores statewide, the majority of them would comfortably be able to comprehend and critically analyze pertinent material that is at less than the desired 8th grade level. If you ask reading teachers what is the best way to improve their students’ performance, your answer would be resoundingly: “Provide them with literature that they can comprehend, relate to and find interesting.”

Removing these topics from the curriculum, even “temporarily” will not help raise MCAS scores.  

Lastly, I find two other NBPS administrators’ responses troubling regarding this curriculum change decision: the suggestion that promoting the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day Memorial and the NAACP’s MLK breakfast events, constitute outreach to the community that might make up for the removal of this pertinent reading experience; and the loaded phrase so often attached to diverse resources, “available to teachers who may want to include them.”

It is unwise and counter-productive to leave incorporation of a more inclusive reading curriculum to only those teachers who choose to do so.  

It is not to wonder that neither teacher buy-in, nor community input were sought.

There is so much more I want to say about this issue, but I will save that for another day.

One’s priorities are guided by one’s perspective.

Dawn Blake Souza is a retired educator and New Bedford Public Schools principal.

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