White people can be unbearably tender

So a friend of mine, the Rev. Dr. Shelley D. Best, posted this selfie on Facebook a few months back:

hc-hartford-socialIf you can’t read what she wrote to accompany the selfie, it says:

In a room full of folks talking about us (and the educational achievement gap) that don’t look like us… hmmmm …

I saw the original post (back in September) and thought, “Yep,” and then moved on. There’s been a lot of research about cultural competency in the classroom, and the necessity of all of us celebrating the tapestries that are America’s classrooms. But even I, a Caucasian with a deep desire to be a very good teacher, know that I live with limits. I can be empathetic and caring and I will still never know what it is to live in the world as an African American, a Latina, an anything but what I am. I am a combination of my ethnicity, my religion, my gender and my perch on the food chain. And that’s even though I’ve climbed the economic ladder from my origin, no longer cleave to the entirety of my religion of origin, am not that girlie, and my ethnicity is a hodge-podge but I seem to favor more the Irish and the Native.

Regardless, the lessons I learned growing up white in southwestern Missouri are different from the lessons Shelley, who is also a Hartford school board member, learned growing up black in northwestern Connecticut. And when I acknowledge that, both I and my students benefit — or at least, that’s how things have worked out so far.

You can’t tell a person how they should react to something, but the woman framed in the picture behind Best, an award-winning teacher, was hurt to be in the photo, and took her inclusion — from this Sunday Courant story, stripped above the fold across the front page — to be a comment on her (in)ability to teach children who are other than white. Her reaction is her reaction, and despite my snotty headline on this blog post, I’m sorry she felt that way, sorry that she had even a moment of sadness or anger over this. But what about Best’s post was incorrect? From the Courant story, by Vanessa de la Torre:

In a Hartford school system where the vast majority of students are “black and brown,” Best said, most of the people leading the schools, classrooms and curriculum are white. The district, which has tried recruiting prospects from historically black colleges and minority career fairs, has identified three-quarters of city teachers and half of school principals as white.

Nationally, about 82 percent of public school teachers are white, according to a 2013 U.S. Department of Education report.

and

By the [Hartford] district’s count, there are about 1,400 white teachers in city schools. An additional 226 Hartford teachers are black, 184 are Latino, and 34 are classified as “other.”

As always when it comes to race, we’re missing a golden moment for a good discussion if we’re too intent on protecting our feelings. I would hope the conversation would veer from “But I’m not racist!” to what it means to live in a multi-faceted, multi-cultural world. We could use a conversation like that.

Selah.

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  1. I’m not a fan of this selfie at all. I get her point, but I am surprised she, a pastor, chose to make her point in this way. Yes, of course the decision-makers should reflect the diversity of the population effected by the decisions made as much as possible. No one, regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnicity, etc. appreciates being talked about and left out of the discussion. Push for it and bring it up in these meetings, in a loving way. All races and ethnicities should push for it, and call people to work together. The selfie demonizes the wrong people. I say that without really knowing the people in the room or Rev Best, but I suspect all care about making positive change based on the topic. Rather than criticize the people who care, the criticism should go toward the people who resist change for the good. I am a fan of building alliances rather than making enemies. Racial inequality, and every other inequality, needs groups to come together. Divisiveness is not helpful. I understand everyone doesn’t feel this way, but this is how I see it.

    Selah,

    1. I didn’t think Best demonized any one, but I do believe that’s how it has been taken, and that is so unfortunate.

      1. It is. And given her position as a school board member, it seemed to be inappropriate to make her point on Facebook by exploiting the people (essentially her employees) in the room there dedicating themselves to Hartford kids as a career. I don’t doubt Rev Best’s dedication to Hartford kids, despite what I view as poor judgment in the way she chose to make her point. It is unfortunate this whole thing escalated to being told in The Courant. It further exploits all concerned and detracts from what is important here. Rather than discussing this photo, the real issue, the one Rev Best wants discussed, should be addressed in The Courant. What I am wondering still is, what is preventing the board and school principals from hiring more African American and Latino teachers and how can we address the issue? And, isn’t the school board in a position to do something about it? Are African American teachers being discriminated against in obtaining positions?

        This may not be popular in this discussion, but I don’t agree that skin color is the most important aspect of a teacher for Hartford kids. A person of any race, who knows what it’s like to grow up in poverty and/or in a family where English is a second language, for example, may have more in common with the kids than another person who did not experience this, but is not white. And maybe a person who grew up in an abusive home, or a home where there was substance abuse, or a high crime neighborhood may know what it’s like for some kids growing up in Hartford, regardless of skin color. What is the real issue? Is there discrimination going on in the hiring of teachers? If so, then that needs to be clear and firmly addressed. Maybe I’m unclear on that.

  2. A few more thoughts because I have had some past involvement in the Hartford schools and have witnessed first hand the obstacles related to the achievement gap…
    My question about this discussion is, are parents involved? To discuss this without taking account the lived experiences of parents and families, living in the community (Hispanic, too) leaves out a big piece in my opinion. I don’t mean to imply the people in the room may not recognize the obstacles, but the parents of kids in the district know their lives best. There are so many obstacles, and they are not all tied to race. (e.g. ESL for one – tough for a parent to assist her child with homework, even if she wishes she could, if she cannot read English)

  3. All that we have at our disposal to deal with all this, thanks to the people who own this country, is identity politics and the ressentiment…and enmity…that it breeds.

    But what about Best’s post was incorrect?

    Zottola’s not the enemy. However, now that she’s been identified as such, she’s going to think twice when attempting meaningful dialogue with people who consider her as such…on any issue. (Is that unreasonable?) And this, by design, will create even more division and resentment putting even more people at each others’ throats instead of working to resolve the actual root cause of the problem, while the people who profit from all this laugh themselves incontinent all the way to the bank.

    The system is the enemy. Change is the solution. But you can’t even get close to change by playing the game by rules created to keep change from happening.

    1. How has Best not played by the rules? And I don’t believe she identified Zottola as the enemy. The Interwebs helped do that.

      1. Best knows the interwebs and how they work. She also knows the politics of digital activism and how that works.
        If she did not identify Zottola (White folk) as the enemy, what was the purpose of the selfie? The statement(hmmmm)? She knew what she wanted to express and she knew how to get it done. And she did it.

        Best is playing by the rules. The rules created to keep the system exactly as it is: identity politics. That’s part of the problem.

          1. Simply: the capitulation to cultural criticism, in place of critical analysis of the material roots of oppression, that factionalizes, depoliticizes, and distracts public attention away from failed bourgeois reformism (tokenism) that leaves unchanged the economic superstructures that enable oppression.

            Seriously…Identity Politics pits social group against social group, defeating the social solidarity necessary to implement the substantive and structural change needed to resolve social issues. The more we concentrate on one group, the more we concentrate on one group. And the less we concentrate on what’s actually causing the problem: the system.

                1. Nor was I, and ditto on the apology. I just wanted to see if I understood what you’re saying, and I think I do. I absolutely can see the point people are making that this wasn’t the proper venue. I see your point, too. But I also understand that after so long, it becomes not a time of if, but when. When are people going to listen? How am I (not Susan but the person trying to draw attention to this) going to frame the message so that it’s heard and understood (knowing that it’s race, and that’s a difficult topic for most people).

                  I’m not even beginning to explain myself very well and I can’t even blame a lack of coffee for that.

                  1. Who in that room wasn’t listening? Don’t we need solutions? And shouldn’t the primary concern be related to the education of the kids? The objective is to decrease and eliminate the achievement gap so how does that get done? ( I don’t mean for you to explain. I am trying to raise the question and bring things back to the kids.).

                    1. …which is where it has belonged all the time. (And I don’t know that any one in the room wasn’t listening. I assume they were.)

                    2. How does that get done?
                      Let’s bring it back to the kids.
                      EPI:

                      Economic inequality leads to education inequalities. The large achievement gaps documented throughout children’s school trajectories don’t originate in school—rather, they are rooted in children’s socioeconomic status (SES). Indeed, performance gaps in reading and math are apparent when children enter kindergarten—and performance is closely associated with, and rises along with, SES. In fact, children in the highest socioeconomic fifth have reading and math scores that are significantly higher (by a full standard deviation) than those of their peers in the lowest SES fifth.

                      This illustrates the need to weaken the link between inequality and education, and to ensure that all children are prepared for kindergarten. This will require not only expanding access to high-quality early education programs, but also pursuing policies to reduce economic disparities.
                      CHART
                      emphasis added

                      Sounds like a plan to me. Start HERE.

                  2. Are the people in the Hartford school district not listening and not trying hard enough to hire African American and Latino teachers? (Re: your comment above). Is that what you meant when you said, “When are people going to listen?”. Or, did you mean something else?

                    1. I’m sorry. I was speaking more broadly, about these kinds of public comments, such as Shelley’s, or the young woman who disrupted the CT Forum a few weeks ago. I don’t know what it’s like to feel unheard by the broader public, but I imagine if I felt that way, I’d use all means available to call attention to what I’m trying to say. In the short term, Shelley was reacting to a presentation that showed young black men as examples for students failing in school. In that sense, she was reacting to a stereotype she may have tired of seeing. I can’t fault her for that.

  4. A few thoughts. My name is Paul Zottola. My wife is the one in the picture. While this event has generated a mass of discussion on many topics, many topics that should be discussed, this conversation has drifted way off course.
    1) My wife never asked to be the public face of anyone’s criticism of a school system. She was there doing her job. She is not the problem. she was there to help WITH the problem; namely the achievement gap and how to help close it. Imagine yourself at work, doing nothing wrong and someone using a picture of you for what they think is wrong with the world. She has dedicated 23 years of her life serving the children of Hartford and she does not deserve to be treated this way.
    2) Rev Best posted the picture to her Facebook page and then allowed people to make disparaging comments about the people in the picture. That is not the behavior I would expect from a responsible public servant, especially not a minister.
    3) Rev Best more than suggested that the educators in the room were somehow unfit for their role as teachers because they were white. That is a value judgement based on the skin color of an entire group. That, in it’s essence, is a racist remark.
    4) My wife asked Rev. Best to take down the photo. She responded by blocking her.
    There are many other discussions to be had. The achievement gap. Minority hiring and recruitment. The role of race relations in education. Yes, these are all things that should be discussed. But our general feeling is that Rev. Best’s way of addressing these very valid issues was irresponsible and counter-productive. Just look at the responses this has generated. This has not helped race relations, her comments have promoted further division and mistrust. If the mission of faith is to sow unity, this is not the way to accomplish it.

  5. What was “unbearably tender” about the subject’s reaction? She was hurt by a stranger associating her publicly with — making her the virtual face of — racism. Can we consider why and how that might hurt?

    The comments above about identity politics — about pitting us against one another — are very much on point. The photo and caption did not exploit “a golden moment for a good discussion.” They did not explore “what it means to live in a multi-faceted, multi-cultural world.” They multiplied and spread the photographer’s pain to other people. That strategy seems… suboptimal.

    1. I should be more precise. I am not saying the woman in the photo is at fault, nor do I look at her as the public face of anything. Her reaction is her reaction and no one can say what her reaction should be. Unfortunately, the Facebook and subsequent newspaper comments are far more divisive than we need. Having watched this conversation today on social media, and if the medium is the message here, maybe the message is too loaded for the (social) media.

  6. Thanks for supporting Rev.Dr Best a longtime advocate for our children and our grandchildren,our neighbors etc. The mere assumption of that her words were in direct opposition to one person and not a system that needs changing was taken out of context and continues .fails to deal with the issues raised by Rev.Dr Best.and many before her ….lets work together for change

    1. Isn’t Rev Best, a school board member, responsible for the system in this case? What’s not adding up in this for me is, she has power and influence over the change, even more so than the people in the photo, representing the whiteness of teacher staff, no?

  7. This is the danger of the new language of images we are all still learning out here on the interwebs.
    Yes, there needs to be more minority teacher recruitment. Yes, there are many other issues to be discussed and to be solved.
    But how can someone post a picture of three recognizable faces, with a caption that basically says “Look at these people, they’re the problem”, and then not expect those people to complain?
    It was utterly unfair to use their individual likenesses to represent a systemic/statistical problem.They’re her colleagues, working hard to help kids, but she treated them like models from iStock. Not good.

    1. I did not see the people as the problem, at all. They’re there talking about the achievement gap, among other issues. I’d count them among the people looking for a solution, but maybe my shoulder shrug comes from having my photo taken and posted — though, granted, not precisely in this setting — and being the target of trolls enough to not stop and ponder that much. And now Shelley is getting her head handed to her at courant.com. I hope the two can meet, talk, and move on to the issue at hand.

  8. A few thoughts.
    1) There is no evidence to support the claim that minority applicants are being refused positions at a disproportionately higher rate than white applicants. I would guess, and I am making an assumption, that most urban school districts are very eager to take any minority applicant they can find and might even favor them over white applicants for a position (the reverse of the claim). To perpetuate the narrative that minority applicants are being refused positions in favor of white applicants is unfounded and only adds to the mistrust and division. If the situation is otherwise, then yes, that needs to change.
    2) While everyone is busy bashing schools and teachers, where is the discussion of parental involvement? Parents have an extremely important role in education. How many of these under-achieving students (of any background or ethnicity) have parents that read with them every day? How many of them have parents who check their homework? Help them get a proper sleep schedule so that they’re prepared for school? Make sure they are well fed? And so forth. Also, consider the education level of the parents. And how many of these kids have an unstable home life? Parents with addiction problems? Mental health problems? These are all known to put any child at a disadvantage. What I’m saying is, we are far to eager to blame schools and teachers. Why aren’t we asking parents to take more responsibility for their own children’s well being?

    It’s way easier to blame the teachers instead of admitting that there are many things happening at home that work against any child succeeding in school. Schools should not be held responsible for circumstances well beyond their control.

    1. I don’t know who the “we” are, but the expectation IS that parents or guardians will be involved. And when they aren’t, we look to the schools. That may be unfair. It certainly places a huge burden on our education system.

    2. I think you venture into a mighty precarious area when bringing up “parental involvement.” Doing so outside of a socioeconomic context drifts dangerously close to the type of cultural criticism that needs to be avoided in order to realize actual progress on the issue at hand.

      Tit-for-tat doesn’t resolve anything.

      1. Agreed. In a perfect world, parents have already given their kids a foundation of basic knowledge about words, numbers, colors, etc. — I’m fortunate that mine did. But some parents are working two or even three jobs and barely have the energy to drag themselves to work, much less be able to sit down in an ideal family setting (whatever THAT is) and spend an ideal amount of time working on an ideal pre-pre-school education.

        1. I agree on this, too. When I previously mentioned involving parents, I meant to ask for input on what might be helpful and supportive. The schools do need to meet kids where they are and make up where there are deficiencies. Funding for programs must be boosted in areas where there are achievement gaps. Parents have a huge impact on kids and their education. However, kids don’t pick their parents and not every parent can assist their kids in an ideal way, even if they want to. The school system needs to fill in where gaps exist. I admit, I have not been linked with the schools over the last about 6 years. At that time, so much more could have been done to help kids through the use of technology and more individualized attention. Yet, the funding wasn’t there. But, no. We cannot blame the parents and then walk away.

    3. In addition (I got pulled away before finishing my last comment), I think the teacher involved made a mistake by going to The Courant. From what was in the article, it looks like this is what she did. That was also, not right. Public shaming and condemnation can be useful in some instances. This, however, when both women care about the kids, but things were expressed in a way that caused disruption to the real issues and process of addressing the achievement gap, is not appropriate either.

      We all have our personal triggers. Each side was hit on some level, which is unfortunate. And why aren’t there more men in the room? Could it have something to do with the fact that teaching is historically and traditionally a women’s career and undervalued and underpaid in comparison to corporate jobs that require a Master’s degree? The two sides could see that as a common issue, I hope, too. However, aside from all of the adult issues, dammit, can’t we all come together to do what’s best for the kids? Now?

      1. Just to clarify, not inflame. We approached the newspaper after getting no help in getting this resolved. My letter and calls to the superintendent of schools were ignored. I got zero response from the chair of the board of education. And, as I pointed out earlier, Rev. Best blocked my wife from her Facebook page. After several attempts with the most appropriate channels, the only person of authority to return our calls and emails was from the Hartford Federation of teachers. She also had no luck in getting anyone to help her address this. The newspaper was our last choice other than silence.

        1. Ok. What’s left? The way I see it, the kids still need your wife, clearly a dedicated, caring, talented teacher, and Rev Best, clearly a woman who cares about the kids, too. I truly hope these two flawed (we all make mistakes and offend at some point during life), but amazing people come together and demonstrate how to overcome something like this and focus on positive change. Do you think your wife can find a way to let go of what started this and reach out to Rev Best? In this season of hope, I wish for that. I think there is a good chance all concerned would benefit, and it could be good for the larger community to see this happen. There is an opportunity right now. Thanks for your input here.

  9. It does place a burden on schools and teachers; unfairly so. There is no system in place to penalize parents. But a whole school could be fired for “under-performing” on a state test. But how many of those kids are “under-performing” because of difficult, unstable or unsupportive home situations? Probably many of them. Who gets blamed? The teachers. Kind of like blaming your doctor for your own illness.

    1. Paul, with all the damage done on Facebook and in The Courant, could your wife and Rev Best please demonstrate to the public that repair is possible by coming together to work on the issues at hand – diversity and achievement gap? This is the moment to rise above, when they have public attention. Could your wife call Rev Best and initiate dialog? It seems she now is best positioned to do that after The Courant story. Although I don’t know any of the people involved in this, my hunch is this could end very well, given both women care deeply about the kids in Hartford. With the condemnation now in the Courant and following discussion, please encourage her to reach out if she hasn’t already. With all that is going on in this world to divide, I really hope we can see another story in The Courant that describes how these two women came together to produce positive change.

  10. Ok, here we get into what really is going on here (at least it’s the way I see it from where I sit).

    Rev Best has a perfectly valid point in stating a lot more needs to be done in creating a more diverse teacher population. I don’t think this only benefits kids who have brown skin. I think it benefits every kid, in and out of Hartford schools, because kids of all races need to see role models of all races, ethnicities, religions, genders, etc. But that’s my thing.

    However, Rev Best didn’t make a mistake in raising the issue, she made a mistake in how she raised the issue. The us/them mentality was divisive and whether she meant it or not, she implied that kids who don’t look like the dedicated teacher in full view behind her, may not be able to relate to her and she them, because of the color of her skin. The comments that followed her post then were disparaging and this teacher, who has apparently spent decades educating and shepherding children in Hartford classrooms, was reduced in value to the color of her skin. That is not right no matter what direction it goes.

    What happened to this woman as a result of Rev Best, a school board member in a position of authority over this teacher, was not right. Was Rev Best triggered by the presentation done by an outside(?) consultant? Probably. I get that. Her feelings are legitimate. However, those personal feelings got in the way and the reason for the gathering was to focus on the kids. The us/them should have been focused on the us (the school employees and board) and them (the kids). Part of what’s good for the kids is diversity. It’s too bad that got push aside in what transpired.

    The teacher also had valid reactions. From what was written, she was a dedicated teacher, committed to all of her students. This gets to me personally (I have triggers as a reader), because as a daughter of a teacher and one who spent over a decade in various teaching and tutoring roles, in a variety of suburban and urban school settings, I know teachers work very hard. The teachers in Hartford, and I suspect in other economically disadvantaged areas, do things like this teacher apparently did by filling in, out of their own pockets, where there are holes. (I read that this teacher bought uniforms for some kids who could not buy them.) They also fill in where there are emotional holes and do far more to cover other deficiencies in the urban schools (such as taking extra kids for the day when a sub cannot be found for another class). Yes, diversity is important for so many reasons. However, in moving toward greater diversity, implying that white teachers cannot understand the struggles and needs of students in their classrooms because they are in some way outsiders, simply because the color of their skin, is wrong and should not come from a school board member. This is not the pain of addressing racism. It is racism in another form.

  11. A picture is worth a thousand words, however a selfie (really?) and a fifteen word statement leaves 985 words for the rest of the world to fill-in. Before I read this I didn’t know who Rev. Best or Heather Zottolla were but I could probably list ten stereotypes about either of them that I would imagine people jumping too after looking at the post. Rev. Best simultaneously communicated a whole lot and very little. I think it was a mistake on her part and at at this point don’t think her intentions or what she “didn’t say” mean much. However she created an opportunity to help manage and illuminate a discussion about the impact. Maybe that’s something she and Heather Zotolla can lead together. Just not on Facebook, ok?

  12. I appreciate the respectful dialogue of the comments. Thank you to all involved. My one concern is how we are talking about parents. I find that schools often see parents as “the ones to blame” without any engagement of those same parents because there’s a paternalistic “we know what’s best for kids” feel in education (among teachers and admin). But what we miss is that by involving parents and engaging them in the decision-making process in schools (beyond board meetings & brown-act-sactioned meetings), we LEARN about the lives of our students outside of the classroom and ways we can make our class/school/district more welcoming to these kids & families but also more functional for all involved. It’s wrong-headed to assume that parents working 2 jobs, or dealing with addiction, single-parenting, or any other societal “limitation” don’t have VALUABLE insights & knowledge to share about their child’s education. I think that’s why the “achievement” gap (which is actually an opportunity gap) exists and will exist until we get over this weird notion that parents need to stay outside the school walls while we blame them for the things we cannot control in our classrooms.

    I take exception with ” There is no system in place to penalize parents.” The only way schools ever put interaction with parents in context is to “penalize parents”…so no wonder they don’t want to (or aren’t invited to) be involved in their child’s education in the LIMITED ways we allow them to be involved. Why not reach out to parents as PARTNERS in their child’s education, give them many varied opportunities (evenings, weekends, calls, potlucks, movie screenings w/ discussions, etc) to engage, and involve them in DECISION-MAKING at the school & district level. You’d be surprised by how much insight and useful direction you could get from “those parents”…

  13. JAC’s initial comments (way up high in this thread) were spot on. It’s human nature to look for patterns, and of course it’s easiest to look for the most visible ones; coincidence of skin color is perhaps the easiest to identify. The patterns that matter, including the patterns of experience and concern, can be hard to spot, and are equally difficult to express in a photograph – and yet they can be among the most powerful and productive. The Rev. Best looked only at the easiest pattern to spot in order to make a shallow point; it was a cheap shot at the expense of some people who may share with her more than she has yet acknowledged.

  14. As I understand it, Ms. Zottola was upset not by the picture–at least not initially–but by the comments. And not Dr. Best’s comments at that.

    So let me see if I understand this correctly. Ms. Zottola gets mad about the comments under a picture on somebody’s PERSONAL Facebook page and somehow the story becomes about her hurt at the comments. Dr. Best told the truth. She was making a point that could only be made visually. There was no way that somebody in that picture wasn’t going to be identified. It wasn’t exactly the largest crowd in the world.

    In no way was Dr. Best labeling anybody in that room a villain. Yet, it seems that whenever a person of color points out that when these conversations take place, there seems to be little reaching out to those who might have some knowledge about how to reach people of color, said person of color is shot down by saying they are being divisive. But, weren’t all of the presenters white? Wasn’t there a person of color at UConn or Yale who is working on these issues that could have been part of the conversation?

    This wasn’t mostly about the participants in the room. It was about how the room was set up in the first place. It’s a shame that that is being overlooked in the process of comforting one hurt person’s feelings.

    1. According to what I read, Ms Zottola, a teacher in the Hartford community, was a target of verbal attacks as a result of BOE member, Rev Dr Best’s Facebook post. A lot of people would take issue with that, especially if it stemmed from a superior or co-worker’s post. And, taking issue with personal attacks has absolutely nothing to do with race. Even though this was not the intent of Best, she should have respected Zottola’s reputation as a teacher and employee, and removed the photo. Actually, she should have not posted the photo in the first place, but it was done. Best could have made the point verbally without a photo of employees and Zottola identified. To claim Zottola’s issue with her photo used on Facebook, open to personal criticism by others, is about quieting a person of color from making a point, is not accurate or fair to either of these women.

      Diversity matters is an important point. And, Rev Dr Best is in a position to have influence over this in Hartford as a BOE member. Aren’t the administrators and BOE responsible for setting hiring practices and hiring? It’s a shame she chose this approach.

      1. Dr. Best had every right to take that picture. Ms. Zottola could have easily turned her head so as not to be recognized. The point of the picture still would have been the same.
        Now…to answer your question, “Aren’t the administrators and BOE responsible for setting hiring practices and hiring?” Yes. Yet one member of either cannot set practice. One can point out the issues in the practice, but not set it.
        Again, the bigger point of the picture seems to be getting lost in trying to vilify Dr. Best. When this convening was being set up, why were the only presenters white? If the subject of the convening was the achievement gap between students of color and white students, why weren’t some of the presenters people of color who are working on this? Surely at UConn or Yale or some other Connecticut college there is/are people of color working on this. If you are going to discuss something that is affecting children of color, wouldn’t it be better to have somebody there presenting who is a person of color? Is that asking too much?
        With all the research showing how the implicit biases of white teachers affects children of color, I find it disheartening that so many people are more worried about a person’s feelings getting hurt because of comments under a picture than trying to really address the issue that the picture so eloquently points out.

        1. We have two separate and valid issues in this situation:
          1) Not enough diversity among the teacher population. A desire for person of color to present on the achievement gap though this part wasn’t clear in the Facebook post.
          2) Posting a photo of a teacher by a BOE member on social media that led to others making disparaging comments about the teacher. Refusal to remove the photo after the teacher asked that it be removed. (This is not ok, regardless of the issue. It also erodes trust among coworkers.)
          Both issues should be addressed and discussed, and neither should be minimized. Discussing #2 is not vilifying and does not ignore the importance of #1. Though I don’t know either women, Dr. Best and Ms. Zottola both appear to care deeply for kids of Hartford.

          There is lots to discuss in what you mentioned. You raise good questions. In determining how to best educate a diverse population, I agree it is important to seek out diverse views (including race, gender, ethnicity, religion…). Pulling in members of the community (the parents who are willing to participate) would also provide valuable perspective. I will add, there are many other factors beyond race that enable a person to be an excellent teacher, a compassionate person tuned into the needs of students, and linked in some way to the lived experience of a student.

          To your question: why were the presenters white? Maybe in the future, the BOE could request a racially diverse group of presenters. Maybe this is something that should be discussed specifically with the administrators – the value in intentionally ensuring these conversations include facilitators who are people of color. I don’t know if that’s better. There are people who are great presenters based on other factors. However, maybe on this topic, on some level, only a person of color has credibility for some people. Not everyone feels this way, but perhaps some is enough.

          Addressing implicit bias is something hopefully the staff is working on through meetings such as the one Dr. Best attended. It is not a static given, and it can be reduced through discussion with all teachers (it exists in all of us, regardless of race, to some degree) and conscious intentions. It is a process and I understand that can be frustrating. I hope everyone keeps talking.

          Happy Holidays.

  15. Everyone here is raising valid points, and I have little to add. My daughter teaches in a very diverse school, and I would have been upset if it was her face I saw in the selfie.
    That said, and the one thing I haven’t seen in this thread….
    That is talk about lack of diversity of the educators, and whether that is a question of hiring practices. My daughter went to UCONN and was very aware that there was little diversity among the STUDENTS in the School of Ed.
    So….continue to hire the best teachers, no matter what race, who do love the kids, and hope they inspire those kids to become teachers.

    1. Good point. I believe there is a CREC Teacher Prep Academy High School, though know nothing more about it. Maybe it needs to be expanded?

  16. I have a hard time when columnists put words in somebody else’s mouth.
    Ms. Zottola never said “but I’m not a racist.” What she was quoted as saying in the article Sunday is that she struggles with the issue of how best to teach her students. Perhaps you meant to ascribe the “not a racist” mindset to well-meaning whites in general. My kids went to the school Heather teaches at. One of them was in her class. I was pissed off on her behalf at the comments about her made on FB. She is understandably upset by the rudeness and cruelty therein. You may be used to it as a public personality but the rest of us aren’t. I know that Dr. Best did not intend for that sort of ignorance to divert attention from the big picture. Her handling of this whole embarrassing spectacle has been amazing. I think the Courant editorial staff responsible for the slant given to this story, white v. black,
    instead of focusing on the real issue owe Dr. Best an apology and retraction of the editorial. And while they are at it they could let its faithful readers know who wrote the editorial and the how many people of color work there and in what positions. And what does selah mean?

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