The school agenda that dare not speak its name


… behind all of those judgments were biases
– personal biases, academic biases, cultural biases – and I
believe that multicultural literature is an essential ingredient to
a pluralistic society. Personally and academically, I reject any
narrow definition of ‘literary merit’ … what distinguishes this
list and is part of my own personal
philosophy of education is an ABSOLUTE REJECTION of cultural
superiority.

~ Peter Gray, GHS English Department Chair, GUSD Board Meeting,
Spring, 2003
“… behind all of those judgments were biases – personal biases, academic biases, cultural biases – and I believe that multicultural literature is an essential ingredient to a pluralistic society. Personally and academically, I reject any narrow definition of ‘literary merit’ … what distinguishes this list and is part of my own personal philosophy of education is an ABSOLUTE REJECTION of cultural superiority.”

~ Peter Gray, GHS English Department Chair, GUSD Board Meeting, Spring, 2003

“I think the reading list at Gilroy High got to where it is through some kind of social engineering experiment that makes no sense to me.”

~ Denise Baer Apuzzo, parent

Last week, I detailed the lay-off of Kim Lemos. This week I ask, what is the Agenda? What does it mean for the students and teachers of Gilroy Unified?

The Agenda, as alluded to by Peter Gray, purports to be in favor of racial, gender, and social equity, and opposed to intolerance, bias, censorship, closed-mindedness, and racism. To this extent, the Agenda is fully in conformance with American ideals.

But the Agenda goes further. The Agenda enshrines multiculturalism to such an extreme that it rejects any notion of academic or literary merit. Judgment, even to the extent of judging that one book is better than another, is anathema to the Agenda.

This is the point at which the Agenda fails to make sense to the Alliance for Academic Excellence. The Alliance’s very name is offensive to the Agenda: how dare they say that there is such a thing as academic excellence? Who are they to judge that “Julius Caesar” is better than “Bless Me, Ultima?”

Of course, proponents of the Agenda are not free of bias. They have, for example, a bias in favor of multiculturalism. They judge that they need a novel by a black author to illustrate the theme that America is racist against blacks. And one by a Vietnamese author to illustrate the theme that America is racist against the Vietnamese. And one by a Latina – well, you get my drift. I find the Agenda’s litany monotonous, homogeneous, closed-minded, narrow, sensationalistic, and poorly-written, but the Agendistas think it the acme of diversity.

Which brings us to the second question: What does the Agenda mean for the students and teachers of GUSD?

Contrary to their claims of open-mindedness, the Agenda cannot tolerate dissent. A new teacher who does not adhere to the tenets of the Agenda is quietly laid off before his or her probationary period is up. There’s not much they can do about teachers with tenure, except deny them peachy assignments such as AP classes. But I digress.

What about the students? The case of Alexandra Williams is interesting.

Alex was in one of Kimberly Lemos’s sophomore English classes last year. “I didn’t read too well when I was first her student,” Alex says candidly. “I was at a fourth grade level in reading, and at the end of the year I read at a tenth grade level.” Alex credits Mrs. Lemos with her improvement.

When Alex heard that Mrs. Lemos was to be laid off, she first asked why. “I didn’t understand, because she was such a great teacher.” Then Alex took a vest and wrote on the front and back: “No Lemos, No Peace.” She wore the vest to school for about a week. Other students followed suit. Then the vests were taken away. “They said it could be a threat.”

Another student decided to circulate a petition to the effect that “We think Mrs. Lemos should continue to teach English at Gilroy High.” (Note the lack of threats or even references to peace.) During the course of a week, over lunch and brunch breaks, the students gathered 1,200 signatures. Then the petitions were confiscated, and the students were told that they must stop circulating the petitions or they would face suspensions.

In a last attempt at protest, Alex and some friends put up some “No Lemos, No Peace” posters. The yard duty supervisors told them to take them down. When the students asked why, the yard duty supervisors took their staple gun, and tore down the posters and threw them in the trash. For a long time afterwards, Alex was convinced that the yard duty supervisors were following her.

It is ironic enough that people who present themselves as being open-minded and opposed to censorship would censor Alex Williams and her fellow students for speaking their minds. The final irony is that Alex happens to be black. Kim taught her and brought her up to grade level. The Agenda censored her. Who did the most to close the achievement gap?

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