Letter: NCHS Grad’s ‘Rabid Rejoinder’ Speaks To Need for Change

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To the Editor:

A fellow NCHS graduate, Griffin Hall ’16, recently published a rabid rejoinder to the proposals made by an alumni group at a Board of Education meeting on June 15. In doing so, however, he unwittingly presented a perfect example of why our group’s proposal is so desperately needed.

Mr. Hall’s assertion that he would “cringe to imagine…discussions in which the only acceptable conclusion is when white teenagers…finally give in and accept their responsibility as ‘oppressors’ ” reflects unwillingness among many individuals to acknowledge their complicity in systemic racism. In stark contrast to Mr. Hall’s Orwellian depiction, however, our goal is not to foster indoctrination but awareness of the ways in which white people and even non-black minorities inadvertently contribute to systemic racism. Willfully choosing to ignore this and resisting the “indoctrination” of exposure to multiple perspectives reduce racism no more than closing one’s eyes makes a brick wall less solid.

Mr. Hall proceeds to assert that “one could mistakenly think that Derek Chauvin…were himself an NCHS grad, and we New Canaanites the guilty incubators of his crimes.” Mr. Hall further asserts that “Black Lives Matter is a movement about ending police brutality and racial profiling, not a retroactive crusade against sheltered white childhoods.”

What Mr. Hall fails to acknowledge, however, is that Derek Chauvin did not become a murderer as a result of congenital psychopathy. Rather, the blatant disregard for life Chauvin demonstrated on May 25 is a single manifestation of a culture that has consistently devalued Black lives for 400 years. Ignorance of the fruits of those 400 years fuels not only police brutality, but also beliefs like those of Mr. Hall that the remainder of America’s institutions are blameless when in fact they have been marshaled for brutality against black folks for as long as they have existed. “Sheltered white childhoods” beget citizens who are clueless about the struggles faced by their fellow Americans and consequently helpless to enact change, failing to prevent tragedies such as the high-profile murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd among countless others. It is precisely this cluelessness and helplessness that we are attempting to ameliorate through the amplification of minority perspectives with respect to faculty, curriculum, and programming.

Mr. Hall later makes the ludicrous assertion that intersectionality operates in such a way that “oppressed” voices carry greater weight than those of oppressors.” Such complaints call to mind the sentiment that when one is accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. In other words, oftentimes those of us who are used to our voices being elevated to the exclusion of minority perspectives feel deprived when we have to share the stage. This certainly seems to be the case for Mr. Hall.

Interestingly, Mr. Hall later states that he believes the town must make a concerted effort to hire more minority faculty and amplify minority experiences in New Canaan, the latter of which was a source of vehement objection only a few paragraphs earlier in Mr. Hall’s critique of intersectionality. In noting this inconsistency, I am further intrigued that the same alumni Mr. Hall is vituperating represent individuals who hold racial and ethnic minority identities. I am unsure which of the two perspectives more accurately represents Mr. Hall’s but I am cautiously optimistic that perhaps we agree on this much.

Alejandra Zamora
NCHS ’14

9 thoughts on “Letter: NCHS Grad’s ‘Rabid Rejoinder’ Speaks To Need for Change

  1. You make a lot of assumptions Alejandra. Stay in your seat, but we don’t KNOW that the Floyd murder was racially motivated, so it could be symbolic of nothing, much less “the fruit of 400 years” of police brutality. As for Chauvin’s personal makeup, again, we know little. His motivation for having his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes may be entirely due to “congenital psychopathy.” What we do know is that Floyd and Chauvin worked together and supposedly had friction. It may turn out that they both dated the same girl and she ended up liking George. I can’t excuse, in any way, the unwillingness of bystanders to intervene and save him.

    If America’s institutions have been “marshaled for brutality against black folks” up to the present day, then please explain why there were 2,090 shootings in Chicago in 2019, and NINE of them involved police. The fact is that cops in Chicago, as in most of America’s large cities, have been neutered since the Ferguson incident, to the great detriment of all law-abiding citizens.

    You are too young to be speaking out with such certainty about the existence of “systemic racism,” which is the latest catchall phrase. You don’t have the perspective to know how much progress has been made in race relations in America. As one example, the two-term presidency of Barack Obama was unthinkable in the 1960’s, and by itself calls into question the assertion that systemic racism is the prevailing driver in America today. Other examples are too innumerable to trouble with here.

    According to the Federal Bureau of Crime Statistics, 370 whites were killed by police in America in 2019, compared with 235 blacks. While it is true that blacks were therefore killed at a higher rate, per capita, than whites, when you normalize the data to reflect the number of encounters with police, blacks are actually killed at a lower rate than whites.

    Regarding future progress, and the subject at hand, which is the desire for a more diverse faculty at NCHS, which teachers should be terminated? On what grounds? Why should we assume that educators “of color” want to come to NCHS to teach mostly privileged white kids? How did you arrive at your idea of what is a fair representation of “people of color” on the faculty? What is next? Should the town make an effort to racially balance the makeup of its residents to better reflect the desired makeup of the faculty?

    • Mr. Taylor-

      As a responsible citizen and advocate for justice, I will absolutely not “stay in my seat” in the face of injustice.

      I speak out because the strength of my convictions is rooted in my scholarship and willingness to learn, not my age. Age is a feeble justification for one’s beliefs, and an equally feeble means of discrediting others.

      • Learn first, have convictions later (provided they’re supportable). Age and life experience matter. You can’t circumvent that one. Peace, Bill.

  2. Justice? Willingness to learn?

    OK, let’s go with that. New Canaan has roughly 300 teaching FTEs (full-time equivalents). Attrition of these teachers has ranged from 2 to 14 teachers in recent years according to Board of Education documents. So to get to the demand I believe you and/or others stated of 25% of all New Canaan teachers being people of color by 2025 two things would have to happen: 1) all teacher replacements based on attrition would mandatorily be people of color; 2) a good number of white teachers in New Canaan would have to be fired solely on the basis of their skin color. Is that equitable, fair, or just? If you were one of those teachers fired solely on the basis of your skin color would you consider that justice? Please answer that directly without skirting the question.

    I admire your conviction, but it would improve your argument if you did more research and thought through arbitrary quotas before making presumptions. There are large disparities in per student spending in affluent towns versus poor towns/cities in CT. Many in NC push very hard for increased spending every year on our kids’ education even while our town spends roughly $24,000 per student (including BOE debt service), while Danbury spends around $13,000 per student despite the latter getting a large Education Cost Sharing (ECS) state grant. New Canaan will likely spend more on education indefinitely despite diminishing returns from this spending and the inherent inequities of doing so (CT Office of Legislative Research data there is no correlation between per student spending and standardized test scores: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2004/rpt/2004-R-0005.htm). So while we fret over whether or not to refurbish our planetarium economically struggling neighboring cities are trying to recruit quality teachers with compensation packages much less appealing than what our town can offer. Reasonable people can debate whether or not that’s fair given the higher property taxes we pay per household, but it certainly exacerbates existing disparities.

    So what to do? Among other things, one can push for parental school choice. Look at the Open Choice CT program (a voluntary school choice program — the opposite of forced regionalization). It facilitates equal access to educational opportunities regardless the zip code one is born into. State legislators can expand this program beyond New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford. Teacher/administrator performance accountability — similar to what would happen naturally in the private sector — can be greatly improved throughout the state. Or examine why some inner city charter schools educating kids in disadvantaged communities (e.g., Stamford Charter School for Excellence) deliver exceptional performance and replicate what’s working for them elsewhere. Examining and pushing for those areas of change is much more productive that casting generalized aspersions of racism on a number people you and some others in your group have never spoken with to drive change.

  3. Mr. Basch-

    Assuming attrition rates on the upper end of the range you provided for five years (let’s use 12), that leaves a gap of just 15 from the number of BIPOC faculty that would be needed for a ratio of 1 to 4 by 2025. That could easily be achieved after an additional year or two. This is also assuming that all current teachers are white, which is not the case and further reduces the number of new BIPOC faculty needed to reach 1 to 4. As our group never said anything about firing teachers solely for being white, I would hope it is needless to say that that is not our aim. Not only is this obviously unjust (to your question), it is a strawman.

    Regarding the amount New Canaan is spending on education, one would wonder indeed why we fail to attract a diverse faculty considering that we do have the capacity to make more attractive offers than the districts you mentioned. Regardless, our argument is not that New Canaan public schools are failing to achieve academic excellence, but that they are failing to adequately expose all graduates to BIPOC history and perspectives needed to understand the experiences of people with whom graduates will inevitably interact, unless they are as cloistered for the remainder of their lives as they were in New Canaan. As we have not accused anyone at all of racism, I am unsure from where you are deriving these “generalized aspersions of racism”.

  4. Thank you for writing this, Alejandra, and continuing the civil discourse. Being open and vulnerable on issues that impact you personally is really difficult, and standing for a more just and equitable future is often thankless, but am so grateful you’re doing so.

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