Hold the CEO of Ascend Public Charter Schools accountable for white supremacist rhetoric
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On June 4th, 2019, Ascend Public Charter Schools published an article written by Ascends Chief Executive Officer, Steven Wilson, on the blog portion of their website entitled, “The promise of intellectual joy.” This article contains offensive and oppressive content that perpetuates white supremacist ideology and propagates destructive messages about the community that Ascend serves. The publication is misaligned with the espoused mission and core values of Ascend Public Charter Schools and includes perspectives purported as fact that are not shared by all Ascend employees and are corroborated by a narrow and biased scope of research.
Some specific concerns are highlighted below:
- The article begins with the premise that, “America’s public schools have reflected our nation’s entrenched anti-intellectualism” and later claims that, “liberal education is under fresh attack, this time as ‘whiteness.’” This claim equates a liberal education to “whiteness,” which leaves no room for those who believe in the ideas of a liberal or “intellectual” education, but also condemn the very real effects of whiteness and white supremacy. The underlying message here is that a liberal education is whiteness, whiteness is therefore intellectual, and any challenge to a liberal education is a challenge to whiteness, so any challenge to whiteness is anti-intellectual. The article later reinforces the importance of this liberal education by stating such an education “empowers them to escape poverty and dependency.”
- The author presents unfounded and inaccurate representations of civil rights history by claiming, “civil rights advocates inadvertently exacerbated the tendency to exclude children of color in underserved communities from academic schooling.” The author later goes on to say that “civil rights activists were concerned that requiring students of color to undertake demanding academic work would discriminate against children already harmed by prejudicial treatment in other aspects of their lives.” These assertions propagate a destructive message that the individuals who led the work of equity in order to secure rights for the oppressed simultaneously were excluding children of color from schooling and felt that demanding academic work was a discriminatory act. These statements are historically inaccurate and negate the work of civil rights leaders did to fight for a high-quality education for ALL students.
- The article misrepresents and admonishes the work of culturally responsive practices by saying that the work schools do to “become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive and to ensure culturally responsive teaching” runs the risk of being “shamefully exploited to justify reduced intellectual expectations of students.” According to the author, the civil rights movement initiated “the present-day press for ‘culturally responsive curriculum,’” whereby “schools instead engaged the “cultural” characteristics of their children.” These statements misrepresent the work of contemporary scholars on culturally responsive curriculum, which emphasizes students actualizing high academic achievement by putting students and their life experiences at the center of what educators teach and how they teach it. The author’s views here advocate for the dismissal of culturally responsive practices, thereby proposing that the skills, experiences, and identities of students should be omitted from their education.
- When describing an experience at a diversity workshop, the author dismisses certain “damaging characteristics of white supremacy culture,” such as “worship of the written word” as means of justifying reduced intellectual expectations of students. The author questions, “how tragic it would be if any child was taught that a reverence for the written word was a white characteristic,” and uses prolific African American authors as props to reinforce this idea. The author asks, “what would they make of Frederic Douglass’s Fourth of July speech, Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, or James Baldwin’s letter to his nephew, “My Dungeon Shook” in The Fire Next Time?” The author concludes this point by stating that it is, “hard to imagine a more destructive message to teachers and their students. This too will surely come to be seen as another wrong turn on the way to equal educational opportunity.” These statements represent a commitment to protecting white supremacy culture and paternalistic orientation towards the work of social justice reform.
- The piece directs much blame and responsibility for the “anti-intellectualism” movement on educators. The writer states that, “in the 20th, educators sought to limit access to a liberal arts education, the education long afforded the privileged, while claiming to democratize education,” and later quotes Hofstadter to say that, “American educators entered upon a crusade to exalt the academically uninterested or ungifted into a kind of culture-hero.” All of these comments negate the reality that educators operate as products of a broader system, that is shrouded in discrimination and white supremacy, which establishes the policies that govern schools and education.
This community does not condone the destructive rhetoric communicated by this publication and demands that the leaders of Ascend Public Charter Schools take the following actions immediately:
- Issue a formal public notice accepting responsibility for the impact of this incident on the Ascend community.
- Conduct a formal investigation of this incident relative to the conduct of Ascend’s Chief Executive Officer, Steven Wilson.
- Create and present a plan with clear and actionable next steps to repair and restore damage done to the community and mitigate further breaches including, but not limited to mandatory anti-racism professional development for all network officers and the establishment of a standing “Equity Committee” to support with the resolution of breaches and drive organizational equity reform.
We look forward to your prompt attention to this matter.
The Ascend Public Charter Schools Community
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