Course approved amidst debate

Alex Weinberg, Iris Reviews Editor

On Dec. 3, the BOE voted six to three in favor of approving the social studies elective course “Power, Privilege, and Imbalance in American Society” for the 2020-2021 school year. The approved semester course will be offered to juniors and seniors.

District Supervisor of Social Studies Andrea Brennan explained to Hi’s Eye that the process of creating the class began last year with late principal Dr. Derrick Nelson when the African American History and Culture elective was up for revision. “There was a particular decline in students requesting this course,” Brennan noted. “During the same time period, Dr. Nelson and I were having conversations about creating opportunities for students to explore and learn about diversity issues inside and outside the classroom.”

With that, Brennan tasked the social studies department with developing ideas, revising, and expanding the original course outline. “At this point it became a priority to reinvent this course,” said Brennan.

The curriculum states that “the purpose of this course is to understand the barriers encountered by people of ethnic minorities and how those barriers were created and have changed America.” Units include The Structures Created By White Supremacy as well as Critical Race Theory Surrounding African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, and Asians.

Once the course outline was fully developed, it was presented at BOE meetings for public readings. The community’s reactions, whether in favor of or opposed to the course, were very strong.

Board Member Tara Oporto voted against the course because she believed that the material was biased, specifically the book list. Reading material like “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack and White Rage” were texts she did not agree with.

Resident Tony LaPorta spoke against the course, specifically the use of Critical Race Theory as its structural backbone. “It feels white vs. black,” he said. “And I think that’s destructive.”

Others were in favor of the course. “This theory is my reality,” said class of 2009 alum and resident Jessica Thompson. “American history is painful and uncomfortable for minorities, just like learning about this is uncomfortable for majority [students and] families. The course gives majority children that live in this bubble of Westfield the opportunity to look outside themselves, walk in someone else’s shoes… The reality is that our children, especially our majority children, need this course.”

WHS junior Anna Qiang asserted that “the history of minorities cannot be sugar coated… The history of racism in America is not a partisan issue. This will not create a divide among races at WHS, rather it will educate both white and minority students about different perspectives.”

Some residents were in favor of the idea of the course but felt that it was not doing enough because it didn’t cover all minority groups, leaving out the Jewish and LGBTQ+ communities.

Board members Michael Bielen and Brian Morrissey explained that they voted no because of the course’s current form, not the course itself.

Resident and WHS parent Liz Muholland was baffled by the intense debate surrounding the course. “I have never seen anything like this for something that is voluntary. Parents, if you don’t agree with it, then don’t have your children take the class,” she said.

Despite the intense debate surrounding the curriculum, “Power Privilege, and Imbalance in American Society” will be offered at WHS next year. The teacher has not yet been officially named.