STEPHENSON: Different Perspectives on Public Education | Opinions
A few weeks ago, I had an interesting exchange with voters while knocking on the door of District 32. Living in South Dakota.
This particular afternoon, a gentleman from the neighborhood was enjoying a drink on the front porch when I jumped up the stairs. He was sorry to interrupt but he was very friendly and engaged in a chat. The first thing that came to mind was his concern about education.
His daughters graduated from Rapid City public school a few years ago and had a “pretty good” education. I calculated that there was a high possibility that I graduated in between. Our school district had its challenges during my time on the board, but we agreed that we were doing a decent job of producing talented graduates.
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But recently he said he wasn’t sure what was going on. He apologized and said he felt the school was trying to make white kids feel bad about their race. but I heard it was happening.
“Can I say that?” he said. He wasn’t trying to be defensive or mean, he just heard horrible things.
Of course he can say that. If we can’t openly discuss our concerns, we can’t come together as a community to tackle challenges.
So we talked to him about his concerns, and he got me thinking about my experience with Rapid City School District. I am good friends with some of the teachers in my school district and from 2017 he was on the school board until 2020. I think my opinion might be worth sharing.
My 7th grade daughter has never been offended about her race. She has benefited from some excellent lessons in Lakota history and culture, and knows a lot about the indigenous people that I never had before at her age. She struggles with the jarring implications of historical events such as the massacre in Knee and the legacy of India’s boarding schools (something she mostly learned at home).
A teacher friend told me what Critical Race Theory (CRT) was before the Internet started flooding with claims that it was invading our classrooms in the summer of 2020. No one knew there was one. The primary teachers I know struggle to find enough time to teach the basics, let alone complex political theory. High school teachers do everything they can to prepare their students for adulthood. Their thinking about CRTs is that they have no place in the classroom now that they know what they are.
During my time on the Board of Education, I never once had any complaints that teachers were instilling theories about race or racism in their children. , was talking about how my child feels isolated, bullied or neglected in our school district. but at least one mother did not cry about her child’s experience in our school district.
My experience with the Rapid City School District concerns that the district’s Indigenous students are performing much lower than their white children. Tell me kids would do better in a celebrating district. Rapid City School District was well on its way to making this happen with its Lakota Immersion Program, but unfortunately canceled that program this year due to staff shortages. I had to.
I am also concerned for our teachers who are already overburdened and will be further overburdened by the proposed revised social studies standards announced by Governor Noem this week. I’m worried that the people who left the district in numbers and who are left are exhausted.
And I can’t worry about the teachers without worrying about my kids, and all the kids in the district. We are in a precarious time and we need leadership at all levels to go beyond politics and focus on improving our schools. We all need to listen to different perspectives, identify the real challenges facing our district, and work together to find solutions.
Christine Stephenson is a former member of the RCAS School Board.