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Nadworny: Diversity and Racism

06/05/12 5:55PM By Rich Nadworny
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(Host) Recently, the superintendent of the Burlington School District released her action plan for diversity and equity. Commentator Rich Nadworny is an expert on new media and digital marketing with two children attending Burlington schools. And he's concerned that the plan faces the additional challenge of uniting a divided community.

(Nadworny) In Burlington a battle is raging at the school board and in the community over the issue of diversity. A group called Diversity Now helped author a task force report in which they argued that racism pervades the Burlington School system, based on data analysis and anecdotal evidence. They topped off the report by claiming that white middle-class Judeo-Christian culture is inherently racist.

As you can imagine that hasn't gone over so well among the mostly white middle-class teachers and parents in the school district. When one teacher pushed back and challenged the diversity task force data, he was met with an angry response and demands that he be silenced or fired.

In the latest school board meetings, the Diversity Now group has demanded that the board fire Superintendent Jeanne Collins. One speaker even compared the board and the high school administration to the KKK.

In other meetings, numerous parents and teachers proclaim their support for the superintendent and the work that the schools are doing.

To be honest, I think this feels more like the infighting in Washington D.C. than it does a diversity discussion in Burlington Vermont. While we don't have a T-Party, it's starting to feel like we have a D-Party instead.

Burlington is a rapidly changing city. As a resettlement city, we welcome new Americans to our state and country, many of whom don't speak any English, including Vietnamese, Bosnians, Somalis and Nepalese, to name a few. Our schools - my kids' schools - are a racial and ethnic mixture that is spectacular to behold. It's one of the reasons many of us parents want to live here.

However, it puts tremendous pressure on our schools to integrate these new Americans while at the same time pursuing ever-higher educational standards for all.

And, yes, racism sadly does exist. But the high school teachers and students I talk with, insist that they take it seriously and act on it when it happens. I understand the anger and energy of the diversity parents. When someone treats my kids badly, especially in school, I become, to paraphrase my least favorite politician, a Papa Grizzly. When that happens, I want change, now.

That may be partly why the superintendent's diversity action plan received such a cold reception from the diversity advocates as being too little, too late.

I know that almost everyone's heart is in the right place here and that everyone wants to help the situation to get better. But the inflammatory words, the name calling and the demands for heads to roll, only serve to push us further apart from one another.

It almost seems as if we're acting in a really bad version of West Side Story where everyone sings off-key and no one can dance. All we're left with are the knives.

I can't help thinking that the kids might do a much better job of solving this than we adults are doing. I wonder if anyone's asked them yet.
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