U-46 school board candidates debate 'racism' in curriculum
Two of five candidates vying to lead the state's second-largest school district say a newly adopted high school social studies curriculum promotes "racism against white males" at a forum Thursday.
Incumbent board President Donna Smith of Hanover Park, and incumbent trustees Veronica Noland and Cody Holt, both of Elgin, face challengers Melissa Owens of Bartlett and Enoch Essendrop of Elgin for three 4-year term seats on the Elgin Area School District U-46 board April 4.
At a February school board meeting, Holt and board member Jeanette Ward voted against adoption of the new curriculum, which Ward said had a "pervasive liberal bias."
Ward quoted the following passage about discrimination from the textbook "Macgruder's American Government": "White Americans have been historically reluctant to yield to nonwhite Americans a full and equal place in the social, economic and political life of this nation. Over time, the principal targets of that ethnic prejudice have been African-Americans, Native Americans, Asian-Americans and Hispanic Americans. The white-male-dominated power structure has also been slow to recognize the claims of women to an equal place in American society."
She said it "smacks of racism against white males." The curriculum was approved by a 5-2 board vote.
Essendrop, 19, a student at Providence Baptist College in Elgin running on a similar platform as Holt, said he shared Ward's perspective.
"I can't believe that we find ourselves in the 21st century still judging people by the color of their skin and not the content of their character," he said, paraphrasing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. "We need to stop putting people in different groups and admit that we are 100 percent Americans."
Noland, 50, an alumna of the district's Hispanic Parent Leadership Institute elected to her first term in April 2013, rejected Ward's notion.
"I believe my fellow board member's comments are actually quite racist," she said. "I'm opposed to censorship of materials ... you head down the road toward book burning and I am completely opposed to that."
She added, it is wrong to impose a "narrow ideology" over an entire school district.
Holt, 25, a 2010 graduate of Larkin High School elected in April 2015 to a 2-year unexpired term, said he would like to see the district adopt "curriculum that presents both sides of any issue, that way students can come to their own conclusions."
"Being able to send your child to a school that sets its own curriculum is where we need to go in the 21st century," Holt said.
Smith, 59, who has served on the board since 2001, said she voted for adopting the curriculum because it went through a process of evaluation.
"It has been vetted by a lot of educators," she said adding, anyone can find something offensive in any textbook. "I have the faith in our educators that they would take those textbooks and supplement them with other resources."
Owens, 48, chairwoman of the U-46 Citizens' Advisory Council, said she agreed with the board's decision on the curriculum as well as providing cultural competency training for teachers.
"We have to recognize the fact that we have a minority-majority district," she said adding such training allows teachers to recognize that "students see things through different filters based on their experiences."