Submitted by John Arbeeny.
I attended (via ZOOM) the Clover Park School District Board meeting on 28 March 2022 I was particularly interested in the presentation by Tim Garchow, Executive Director, Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA) about their “Cultural Competency Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (CCDEI) program.
CPSD’s discussion of this program was a prior Board agenda item and topic of some controversy. Garchow’s presentation cleared up a lot of issues but at the same time also generated questions about the program.
A brief overview of the WSSDA program.
WSSDA has been tasked by the Legislature in SB 5044 to develop this training for all 1477 school board directors in the State. The WSSDA policy applies only to school director training and not to similar training to administrators, staff and teachers which will be developed by the Professional Educators Standards Board (PESB). Thus Garchow was unable to address issues related to the PESB program. It appears that the WSSDA program is about a year ahead of that of PESB.
At the core of the WSSDA program are five components as follows:
A. Recognizing diversity and cultivating inclusion
B. Developing cultural competency
C. Addressing opportunity and outcome disparities
D. Eliminating identity discrimination
E. Dismantling institutional racism
An introduction presentation and components A, B, C will be part of the first iteration of training with D and E as follow on presentations. All training will be in separate 2 ½ hour learning sessions over the course of 5 years to 8 years. Components A, B, C encompass legislative subject requirements. D, E were suggested by the legislature, WSSDA Board and Director membership. The objective of this training is “….expand their (director) skills and understanding while meeting the state requirements of school director training.” The actual curriculum won’t be developed until late 2022 with training commencing in 2023.
Now for some observations and commentary.
Director David Anderson asked the most relevant question first: “How does CCDEI measurably help us reach academic competence among our students?” Garchow’s answer was: “That is not a question that I can answer at this time.” Thus the primary purpose of this training appears initially to simply meet another legislative requirement levied on school districts. This training may be of some peripheral benefit to school board members individually and corporately. However, you have to wonder how much retention and impact it will have when training occurs a total of 2 ½ hours each of five sessions over a period as long as 5 to 8 years. It thus appears more to be adhering to the “letter of the law” rather than “spirit of the law” in enhancing academic competence.
“Cultural competence/proficiency” seems have arisen in importance as a foundation which underlies DEI. Garchow admitted in a district with “dozens and dozens of languages” and that true cultural competency was not possible. He stated that in order to become a cultural expert you need “lived experience”. He stated the purpose is to have directors “….recognize differences in cultures. It’s not about being an expert in cultures.” Indeed that thin veneer of cultural competence might not extend beyond, as Garshow put it “…60 different ways to say good morning!” A single class of 2 ½ hours over as long a period of 8 years doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of “cultural competence”. Perhaps a more appropriate term would be “cultural primer”.
However DEI is not limited to just those speaking foreign languages. It is most often associated with “people of color”, “marginalized groups”, “minorities”, “under-served communities” based upon race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, intersectionality, etc. Many of these individuals were born and raised in the Unites States, in many cases for generations. Perhaps a “sub-culture” would be more descriptive. Will the proposed DEI training be as superficial in these areas as it will be for “cultural competence” upon which it appears based? If it is, then there is a real question about the viability of DEI: can it be any more effective than the cultural “competence” foundation upon which it is built? When you build your argument upon a flawed premise, even using perfect logic, you must of necessity arrive at a flawed conclusion.
“Recognizing the differences in cultures” as the stated goal also begs the question: “to what are these alleged differences in culture being compared to? Each other? I don’t think so since Directors and staff don’t have the cultural experience to make that comparison. However there is a culture in which all Directors and staff have (or should have) extensive life experience that should be at the core of any cultural training. That culture is the unique culture of the Unites States of America. This is the very culture that these other cultures and sub-cultures are suspended within and need to be compared to. Will that be a part of the WSSDA training? It certainly should be.
I have personal “lived experience” dealing with other cultures. I come from a family of very mixed cultures, languages with immigrant grandparents. I have also been married for 42 years to a wife who is of a different race, nationality, culture and language. I can say “good morning” in at least 6 different languages but that’s not what makes one culturally competent. In all my immigrant, 1st, 2nd, 3rd and now 4th generation relatives the first priority was and is to integrate grand parents, parents, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and spouses into American culture while preserving within the family what we as individuals think are the best of the mother countries’ culture.
Cultural preservation is very individualistic and varies widely even among my own family members and generationally. That is a personal decision beyond any Board member’s cultural comprehension. There was no question about why these diverse families and family members left their mother countries for the United States: they valued our culture which held out the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and thus they became Americans by choice or birth. I think it less necessary for educators to become cultural experts than it is for them to educate those of many cultures in the culture in which they now live.
We have to propose an entirely different approach to CCDEI training beginning at the values level within the Country we live; not just to oppose the superficial DEI concept itself, and the impossible “cultural competence” complex foundation upon which it is built. We have to develop a mirror image of CCDEI that embraces the core values of the Country we live in and have experienced rather than attempting to wrap our arms around a myriad of possibilities with which we have no expertise at all. Here are my suggestions for a United States centric cultural competence that should be part of WSSDA training. Perhaps it can be expressed as USCCUEI as below.
US cultural competence vs. Multi-cultural competence: The difficulty and prejudice of divining the cultural back ground of every individual based upon external features and prejudice of race, ethnicity, etc. must be flipped. Indeed we have a culture that should be common to all: the unique culture that is the United States of America. That is the “cultural competency” that must be taught yet it appears that many in the educational field have forgotten it. US culture should be at the core of any “cultural competence” program! It is far easier and necessary to inculcate that common culture based on the values of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” than try to account for every possible cultural permutation found in any classroom or society. These students will eventually become adults and have to survive and succeed in a common US culture rather than being segregated in some racial ghetto or ethnic barrio and thus outside the benefits that a free and open society can provide. As generations pass the cultural norm of immigrant ancestors will become increasingly diluted into that unique American culture.
Unity vs. Diversity: Our Country’s motto is “E Pluribus Unum”: out of many one. It is not “E Unum Pluribus”: out of one many. What makes the United States so unique is our diversity UNITED under a common philosophy which can be enjoined by anyone from anywhere regardless of race or ethnicity. Use the analogy of the wire rope cable that holds up the Narrows Bridge. It is made up of thousands of smaller separate wires bound together into bundles, wound together into a cable capable of supporting thousands of tons. Had that cable been disassembled into its individual strands it would not have nearly the same strength in separated “diversity” that it had in combined “unity”. So it is with our Country and the soon to become adults educated in our schools. It is that unity of purpose, composed of our diversity that gives us strength far beyond just the sum of those individual diverse component parts.
Equality vs. Equity: The flip side of equity is equality. It is enshrined in our founding documents. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. It is further enunciated in the Constitution in the 14th Amendment: equality under the law. That equality gives no preference or penalty to anyone based upon race, ethnicity or other group characteristic. What the individual achieves within that equality is a measure of their character (which includes work ethic, morality, intellectual capabilities, etc.) not skin color or ethnic background. This is an equality of opportunity not equality (equity) of outcomes.
Individuality vs. Inclusion: The Declaration of Independence and Constitution declare the supremacy of the individual and individual rights conferred by “their Creator” and protected by government. People were not meant to be lumped into convenient groups or lose their individuality. The Bill of Rights is a bill of individual rights, not “group” rights. That individuality makes each of us unique, with unique skills, interests, ambitions, capabilities, values, personality and character from every other human being on the planet irrespective of our erstwhile racial/ethnic “group membership”. It is that individual ability that schools must maximize so each student can enter into adult life the best they can be. There are too many individual success stories of individuals coming out of slavery, poverty, race, ethnicity, etc. to think that they did it by “group inclusion” in some well intentioned focus group of “stakeholders”. No, they did it individually and that’s what we have to promote. Students enroll in schools individually, not in groups.
Pledge: The Pledge itself has within it the elements of equality, unity and individuality. This is why children and adults should willingly Pledge Allegiance to the Flag to rekindle and reaffirm those values that make our Country great.
“Under God”: The implication is that we are judged by God as a Nation and as individuals not a member of or some collection of groups.
“Indivisible”: one nation united. It’s in our name United States of America. The unity of our diversity is what gives us strength beyond just the mere total of its numbers.
“Liberty and justice for all”: equality of all races, ethnicities in all aspects of American life. This is our value, even if some individuals do not ascribe to them.
Human beings are fallible as is the idea of some “perfect” mandated utopia. Rather than achieving “perfection” it is a goal towards we strive and even as we approach it reexamine it constantly as we move into the future. Does anyone ever achieve perfection? No because there’s always room for improvement. As the Preamble to our Constitution states we strive to form “a more perfect” not “the perfect union”:
“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity….”
This should be the core of any WSSDA training for board members. It is this culture, striving to achieve that “more perfect union” that has been the foundation of our Country’s success. It is the inculcation of those same cultural values into our board members, administrators, staff, students and their families that will make them part of the National cultural experience and lead to a “more perfect” educational system, society and Nation.