¡Ayúdame! Ethnic Studies in Seattle Needs You!

If you follow this blog and my work, you know that I am on paid administrative leave and have been under investigation for allegedly violating several policies. Recently, I was informed that my supervisor, Dr. Diane DeBacker, made a formal request to HR that I be removed from my position as Ethnic Studies Program Manager and the superintendent, Denise Juneau, approved the request. I will outline their reasons below, but my attorney and I believe these actions are part of a larger effort to remove me from Seattle Public Schools altogether as a form of retaliation and discrimination against my anti-racist work and activism.

Furthermore, my colleagues and I do not have faith in the district’s ability to maintain an authentic Ethnic Studies Program should I be removed. They have demonstrated their inability to authentically engage in any type of racial justice initiative.

My attorney filed a formal challenge to this decision to demote me and the school board will be hearing the challenge next week. I have a very specific ask for you to help us fight the #ReWhiting of ethnic studies in Seattle:

If you have been impacted by my work and the work of the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group, please contact the school board directors to share what the work has meant to you. You don’t have to be an SPS staff member, student, or family. The more they hear how far-reaching this work is, the better. Please email each of the board members with your experiences:

District I

Liza Rankin

liza.rankin@seattleschools.org

District II

Lisa Rivera-Smith

lisa.rivera-smith@seattleschools.org

District III

Chandra N. Hampson

chandra.hampson@seattleschools.org

District IV

Eden Mack

eden.mack@seattleschools.org

District V

Zachary DeWolf

zachary.dewolf@seattleschools.org

District VI

Leslie Harris

leslie.harris@seattleschools.org

District VII

Brandon K. Hersey

brandon.hersey@seattleschools.org

Why I’m Being Removed

Below are the reasons Dr. DeBacker and Denise Juneau believe I am not fit to be the Ethnic Studies Program Manager, per a letter I received from Juneau. I will respond to each of these claims with my perspective. It’s important to note that my previous supervisor, Dr. Kyle Kinoshita, a Japanese-American educator with an ethnic studies degree, gave me an exceptional performance review before he retired in July of 2019. Dr. DeBacker, a white educator, has admitted to the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group that she knows very little about racial equity or ethnic studies, but feels she can determine who is best for the job.

Reason 1: I am untruthful and lack integrity.

Reason 2: I contacted school board Directors directly without permission from my supervisor.

Reason 3: I don’t collaborate well with people I think are racist, and therefore am stalling the work of ethnic studies. A quote from Dr. DeBacker’s HR request, “Ms. Castro-Gill has repeatedly failed to collaborate with individuals and groups, especially those individuals and groups which she believes are racist.

Let’s break it down, shall we?

Integrity

In July I was notified about a harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB) complaint against me by a teacher whom I’ve never met and at the time didn’t know the name of. Their complaint was that I was cyber-bullying them. This complaint was based on the fact I shared a post on FB that included a 911 call the teacher made. The HR investigation into the complaint found that I did not engage in any activities that fall under SPS’s HIB policy; however, they found that I did violate a policy about being deceitful during the investigation interview. They believe – though they can’t prove – that my testimony “lacked candor.” This is 100% of the “evidence” Superintendent Juneau and Dr. DeBacker base their claim for Reason 1 above on.

This completely ignores and erases my years of work in SPS as a teacher and administrator. It erases the awards I’ve won that include integrity as criteria. It ignores all of my prior performance reviews which include rating integrity. Here is what Dr. Kinoshita had to say about integrity on my most recent performance review in which he scored me a 5 out of 5:

Ms Gill [has] a strong moral compass that assists in decision making. As she moves into the realm of developing other leaders for this work, modeling the capacities that she hopes others to emulate will rise in importance. As well, communicating honestly to other leaders in the district will continue to be important in helping SPS to develop its own compass for authentic racial equity.

I lack integrity because Denise Juneau needs me to, not because there is any evidence of it. As Dr. Kinoshita states in an interview I conducted with him, “However, in fact, what’s actually happened in this effort is that [some] top district leaders have actually treated this as something that is threatening, and so, therefore, has put limits upon the entire initiative, and put limits on all the stakeholders.” I have become a threat, which makes me a target.

Contacting the School Board

I only have one thing to say about this. Well, maybe two.

First – School board members are elected officials, and I have a right to contact them about anything I want.

Second – In a Curriculum and Instruction Committee meeting, then Board President (to whom the superintendent reports), Leslie Harris, very pointedly told Dr. DeBacker that she wanted me to continue contacting the board and she didn’t appreciate Superintendent Juneau telling me I couldn’t. So, I kept contacting the board.

Collaboration

Again, I want to quote Dr. Kinoshita’s most recent performance review in which he scored me a 4 out of 5 for collaboration (prior to the Ethnic Studies Summer Institute discussed below):

Ms. Gill has learned to leverage already-existing relationships to good end to accomplish the large amount of work volume this year. The above-mentioned partnership with DREA [Department of Racial Equity Advancement in SPS] and the CRE [Seattle Education Association’s Center for Racial Equity] has resulted in not only major professional development accomplishments, but access to hundreds of SPS teachers. Racial Equity Team Institutes and Black Lives Matter observances [which I have co-led with the aforementioned groups] have influenced a broad section of teachers and helped provide them conceptual knowledge as well as language to discuss race, racism, and privilege. She has built a cohesive Ethnic Studies Advisory [Group], which is committed and dedicated to developing curriculum. The team have benefitted from your guidance in developing quality curriculum products that will be ready for the adoption process. The participants, already strong in their beliefs when they volunteered, now also have become advocates for ethnic studies and what it stands for. Ms. Gill has also forged ties with Seattle’s burgeoning number of ethnic community organizations, connections that Seattle Public Schools has never had*. She connected with their long-standing desire to dislodge the Eurocentric curriculum monopoly in SPS. These connections have resulted in credibility for the ethnic studies effort, and community engagement in review of the curriculum. These ties should continue to be cultivated as a means to strengthen the perspective of the curriculum. Another important area of collaboration that has begun is the beginnings of joint projects with the other subject area managers in CAI, which will go far in extending the reach of ethnic studies to SPS students, and help with the transformation away from the exclusively Eurocentric content. These connections have great potential to leverage ethnic studies, and they should be carefully cultivated.

*emphasis added

Of all the accusations lobbed against me, this is the most demonstrably false. I mean, look at the picture for this post – it consists of educators, students, and families that I’ve worked with over the past several years. But I don’t collaborate? If I were to go back into prior years of performance reviews, I could share with you similar feedback from former supervisors. I have consistently scored 4s and 5s on collaboration. This also doesn’t take into consideration the award I was given by the NAACP for collaborating with the NAACP and other educators on the initial push for ethnic studies in SPS. It doesn’t take into consideration me being named Teacher of the Year for the collaborative work between SPS, community organizations, and SEA to build the ethnic studies program while I was still teaching full time. It completely ignores the level of collaboration it took for me to single-handedly organize a two-week long PD in collaboration with the following people and organizations:

The Ethnic Studies Advisory Group

SEA’s Center for Racial Equity

SPS Culturally Responsive Teacher Leadership Cadre

Seattle University

The NAACP Youth Council

Families of Color Seattle

Dr. Wayne Au, UW Bothell

Dr. Nan Ma, Bellevue College

Dr. Gonzalo Guzmán, UW Seattle

Dr. LaTaSha Levy, UW Seattle

Rayann Kalei’okalani Onzuka of Huraiti Mana and Wing Luke Museum

Sharon H. Chang. Author and Activist

Dr. Django Paris, UW Seattle

Naho Shioya, Teaching Artist

The complaints outlined in Dr. DeBacker and Juneau’s letters come mostly from white women whose feelings were hurt that I pointed out racist actions. I have never called anyone a racist, as is suggested by Dr. DeBacker. I have pointed out racist events. For example, I never called anyone in Communications a racist. I said that a white woman taking over the work of educators of Color – while I was on vacation – without discussing it with me or my supervisor, Dr. Kinoshita – was a form of institutionalized racism. I didn’t even find out this happened from Carri Campbell and her crew. While I was on vacation I received a text from one of the members of the web developing team we had hired letting me know that Communications had taken over the project.

Another example is the appropriation of our work by HR, specifically Lindsey Berger and Dr. Clover Codd. Lindsey asked to meet with me after our (very successful) Ethnic Studies Summer Institute to learn more about my work. Lindsey outright stated in this meeting, “Clover and I are trying to figure out how you got 100 people to give up two weeks of their summer without giving them any incentives. We have to bribe people to come to our PD.” We had a good chat and did some relationship building. Lindsey asked how she could support our efforts. I told her I needed a staff. Next thing I know, I get an email from Lindsey saying my PD work was being presented in an HR meeting by Uti Hawkins, a member of DREA who has not at all been involved in the ethnic studies work in SPS. Lindsey was writing to ask if I’d like to attend and observe the presentation! That’s when I responded that they were appropriating the work of educators of Color and tokenizing Uti, a woman of Color, as the mouthpiece for work Uti’s not familiar with. I never called anyone racist, but if that’s not appropriation, I don’t know what is.

Finally, more “evidence” I don’t collaborate is that I “bully” and “shame” families and colleagues. Anyone who has done racial justice work knows that just mentioning race or racism equates to bullying for a lot of folks. No person can do this work without a handful of people calling them a bully. That’s just an occupational hazard. It’s worthwhile to note that of all the people saying I’ve bullied or shamed them, all are white except one and the parents making claims against me are complaining about my off-the-clock social media activity. In the instance where a WOC says I shamed her by criticizing a PD she developed, I wasn’t even the person criticizing it. Several of my colleagues criticized it and asked for my advice. I agreed with them. They sent an email and cc’d me on it. No complaint was made against my colleague who wrote the original email, but a HIB was filed against me.

Target Practice

This is a targeted attack. There’s no other way to look at it. It’s clear from the evidence that I collaborate exceptionally well with people, communities, and organizations of Color – a skill most in SPS leadership lack. I have proven the “culturally responsive” leadership Superintendent Juneau pretends to be about, but I’m unfit for the job because some white womens feelings were hurt. Sound familiar?

Which Comes First? Anti-Racism or Racial Equity

image credit: https://iff.org/racial-equity-in-times-of-crisis-lets-interrupt-history/

I recently completed what amounts to a couple of chapters worth of a report on what ethnic studies educators in Western Washington believe they need to implement a successful ethnic studies program. You can read the results on the Washington State Ethnic Studies Now website. One of the discussions sparked by the data I collected is about which comes first – anti-racism or racial equity. The respondents of my interviews believe that anti-racism has to come first because without it, racial equity is just a buzzword. Others in my teacher activist circles believe that racial equity comes first and anti-racism is the end goal. At least one of my friends believes that both can happen at the same time. I’m grateful that I have such thoughtful and critical educators as friends and colleagues. For me, personally, I tend to agree more with the educators I interviewed.

Here’s how the educators I interviewed defined equity, racial equity, and anti-racism:

EquityEvery educator responded that equity means providing access to systems and resources, focusing on groups that are historically and presently marginalized. 

Racial Equity – This term means the same thing as equity, but with a focus on race and acknowledgment of systems of racial oppression.

Anti-racism – This is where there is some variation in opinion among the educators. Every educator used the term “dismantle” in their definition. They all see anti-racism as dismantling racially unjust systems, institutions, practices, and beliefs. A couple educators included capitalism as one system that needs to be dismantled, particularly when it comes to high-stakes testing and standardized, Eurocentric curriculum, and a few white educators included the need to work on their own racism and biases.

In this blog post I want to talk about some differences between terms used in “equity” initiatives in education. I definitely don’t think we can use “equity” to address racial injustice in education. It’s too easily co-opted if it’s not at least “racial equity.” I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, focusing mostly on culturally responsive teaching, but I’m glad I’ve put it off so I can cover some of my new learning and musings. Specifically I want to argue which comes first, anti-racism or racial equity. Ready? Here we go!

Multiculturalism

Yuck. Multiculturalism is a necessary evil. We can’t be anti-racist or teach ethnic studies if we aren’t including some kind of multicultural component in our praxis, but just yuck. I say yuck because TOO MANY people stop there and call it equitable. In fact, while visiting a principal in Seattle to discuss ethnic studies, the principal was compelled to inform me that they “already do ethnic studies.” “Don’t you see the posters of different cultures in the halls? Our staff is very diverse, too.”

index

I worked in collaboration with several colleagues to come up with this definition of multiculturalism and why multiculturalism is problematic on its own.

Multicultural education is frequently content about the cultures of different groups, often groups considered non-white, which creates the idea of white being the “default race.” Non-white groups are taught about in terms of “contributions” or other additive language.

The teaching of multicultural content operates from the assumption that the problem of racism is an under appreciation of different cultures, and therefore the solution is the celebration of different cultures. What makes this problematic is that 1) it does not address power 2) in defining discrete cultures, people and cultures are necessarily reduced in complexity. 

Critical multiculturalism can address systems of power, but most incarnations of multicultural education are “liberal multiculturalism” which focuses on surface level culture.

Surface level culture can be defined as the parts of culture that are easily identifiable to people outside of that culture; for example, food, language, dress, music, holidays, and traditions.

Even more disturbing is that multiculturalism is where many teacher preparation programs start and stop in terms of “equity” training for prospective educators. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend Equity Literacy for All by Katy Swalwell and Paul Gorski to help you understand why multiculturalism is bad for kids of Color and white trumptaco_horiz2-1024x751kids. Knowing some trivia facts about “other” peoples’ culture gives white people a false sense of being non-racist. A person can know, and even appreciate, various cultures while still being and acting racist. And we know non-racist = racist.

 

So here I argue that a person needs to be anti-racist before they can teach multiculturalism. Without the critical race theoretical frame, it’s just liberal multiculturalism. It’s surface level information that makes white people feel better about themselves.

Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT)

I can’t lie. I love Zaretta Hammond’s book Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain. I love it because I believe that in another dimension I’m a brain surgeon. The brain is so fascinating. I remember learning in my undergrad program that the brain is the hardware and culture is the software. I also love the analogy that culture is the lens of the camera and frames what and how we see in the world. I believe that. I see how whiteness has warped our sense of culture, what we value, and what we consider unworthy. BUT Zaretta Hammond herself says CRT is not “social justice” nor does it require “anti-bias” training. It’s not inherently anti-racist. I believe it is a piece of the puzzle, but can do more harm when not prefaced with anti-racist pedagogies. As Dr. H. Samy Alim said in a keynote I attended last year at a conference in L.A., “CRT has been picked up and read through a white, hegemonic lens of assimilation.”

 

Districts all over the country have jumped on the CRT bandwagon precisely because of what Dr. Alim said. And because the word “culture” is more palatable than “anti-racist” they can’t wait to “do” CRT. They read the book and are suddenly experts creating and implementing Pinterest worthy CRT strategies (seriously – search “culturally responsive teaching” on Pinterest). UntitledThe problem is most educators can’t even correctly define CRT. People frequently confuse culturally relevant teaching for culturally responsive teaching. They further confuse culturally relevant teaching with culturally relevant pedagogy. Words are important in these conversations, but because we don’t dig this deep in professional development, people use these terms interchangeably which works to dilute their meaning, and thus their efficacy.

First, culturally relevant teaching is using content that is relevant to students. Culturally relevant content does not have anything to do with anti-racism unless that’s what you make it about. We can use Minecraft to teach kids engineering and call it culturally relevant. Culturally responsive teaching, the way Zaretta Hammond wrote about it, is about instruction. It’s about being responsive to the varied needs of your learners and rejecting a one-size fits all approach keeping in mind that culture is the software of the brain. Again, you can use culturally responsive practices in a classroom and never teach about race or oppression, or even consider them in lesson planning.

Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings is responsible for the term culturally relevant pedagogy, introducing it about two decades ago. Culturally relevant pedagogy goes further than CRT because it calls for educators to create sociopolitical awareness in their students. Dr. Billings, however, recently wrote a chapter for the book Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies in which she says culturally relevant pedagogy doesn’t go far enough; even it isn’t anti-racist. So here I argue that when an educator hasn’t studied critical race theory in depth, they can do more harm with all of the types of teaching and pedagogy discussed under this CRT heading.

Racial Equity

Here I’m at a point where I believe we will not achieve racial equity if we aren’t first anti-racist. I can see how both can be done at the same time, but even that comes with the danger of making decisions called “racial equity” without the proper anti-racist analysis. I used this graphic with my sixth graders as a vocabulary inference tool.

65ae84479462450b798f3d59ce022cd5

My students worked together to define equity and how it’s different from equality. To paraphrase their definitions, equality means everyone starts out the same and equity means everyone ends up the same. When I think about this argument of which needs to come first, I go back to this image. In order for everyone to end up the same, or get what they all need (apples), we first had to dismantle and reconstruct the system (boxes) used for people to get what they need. To achieve racial equity in education we have to be anti-racist first and dismantle then reconstruct education.