COOS COUNTY – Teachers across the country are getting behind #CharlottesvilleCurriculum.
The hashtag was started by Melinda D. Anderson, a contributing writer to the Atlantic, after the horrific events in Charlottesville last weekend where a white supremacist rammed his vehicle through a crowd of protesters, killing one woman.
Anderson told the Washington Post in an email that she created the hashtag as a platform for educators to share curriculum ideas to explore the “historical underpinnings of white supremacy and use the materials to help bring context and clarity to Saturday's events in Virginia – so they could carry that back to their classrooms and schools.”
Here in Coos County, school districts are showing their support for the curriculum sharing.
“There's been a lot of curriculum shared since the Charlottesville incident,” said Coos Bay School District Superintendent Bryan Trendell. “A lot of teachers have already put stuff on the web and Facebook, curriculum ideas. Our own folks will latch onto those and we will have a conversation with our administration team to push that into the buildings because obviously the situation in Charlottesville won't be out of the news once school starts.”
For many local schools, students won't be back in the classroom until after Labor Day. Once school does reopen, Trendell said he will make sure the staff uses the Charlottesville events as a teachable moment.
“When these situations happen, because of technology and news being broadcast and piped straight into the classroom, we're able to use those as teachable opportunities,” he said. “We want our kids to embrace kindness and be respectful to each other. There's enough hate in the world. We don't need to contribute to it.”
Last year, the North Bend School District struggled with racist upheaval. The day after Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election, North Bend Middle School reported two separate incidents of racist acts toward students.
Students shouted and chanted "Go back to Mexico" at an 11-year-old student from Colombia who is an American citizen, while racist jokes reportedly were told throughout the school.
Middle school principal Darrell Johnston and Assistant Principal Ralph Brooks stepped in once they heard what happened and held an impromptu assembly to talk about the school's harassment policy.
Then in February, the flag widely associated with the slave-holding Confederate States of America was banned from the North Bend School District after a fight broke out on the high school campus. What ended in punches, where the worst injury may have been a bad headache according to Superintendent Bill Yester, allegedly began with racist slurs and threats.
After the flag was banned, protesters lined the street across from the high school.
“All North Bend Schools will start this year similar to starts in the past,” Superintendent Yester wrote to The World in an email in response to the #CharlottesvilleCurriculum attention. “All students will be reviewing expectations and procedures that relate to school safety and respect for others and self. The national news is currently highlighting tensions in other parts of our country. Our students are exposed to this news coverage daily. As our students ask questions and begin to reflect, we at North Bend Schools will provide additional support and guidance through our team of administrators, principals, counselors, and teachers.”
Education against racist culture
“The racism in this country is getting loud again,” said Christina Alexander, retired professor of sociology and anthropology at Southwestern Oregon Community College.
When she taught her classes, she had her students read “There are no children here” by Alex Kotlowitz, published in the 1980s. Her students wrote response papers to the book that talked about racism, yet still in their conclusion paragraphs she read things along the lines of “Racism was back in the day and is all better now.”
“It amazed me that these people believed these problems were all said and done, over with,” Alexander said. “That kind of thinking comes from not being taught this stuff if they haven't seen it or lived through it.”
At the end of the semester, her students would ask her why they didn't learn about this years ago.
“It needs to be taught sooner,” she said. “It needs to be taught that race is a biological myth but a social reality. It is totally socially constructed.”
During one of her classes, she recalled a student telling her about growing up isolated in Coos County and not ever seeing African Americans. When she did, as a very young child, it was at a restaurant with her mom.
“She told me that her mom said black people were black because God did that to them because they were evil,” Alexander said. “That is an example of the rhetoric young people are exposed to, of prejudice being learned. Which is why it's so important that if you learn it at home or from your community that you unlearn it as soon and as early as possible.”
In the Coos Bay School District, Trendell emphasized that social studies and history classes at the high school and middle school show the country's history of bigotry and hate.
“We encourage conversations about that history so we can teach that those things are not tolerated and it's not okay,” he said. “Our curriculum in general starts very early to teach positive behavior and our teachers do a very good job of not letting those pieces of history go.”
The district uses CNN Student News to teach and inform students about national news, which is watched in classrooms sometimes every day or once a week.
“It's a 10 to 15 minute segment where they do a good job highlighting what's going on in the world,” Trendell said. “It's sad to see events like what happened in Charlottesville because it shows that in some ways our country has come a long way and in some ways it hasn't. There's still racism, bigotry and hate that still raises its ugly head. When it does, it's important that we call it out and say that is not okay. That's the big educational piece for us.”
Racist history of Coos County
“If you think Coos County history is pure, you haven't looked at it,” said local historian Lionel Youst.
The World asked him and Alexander why racism is persisting and growing, and Youst pointed at the history.
In 1911, a black man worked at a local hotel and ran mail and newspapers out to Libby Lane. One day a doctor spotted him and a woman emerge from bushes together.
“Push came to shove and that evening she said she was raped,” Youst said. “Then the mob came to the hotel and he turned himself in.”
After being jailed, when the jail was still located at the docks in Coos Bay, the mob came for him there to lynch him.
“The jailer turned him loose and said 'Run for it,'” Youst said. “The man got under the docks on the mud flats, but kids found him there in the morning. The townspeople shot at him and put him in a wheelbarrow, taking him to the bridge that was where the Marshfield football field is now. He was probably dead already, but they hung him for good measure, so no, our history isn't pure.”
“That hanging was the last lynching in Oregon too,” Alexander said.
Alexander also pointed to a changing economy to the new resurgence of white supremacy, where white men are feeling disempowered, disenfranchised, with trouble finding jobs.
“These men blame their disempowerment on the 'other,' anything that's different whether they are the educated elites, immigrants,” she said. “They have to have a focus for why they are so disempowered. Then you add in their culture, what they were exposed to growing up, and then mix in the rhetoric from the Donald Trump campaign and this is the result. It is actually very similar to Germany's economic crisis before WWII.”
Because Coos County has seen its own fair share of racist upheaval among its student body, mainly in the North Bend School District, Trendell expressed his resolve to stand against any problems the new school year may bring.
“I hope there's not a flare up,” Trendell said. “I don't anticipate it, but there's always a possibility of it because it is a big deal in the news, which is sad too because behavior like that, hatred and racism, needs no attention. It needs to be squelched.”
As far as the Confederate Flag ban goes, Trendell promised to ban it if the district sees similar problems that North Bend did.
“When they banned the flag, we didn't do a formal ban because there wasn't a need at the time,” he said. “There was a need there, a situation where the North Bend School District had to get on top of that. We talked about it and looked at what's going on in our schools, if there was a need to take a formal stand, but we didn't see that. If for whatever reason it becomes an issue, we will take a formal stand on it absolutely.”