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Is “white privilege” a fair course topic?

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Greg Peck
February 4, 2013

Is “American Diversity” a reasonable class to teach at the average Midwest high school?

That class, previously called “Minorities,” has been part of the curriculum at Delavan-Darien High School in Walworth County for more than a decade.

When her son took home course information about “critical race theory” and “white privilege,” alarm bells went off for Lisa Olson. She took her concerns to the school board Dec. 10. She also fired off a letter to The Gazette. The debate went national when Fox News picked up the story.

Such classes, Olson suggested in the letter we printed Jan. 12, “are indoctrinating kids with the idea that they are inherently racist. They are told that any success they have is because they have unearned ‘white privilege.’”

That letter prompted other commentary, some agreeing and others disagreeing with Olson’s strong views.

Among them was an op-ed column from Santo Carfora. He’s a retired educator. We granted him more space than a letter because he’s a member of the Diversity Action Team of Rock County and owns a consulting company that deals with diversity issues. Thus we consider him a local expert on such topics.

Olson called me to object that we granted Carfora more space while not divulging that The Gazette is listed on his website as one of his company’s clients. I wasn’t even aware of that listing but, as I told her, it's apparently because about six or seven years ago Carfora oversaw one of two sets of workshops the Diversity Action Team led to help newsroom staffers better understand minorities in a community quickly becoming more diverse.

Our group included several people from the community who shared insights. These included an African-American man, a Jewish woman and a woman who was part Native American.

At some point we mentioned that we typically delete obviously racist comments when they come in on our anonymous Sound Off line.

The African-American man wondered why. He suggested that rather than bury such commentary, it would be better to expose it to the light of day and let more enlightened minds respond and share more reasonable insight and foster better understanding.

We hadn’t been thinking that way. So we started running more such comments, even if some readers might find them offensive.

That’s just one change that resulted from our discussions.

Should we have divulged, when we ran Carfora’s column Jan. 24, that we were a former client of his? Perhaps. I never considered it a concern, a conflict of interest, as Olson suggested. The workshop was years ago, and I considered it a function of the Diversity Action Team, not of Carfora’s private company. Now, however, you know.

“White privilege” and the Delavan-Darien course will be the subjects of The Gazette’s editorial Tuesday.

As a side note, students in the Janesville Craig High School Human Relations Club will hold a workshop, “Unity through Diversity,” from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday in the meeting room at Hyatt Smith Hall, UW-Rock County, 2909 Kellogg Ave. The Diversity Action Team is sponsoring the workshop, which is open to any ages 10 and older. Call 608-756-1815 for information.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook



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