Examining the Fear of DEI

Well that didn’t take long.

Misinformed Newtowners started sounding alarms about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) along with the first school bells of the new academic year.

School has been in session for two and a half short weeks and already accusations of DEI being tantamount to “indoctrination” and the “sexualization of children” have been thrown around social media forums with the same fervor as last school year. I was personally accused of being “exactly what’s wrong with society” and “screwing up” my kids after disclosing on one forum that I have a transgender daughter.

Why does the topic of DEI ruffle so many feathers? 

As I wrote in a recent Newtown Bee Letter to the Editor, (https://www.newtownbee.com/09082022/dont-let-misinformation-obscure-facts/ ), I believe the primary culprit is fear. 

But what exactly is it about DEI that frightens people?

Vocal opponents readily spell out some of their fears:

“Our children will feel uncomfortable learning about racism,” (So what? Must we always be comfortable?)

“Our children will feel guilty about being white,” (Really?)

“Our children will learn to hate America.” (Seriously?)

Those fears feel unreasonable to me. Could such thoughts cause a fleeting moment of mild concern? Perhaps. But these fellow-Newtowners have written angry letters to the editor, expressed their outrage at BOE meetings, and tried to galvanize others to speak up against DEI. Could it be that folks are scared of something a bit deeper than uncomfortable feelings and the potential decline of patriotism?

Maybe it’s fear of losing privilege, power, and position as white people; fear of the “other”; fear of our children adopting a worldview different from ours; fear of our changing society and the things we don’t understand; fear of the unknown; fear that equity for historically marginalized students requires that something be taken away from our own children; fear of an increasingly more culturally diverse country; fear of white people becoming a racial minority.

I wonder if I’ve hit any nerves.

Author Cliff Smith, in his exceptional book, How The Word Is Passed, writes, “So much of the story we tell about history is really the story that we tell about ourselves, about our mothers and our fathers, as far back as our lineage will take us.” Smith goes on to describe the internal conflict people experience when presented with evidence that illuminates the truth; when they learn that many of the stories they’ve heard their entire lives about America have been fabricated. He asks: “What would it take—what does it take—for you to confront a false history even if it means shattering the stories you have been told throughout your life?…Just because something is difficult to accept doesn’t mean you should refuse to believe it.”

It would be heartbreaking to see the DEI policy in Newtown schools fall victim to public pressure. To be watered down or pushed to the side. We simply cannot waste precious time. There are children in our schools RIGHT NOW who, along with their parents, deserve to feel confident that the buildings in which they spend their days will be healthy learning and social environments; that their education will encompass more than the History of white Americans and Literature written by and about white people. They need to know that their classmates will not be allowed to target them with microaggressions (or worse), and that if they do, there will be consequences with clear explanations about the harm such behavior causes. 

White students in Newtown will benefit from learning that grappling with the topic of Race in America is vitally important if one is to understand our country. While their BIPOC peers inevitably learn by default, I’d be willing to bet that most white kids in Newtown have never thought much about race. And if they’re anything like the people of their parents’ generation, they haven’t learned to talk about it either. 

The true story of America simply cannot be told without talking about race. 

Is it a pretty story? 

Not always.

Might learning about uncomfortable truths get some feelings out of whack?

Probably (as it should).

However, curriculum should not be designed or adopted to assuage bad feelings. The truth is the truth. History is what happened; not what we wish had happened. To teach inaccurate history, or “alternative facts” as some might say, is to put our children at an educational disadvantage—not only now, but as they take what they’ve learned into adulthood as well. Even more importantly, if we don’t prioritize DEI, we are essentially telling BIPOC, LQBTQ+, Muslim, different-abled, and other students that we aren’t prioritizing them. That we don’t consider them to be as important as their white, straight, cisgender, Christian, able-bodied peers. That we believe they are less worthy of care, respect, and dignity.

That is what should frighten all of us.

Ready to become an ally? Reach out to us at takeaction@newtownallies.org and we’ll let you know the many ways in which you can assist us in making Newtown a better place for all.