WESTFIELD, NJ — A proposed new course titled “Power, Privilege & Imbalance in America,” designed for Westfield High School juniors and seniors, is sparking debate among the town's school board and community.
The Board of Education approved the course for a second reading on vote on Dec. 3. Six Westfield BOE members voted yes, while three abstained
Amy Root, the Westfiled BOE's curriculum committee chair, said the course is meant to replace a previous African American Studies course offered at Westfield High School that stopped when the teacher who taught it retired.
“The purpose of the class is to educate and foster discussion among students about the history of minority groups in America,” Root said, adding that the format of the course was developed within the district.
“I have a high degree of comfort that this is the right circumstance and setting for this type of discussion with students,” she added. “I think it’s a very good thing that we have teachers involved that want to curate those discussions in a controlled format.”
A course content outlines shows that the course addresses housing discrimination, school segregation, incarceration of minorities, police brutality, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The purpose of this course is to understand the barriers encountered by people of ethnic minorities and how those barriers were created and have changed America,” a description of the class states. “Students will utilize course materials to develop insights as to socio-economic status and the role this classification plays in everyday life in America.”
Among titles included in the list are “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack,” “White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide” and “The Origins of Privilege.” See below for the full course description and book list.
Members of the public spoke during the meeting, both for and against the course.
“This is exactly the type of class that we need in Westfield. This should be a required part of our curriculum,” said Westfield resident and parent Kerri Oligino, who believes the class would help in part to address the “lack of diversity in this town” and allow students to discuss important societal issues. “This is the type of course that allows our students to talk about differences and be comfortable about it,” she said.
Student Mira Mehta, a junior at Westfield High School, agreed that the course would provide opportunities for meaningful discussion.
“These stories are actually crucial to our understanding of the world we live in today, because we see these patterns repeated,” Mehta said. “A class like this makes direct connections to today’s society in ways that can actively engage students.”
Two members of the public, however, felt the course would create division among students.
Randy Warniss called the course material “completely and utterly one-sided.”
“Teaching this kind of division, that these structural inequities are here and there are people oppressing you all the time, is that drawing people together?” Warniss said. “Is that creating some unity in our society, our very divided society, or is it further dividing our society?”
Resident Steve Christian said that the course material is “so left-leaning.”
The course will be among curriculum items up for a second reading during the next school board meeting.
Click here to view the full course description as proposed.