Letter: Concerned Community Member

[Ed note: My Southborough accepts signed letters to the editor submitted by Southborough residents. Letters may be emailed to mysouthborough@gmail.com.

The following letter is from Diane Romm, PhD responding to the public petition being submitted to the School Committee tonight.]

To the Editor:

My husband and I have two sons who attended Neary Elementary School. As a mother and as a former teacher of Psychology for 10 years at the college level, including Cultural Psychology, I am here to share my concerns regarding the Petition that has been recently promoted by parents in the community, a petition that calls for “the immediate dismissal of Principal Valenti; the immediate suspension of Superintendent Martineau; a new investigation, run and managed by an external third party; and a timeline and budgetary priority for the actions outlined in the District Equity Audit.”

First, the Petition is of an incendiary nature that provokes feelings that may impair an objective understanding of what transpired. The headlines in the news all reported “a mock slave auction.” The Petition states, “..elementary school children were auctioned as slaves” and a “seasoned educator turned the trauma at the heart of our nation’s founding into a game…” What I would like to request is the context in which this incident occurred. Although the pedagological method utilized has been deemed inappropriate and called out by adminstration, I would like to call your attention to a classroom experiment that was conducted shortly after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. A teacher by the name of Jane Elliott divided the class into two groups and had the THIRD grade students FEEL what it would be like to be discriminated against. The operative word here is “FEEL.” Indeed, the teaching method was misguided but understanding the context is essential before jumping to any premature conclusions. (If interested, please look up The Class Divided documentary by FrontLine.)

Regarding the second alleged incident, the parents reported that the “N” word does NOT appear in the book, The Parker Inheritance. Since I could not imagine a teacher at Neary simply saying the “N” word out of the blue, based on my experience with the teachers at Neary, I decided to take a closer look and discovered that the “N” word is all but spoken; it is implied and, if there were an appropriate moment for a teacher to utter the word out loud, especially for the more cognitively concrete learners (as opposed to abstract thinkers), that moment in the book is it. Again, context here is important. As noted in a previous MySouthborough post, “The main characters are two smart, savvy African American kids who love books and brainteasers. The story deals frankly and thoughtfully with both subtle and blatant racism in the 1950s and today. Most racial slurs are alluded to, not spelled out, though one character is called “tar baby,” and another, “darkie lover.” …Characters also deal with divorce, bullying by peers, and gay identity. Though the issues are serious, they’re woven skillfully into a suspenseful, page-turning plot, and there’s warmth and lightness in the families and friendships.” In the book, the author echoes the sentiments of the Jane Elliott classroom experiment by having a character explicitly state “Racists don’t know how to spell.”

The actions taken by the administration appear to have been appropriate, not inappropriate. Indeed, the administration was mis-lead by parents involved in the situation to believe that the “N” word does not appear in the book and yet, for all intents and purposes, it really does. As a result of this desire on the part of the parents to paint an ugly portrait of what transpired, it does a disservice to Principal Valenti, Superintendent Martineau, the teacher involved, and the entire Southborough (and Northborough) communities. And that is not to say that improvements do not need to be implemented; it is to say that a calm, focused, fact-based dialogue is required. Again, I must reiterate that I am concerned by the language used in the Petition, “But predictably, our demons do not stay hidden.” The tone is intended to incite outrage rather than to promote a conversation.

The issue brought up in the Petition regarding the implementation of the IEPS, etc. is a separate issue and needs to be addressed separately. Piling on one inappropriate teaching incident with a distorted vision of the reading of The Parker Inheritance, along with the student being purportedly “called out” in front of the Principal of Neary is doing a disservice to everyone involved. What exactly is meant by “called out”? Did the teacher apologize to the student publicly for any misunderstanding? Again, the teacher’s approach may have been misguided and I am certainly not excusing it. I am merely calling for an end to the flagrant accusations that distort what really happened.

One day a young child will come home from school and say that his or her teacher uttered a “bad word” and the Mom or Dad will ask “What word?” Rather than being shocked and jumping to conclusions, perhaps the parent will say, “Tell me more about it. Yes, we have a dark history here in the US….” Blanket hysteria is not the answer as it is doing an awful disservice to everyone in the community including the teachers and the parents of the students in the K-8 schools here in Southborough.

Diane Romm, PhD
77 Pine Hill Road

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Heidi Qua
1 month ago

Dianne –
I implore you to reach out to the families involved, who have gone public, before furthering your message here. The parents, brave enough to speak out, shared what happened in the classroom. It feels like you are saying that parents should not believe their children. I can assure you that parents did not jump to any conclusions. There is no “blanket hysteria” here.
As a white female educator wrapping up my 28th year teaching, in both public and private settings, I can assure you that there is never, ever an appropriate time for me “to utter the word out loud, especially for the more cognitively concrete learners (as opposed to abstract thinkers), that moment in the book is it.”
I feel for the families who will read your letter, having their reality, experience, and TRUTH second-guessed. If you feel strongly enough about what’s been taking place that you would write this letter, I hope you will consider hearing from them, and not just what you’ve heard on social media or even in the news (remember – news organizations can pick and choose what they publish and may do so for more views than getting the full story out).
Heidi Q. (parent of S’boro grads ’19, ’20, and ’27)

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