Did I miss something? What happened in Warwick, Rhode Island that makes Ms. Jennie Johnson, Commissioner at the Rhode Island Board of Elections, believe “all races of people" feel …
Did I miss something? What happened in Warwick, Rhode Island that makes Ms. Jennie Johnson, Commissioner at the Rhode Island Board of Elections, believe “all races of people" feel unwelcomed here? Through reading the Beacon and the Providence Journal each week. I stay informed. I follow local news channels and Warwick social media pages. I went looking for overt or covert acts of racism which took place in Warwick and couldn't find any.
I would hope that Ms. Johnson has access to some recent findings from a peer-reviewed quantitative and qualitative study done in Warwick to measure people’s sense of belonging or feeling welcome. Otherwise, a sweeping statement such as that is only her opinion and inflammatory remarks made in an obvious attempt to emotionally trigger some court of public opinion. Giving concrete examples and measurable data are necessary to make a real point. Otherwise, her accusations and possible confirmation bias, not based in facts, stand-alone and only contribute to a narrative of divisiveness and hateful rhetoric.
I was born and raised in Warwick. In fact I grew up at my father’s boat yard, where men of all colors had boats and went fishing. This was 5 decades ago, in the 1970s, only years after the civil rights movement. Now our community is being instructed by Ms. Johnson that because of one act, I repeat ONE act of vandalism by some miscreant(s) that the city is full of racism? One or multiple vandals wrote hateful and racist words on a door at a public school. According to Ms. Johnson, this destruction of property now defines the make-up of an entire city? As I emphasized earlier, real data and facts supporting the author's personal narrative may give permission to paint Warwick with such a broad brush.
I understand that Ms. Johnson has experienced racist “stereotypes, jokes and microaggressions”. I wish she never had to experience hate speech. I certainly encourage Ms. Johnson to continue speaking out against racism, as my family always has done since before WWII. But approaching this incident with such an alarmist stance seems an attempt to fan the flames and not an attempt to offer real solutions.
The City of Warwick is the victim here. Our property was damaged and hateful words were allegedly written where our children attend school. Certainly an investigation should be done regarding this one act of destruction, which may have actually been committed by someone not even from Warwick. Or maybe it was even committed by someone seeking to push this narrative of racism in our community.
Here is some baseline data from the Public School Review report ( 2021 ): " The District of Warwick's average in testing rank 4 out of 10, which is in the bottom 50% of public schools in Rhode Island.” Is Ms. Johnson alarmed at all about this statistic? That the children of Warwick are behind in math and ELA?
I think many parents would agree that based on these test scores and after two years of chaotic "emergency" learning, now is not the time for any "race based" agenda in Warwick Public Schools. Now is the time we commit ourselves to making sure our students succeed in reading, comprehension, math and science. It is a time to help children think critically and to engage socially with their peers of all cultural backgrounds, not to isolate them further. Warwick will always go above and beyond to make learning happen.
I urge the parents of Warwick to watch what has been happening in neighboring communities including Westerly, Chariho and North Kingston. Notice how certain people have entered the local schools to “fix racism”. No one is arguing the fact that all students and families have the right to feel safe and welcome. All students have the right to learn history through multiple perspectives and through a culturally sensitive lens. All students should be reading texts written by authors from all cultural backgrounds, as that broadens a child's thinking and awareness of the world. This is what a teacher does. And how do I know this? Because I am a retired teacher.
Just like Ms. Johnson speaks out, all residents have the right to speak out as well. Decide if this is what Warwick Public School’s focus should be.
Larry Dorr is a retired general and special education teacher of over 20 years. He has taught in schools and educational facilities in Minneapolis, MN as well as Lawrence, Milton and Roxbury, Massachusetts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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