emmett_till.jpg

(photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmett_Till )

In the big drive of anti-Big-Gummint conservative Republicans to give big fat taxpayer-funded contracts to their buddies show that private industry can outdo the government in every field of endeavor, charter schools have played a big role.  It's a great way for conservatives to undermine universal public education and teachers' unions show their ethics and values at work.

And we have yet another charming example of this, courtesy of Celerity Nascent Charter School in Los Angeles.

Get a load of this:

Administrators at a Los Angeles charter school forbade students from reciting a poem about civil rights icon Emmett Till during a Black History Month program recently, saying his story was unsuitable for an assembly of young children.

Teachers and students said the administration suggested that the Till case — in which the teenager was beaten to death in Mississippi after allegedly whistling at a white woman — was not fitting for a program intended to be celebratory, and that Till's actions could be viewed as sexual harassment.

The decision by Celerity Nascent Charter School leaders roiled the southwest Los Angeles campus and led to the firing of seventh-grade teacher Marisol Alba and math teacher Sean Strauss, who had signed one of several letters of protest written by the students.

The incident highlights the tenuous job security for mostly nonunion teachers in charter schools, which are publicly financed but independently run. California has more than 600 charter schools, and their ranks continue to swell. According to the California Teachers Assn., staff at fewer than 10% of charter schools are represented by unions.

"I never thought it would come to this," said Alba, who helped her students prepare the Till presentation, in which they were going to read a poem and lay flowers in a circle. "I thought the most that would happen to me [after the event was canceled] is that I'd get talked to and it would be turned into a learning and teaching experience."

Well, here's the learning experience I took from this incident.

In what conservatives like to say is a society where racism no longer exists, apparently a lot of people think that fourteen-year-old Emmett Till deserved to be beaten to death for whistling at a white woman: 

"Our whole goal is how do we get these kids to not look at all of the bad things that could happen to them and instead focus on the process of how do we become the next surgeon or the next politician," said Celerity co-founder and Executive Director Vielka McFarlane. "We don't want to focus on how the history of the country has been checkered but on how do we dress for success, walk proud and celebrate all the accomplishments we've made."

McFarlane said details of the Till case were too graphic for an assembly that included kindergartners. The principal, Grace Canada, could not be reached for comment. McFarlane, speaking for the school, said her review of the incident did not support the teachers' allegations that Canada had used the term sexual harassment to describe Till's behavior.

But Alba said that when the principal informed the class that they could not recite their poem, she gave the example of a construction worker whistling at her as she walked down the street.

"She said that she would be offended by that and that what Emmett Till did could be considered sexual harassment," said Alba. "She used the phrase a couple of times and when I objected, she said 'OK, inappropriately whistled at a woman.' "

Many parents said their children affirmed that account. Marcia Alston, mother of a seventh-grader, called the school to say she was appalled at its interpretation of history and the treatment of the teachers. She said that in the conversation, the principal used the term "rude" to describe Till's actions.

Ahem.

Dear Celerity Nascent management:  Let me fill you in about Emmett Till

His murder — and the acquittal of his killers (the all-white jury was out for all of 67 minutes, and would have been done even sooner had they not taken a "soda break" just to stretch the time out to "make it look good"), and the worldwide revulsion that followed — is what gave rise to the modern civil rights movement in America.  In a sense, it is to the civil rights movement what the Crucifixion is to Christianity — and somehow, just somehow, I'm betting that this charter school's principal has no problem with kindergarteners hearing the graphic details of Jesus' death and resurrection.

I don't know about you, dear reader, but I'm having a tough time right now finding words to describe the people in charge of Celerity that are suitable for kindergarteners to see.

Let's just leave it at that.