June 4, 2011

'Racial Incident' in Texas School Plunges City into Turmoil

By David Paulin

It's being called an ugly "racial incident." As a consequence, Bastrop, Texas, a city of about 8,000 near the capital of Austin, is in turmoil. And a school principal's career is in jeopardy.

There were no racial epithets used in this incident, however. There was no "hate crime." And nobody was discriminated against. Rather, the well-intentioned principal of Bastrop Middle School, Teri Watson, did what liberal lawmakers and government bureaucrats have done for years. She tried to help some of her students by identifying them as members of an underachieving racial group -- rather than as underachieving individuals.

Not long ago, Watson became alarmed upon noticing a troubling trend: Black students as a group were doing far worse academically than other racial and ethnic groups at Bastrop Middle School. Watson, to be sure, had a very good reason for analyzing academic achievement and underachievement based on racial and ethnic groups. That's one way the state itself defines how public schools are performing. Indeed, under the state's own criteria, all racial and ethnic groups must be performing above a certain level. And if one groups falls below acceptable levels, then the entire school's certification and funding are put in jeopardy.

What to do about her badly performing black students whose poor grades posed potentially negative consequences for her school's accreditation? One day last February, Watson took action. Over the school's intercom, a number of eighth grade students were summoned by name to the library. All had one thing in common: They were black.

Facing the group, Watson, who is white, reportedly gave them something of a pep talk. She said "they need to pull together and help each other study to improve their schools," said Catina White-Higgins, a parent whose daughter Felicity was in the group. Watson "had a chart to show them where their scores were low. ... [My daughter] said it made her feel like she was nothing, that she was in trouble. It made her feel bad," she told the Austin American-Statesman, a daily newspaper.

Felicity Higgins told a local television station, "I didn't know what was going on and I was already embarrassed" at being summoned to the library. "Then when I got in there and she started talking about test scores and then she holds up a poster board and that's supposed to mean something to me? It doesn't at all. It doesn't mean anything to me."

Another black student had another complaint -- that she wasn't called to the library because officials mistook her for being white. "They didn't blame me because I was white? Made me feel upset; I was pretty mad," said Hailey Meeks.

The day after Watson's pep talk, the school sent letters to parents apologizing for her conduct. In addition, the school district's superintendent wrote a letter of apology to the community, published in The Bastrop Advertiser, which said Watson had acted improperly, had "apologized profusely," and he indicated that black students were doing poorly due to the "school's academic shortcomings."

It wasn't enough for aggrieved black parents and students in Bastrop. The city is now experiencing the sort of turmoil that inevitably arises when such "racial incidents" occur in post-racial America.

Responding to angry black parents, the school board is implementing a "diversity plan" that among other things will affect future hiring and training. "What we're trying to do is ... put a diversity plan in place in order to address some of the concerns that are out there," Bastrop school district spokesman Donald Williams told the Statesman. He added that the idea is "to move forward and to be able to help our students and our families."

Watson, a veteran educator, is a native of Bastrop and active in community affairs. Yet the hurt she inflicted upon her black students -- all for telling them the truth -- may prove her undoing. Some black parents are calling for Watson's head. White-Higgins said she "has lost a lot of trust [in Watson]. It's kind of like once you severed that trust, it's hard to gain it back."

Last Tuesday evening, black parents and their children held a protest march, walking from a local church to a school board meeting, with some repeating calls for Watson's dismissal. She remains on the job, however.

Would there have been any black outrage if Watson had not been white but black? Better still, what if somebody else had taken Bastrop's black students to task for their lousy grades -- say Bill Cosby, Henry Louis "Skip" Gates, or even President Obama? It's doubtful any "racial incident" would have occurred if such black role models had told Bastrop's black students the truth -- they were academic losers and needed to get their acts together.

One wonders what new "diversity" programs Bastrop's school district will implement. If they're anything like the social engineering programs created by liberal lawmakers and bureaucrats over the years, they may end up creating more problems than they solve.

And unfortunately, the victims of such programs may well be well-intentioned educators like Teri Watson -- and her poorly performing black students.

Originally published at The American Thinker.

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