(Host) Recently, the superintendent of the Burlington School District
released her action plan for diversity and equity. Commentator Rich
Nadworny is an expert on new media and digital marketing with two
children attending Burlington schools. And he’s concerned that the plan
faces the additional challenge of uniting a divided community.
In Burlington a battle is raging at the school board and in the
community over the issue of diversity. A group called Diversity Now
helped author a task force report in which they argued that racism
pervades the Burlington School system, based on data analysis and
anecdotal evidence. They topped off the report by claiming that white
middle-class Judeo-Christian culture is inherently racist.
you can imagine that hasn’t gone over so well among the mostly white
middle-class teachers and parents in the school district. When one
teacher pushed back and challenged the diversity task force data, he was
met with an angry response and demands that he be silenced or fired.
the latest school board meetings, the Diversity Now group has demanded
that the board fire Superintendent Jeanne Collins. One speaker even
compared the board and the high school administration to the KKK.
other meetings, numerous parents and teachers proclaim their support
for the superintendent and the work that the schools are doing.
be honest, I think this feels more like the infighting in Washington
D.C. than it does a diversity discussion in Burlington Vermont. While we
don’t have a T-Party, it’s starting to feel like we have a D-Party
Burlington is a rapidly changing city. As a
resettlement city, we welcome new Americans to our state and country,
many of whom don’t speak any English, including Vietnamese, Bosnians,
Somalis and Nepalese, to name a few. Our schools – my kids’ schools – are a
racial and ethnic mixture that is spectacular to behold. It’s one of
the reasons many of us parents want to live here.
puts tremendous pressure on our schools to integrate these new Americans
while at the same time pursuing ever-higher educational standards for
And, yes, racism sadly does exist. But the high school
teachers and students I talk with, insist that they take it seriously
and act on it when it happens. I understand the anger and energy of the
diversity parents. When someone treats my kids badly, especially in
school, I become, to paraphrase my least favorite politician, a Papa
Grizzly. When that happens, I want change, now.
That may be
partly why the superintendent’s diversity action plan received such a
cold reception from the diversity advocates as being too little, too
I know that almost everyone’s heart is in the right place
here and that everyone wants to help the situation to get better. But
the inflammatory words, the name calling and the demands for heads to
roll, only serve to push us further apart from one another.
almost seems as if we’re acting in a really bad version of West Side
Story where everyone sings off-key and no one can dance. All we’re left
with are the knives.
I can’t help thinking that the kids might
do a much better job of solving this than we adults are doing. I wonder
if anyone’s asked them yet.