“Growing up, I was told that discrimination would magically disappear if we stop acknowledging racial difference. ‘All people are the same. Skin color doesn’t matter. Only bad people are racist. If we are all nice and well-behaved, racism will go away.’ This is the fallacy of colorblind ideology. It’s a tool to keep us complicit in white supremacy. Don’t be a tool.”
Jeffrey Herskovitz of Queens Parents United and father of a 7-year-old at PS 144 in Forest Hills is concerned because that is a passage on the Books for Littles website that the school sent parents in an email.
“When you click on all these links it’s, to me, extremely bigoted and unhelpful,” Herskovitz said.
Another link, to Parent Tool Kit, quotes Dr. Margaret Hagerman, a sociologist who wrote “White Kids: Growing up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America.”
Herskovitz believes the readings are too mature for elementary school students.
“It’s just that the material sent is college at best because there’s a certain understanding of what you’re reading. To try to promote these ideas to little kids, to me, that’s indoctrination,” Herskovitz said, adding “They’re not [in] high school. They have no power to go outside at any given time without a parent. Wrong level.”
The email was sent in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, as the 46-year-old man was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Protests have occurred around the country criticizing police brutality and calling for change.
Herskovitz, saying the email was well- intentioned, called it a “swing and a miss,” adding, “It’s entirely inappropriate for an elementary school at the end of the day.”
In an email to Herskovitz, PS 144 Principal Reva Gluck-Schneider told him he doesn’t have to use the materials if he doesn’t want to.
“Please do not use any resources you find objectionable,” she wrote. “The resources are being gathered from all kinds of places. I’m sorry if you object, as we are honestly doing our best to be [of] service.”
Gluck-Schneider did not respond to Chronicle emails requesting comment.
DOE spokesman Nathaniel Styer said, “We have seen educators across the city sharing resources, and we are encouraging them to do so, and to connect with their students and families to have open conversations about the past week.”
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, in a June 3 message to families, wrote, “It is hard to recall another time as gut-wrenching and heartbreaking as these recent days have been.”
He added, “Racism also causes new harm in other ways, every day, because it is systemic — woven deeply into the fabric of our institutions, our economy, and the systems that make up our shared community. That is true in New York City, as progressive and forward-thinking as we are, including in our public school system.”
The letter, which can be seen by visiting schools.nyc.gov/togetherforjustice, is followed by resources for families.
Some of the links include guidance for family conversations about George Floyd, racism and law enforcement from the Anti-Defamation League, a story from The New York Times about talking to kids about racism and a link to children’s book sites.
“We will continue to compile resources, share them with staff and families, and encourage educators, students, and families to engage in brave conversations about the killing of George Floyd and racism,” Styer said in an email.