Last week, elementary school principal Mike Madison took a group of students to see a rocket scientist. The problem is that he only allowed African American students to attend the trip. Madison wrote a letter home to parents to defend the field trip for black students only as part of his school’s efforts to close the achievement gap between white and black students.
As soon as the students returned from the trip, the controversy began. They were greeted with a chorus of boos from fellow classmates who stayed behind. These fifth grades students knew instantly that they were now the victims of racism. Madison heard the commotion and promptly came to reprimand the students for their “highly inappropriate” response and explain the rationale for the trip.
Some parents have complained to the district administrators about Madison and the inclusive field trip. AnnArbor.com has also been contacted about the situation but no one would agree to talk on the record, citing concerns of reprisals to their children by Madison. District spokeswoman Liz Margolis doesn’t believe the school broke any laws but is looking into it. School officials also plan to discuss the field trip Thursday at a parent-teacher organization meeting.
I am not going to sit here and scream racism over this. I believe Madison had good intentions at heart. He was just trying help his African American students excel and close the achievement gap. His perception of the problem is badly misguided. The white students are not excelling at the expense of the black students. The gap is not being created by advantages for the white students. Undoubtedly, some social issues are the root of this problem. What should the principle do? The principle can work to benefit all students especially his African American students. Some examples are before and after school studies and activities. Field trips to see successful, exciting, (African American) professionals at work are a good idea. Why should we single out a group of people by their race or ethnicity and exclude them from benefits? Madison writes,
“In hindsight, this field trip could have been approached and arranged in a better way…. But as I reflect upon the look of excitement, enthusiasm and energy that I saw in these children’ s eyes as they stood in the presence of a renowned African American rocket scientist in a very successful position, it gave the kids an opportunity to see this type of achievement is possible for even them.”
Would the enthusiasm and energy not exist if the white students had attended?
Who knew wearing patriotic clothing could be disrespectful? The education store getting the most attention in the national media is taking place in California, where Assistant Principal Miguel Rodriguez thinks it was done in malice and gave five students the option to turn the clothes inside out or go home. The students, some of which are bi-racial Mexican Americans refused and were sent home. In his defense, it was Cinco De Mayo and he has a large population of Mexican American students. I can see where this may have caused a distraction in his school. But while allowing others to display to their patriotism he singled out the ones wearing red, white, and blue. This unfairly limited their freedom of speech, singling out one group to punish in favor of another. The school district agrees that the school made a mistake and is investigating further into the incident.