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Boston Latin School apologizes for student-written descriptions of two neighborhoods

Update: South Boston description posted.

An attempt to teach eighth graders at Boston Latin School how to deal with stereotypes ended today with school officials apologizing to students, parents and school staffers from two heavily White neighborhoods.

As part of a civics class for 13- and 14-year-olds in the eighth grade, students were assigned to write about stereotypes about their neighborhoods - with the goal of then discussing and dealing with those biases.

Many of the descriptions were taped up around the school library, where somebody photographed one about West Roxbury and posted a copy in one of the West Roxbury Facebook groups where people love to commiserate about how the rest of the city hates them, causing an immediate uproar that included one person demanding that the student be punished for writing the following:

To understand West Roxbury ...

To understand West Roxbury, you would have to be white and rich. The blue lives matter flags on almost every damn house. Those local stores on Centre street that are mad expensive for no reason. The Trump supporters. The anti-maskers. The old white people. The slightly racist white people. The Trump supporters. The anti-maskers.

To understand West Roxbury, you really gotta be there. The kids that play lacrosse, baseball or hockey, or all of the above. The CVS that laid off my sister. The Ohrenburger which I attended for 1 and a half years. The white girls who only wear white air forces. The Irish people. The people who get starbucks daily. That one star market I like time and time. The YMCA where Bryce Johnson gets those big gains. The 35 bus which I take almost every day. To understand West Roxbury you really gotta be rich and white.

In e-mail today, Head of School Rachel Skerritt and Associate Head of School Jonathan Mulhern apologized to the BLS community, if not the more outraged members of West Roxbury Facebook groups. Their e-mail referenced an apparently similar description by another student about South Boston:

To the BLS Community:

It came to our attention earlier today that student assignments written about various neighborhoods in Boston as part of an 8th grade civic action project were recently posted in our school library. The intent of the assignment was for students to write personal pieces that consider stereotypes about the neighborhood in which they live, with the ultimate aim of countering biases from within and outside of their communities. However, the impact, particularly in some selections depicting West Roxbury and South Boston, was one where students saw stereotyped and disparaging statements about communities to which they belong. The exhibit has been removed, though we know that this does not remove the harm that was done.

We deeply regret and apologize to members of our school community who were hurt or felt less welcome at BLS as a result of this display, and we thank those who have reached out to our school staff to learn more and express their concerns. While our committed and reflective educators aim to create conditions for students to share their lived experiences with one another, we recognize that displaying these pieces created an inaccurate perception that the viewpoints expressed are widely held or even endorsed by the school itself. This serves as a teachable moment as we continue to build our culturally responsive practices in curriculum and pedagogy.

One of Boston Latin School's greatest strengths is our diversity: our students live in every neighborhood of the city, speak over 40 languages, and represent numerous nationalities, racial identities, religions, and family histories that enrich our school and our city. Every day, our educators seek to affirm each student's pride in all of who they are, and create opportunities for our students to learn about their classmates' identities and backgrounds. We strive to ensure that students are able to discuss issues in our community in a way that honors the complexities of these topics, and that any public sharing of our thoughts and conversations fosters a safe and inclusive space for learning. Unfortunately, in this instance, we fell short of that objective.

Less than a week ago, our community shared in a unifying experience as our students revived our in-person annual Asian Night. Even through our year of remote learning, we found ways to celebrate diverse experiences. We will keep lifting up opportunities to affirm the cultures, identities, and common humanity of all students. The vital need for these efforts is demonstrated over and over again, not only within the walls of BLS, but as we witness division, hatred, and incidents of unimaginable violence across the nation.

Thank you to each of you for every instance that you contribute to the rich fabric of our community, and please reach out with any concerns. We'll be back tomorrow with our Friday updates, and appreciate your continued support.

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Comments

Yes, there are hardly any liquor stores in West Roxbury. Aside from Blanchards, Macy's, Gary's, Dedham Line and Roche Bros. Oh, and that place next to the sex-toy shop on VFW Parkway, next to where the pot shop is going in (somebody alert Kevin's mom - she probably lives in West Roxbury).

You'd save us all some time if you just came out and admitted you're a racist.

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They have taken more than one side of these issues. It is all a game to them.

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I see systemic racism in ways that will hopefully come to light someday for many on this site.

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https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10868674/

Very little research will tell you that liquor stores are in a higher concentration in Black neighborhoods in this country.

Et tu, Brute?

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https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352827320303062

Alcohol sales exclusions: Practice to policy
At the same time that wealthy Whites used urban zoning polices to protect their residential areas from proximity to poor people and people of color, they also sought protection from proximity to non-residential land uses.

Without attending to these historical dimensions, overconcentration of alcohol retailers in “their” neighborhoods may be incorrectly attributed to African American and Latinx residents, and not to the racist structures of practice and policy which lined the foundations of many USA urban neighborhoods.

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The irony of you writing this thinking it’s a gotcha but it’s actually the experience of the black people who live there. You went out of your way to be racist and proved our point. Good job.

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Is actually most of the other commenters, including yourself, proving my point. Racist indeed.

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what point?

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If you had written this in school someone could have taught you not to harbor these stereotypes.

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...didn't you say a few weeks ago you have no idea where anyone would get the idea you're a racist troll?

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You’re sensitive Af. Softer than a marshmallow. I’m black, I live in Mattapan, and not a single word of that offends me. And fyi the people of mattapan are more likely to wear mask than the people in wr, and black girls wearing black air forces and slightly racist black people are not a thing.

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Are more likely to be wearing masks than West Roxbury, that is true. That’s why I didn’t write anti maskers and just wrote people not wearing masks, because one can choose to be angry at anything.

That’s also why I rewrote the piece. If you choose to selectively hold on to negative experiences towards another group of people, you too are racist.

Any person on this planet can be racist, slightly or fully. Slightly racist people of all types and in all countries are definitely a thing. A very, very real thing.

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My high school teacher had us do a similar project about "stereotypes" by creating a slam book including the names of everyone in class and passed it around, and telling us to write how we would stereotype each person.

Then she read each person's page out loud to the whole class. Most of the girls got called bitches, sluts, and losers.

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"West Roxbury - come for the lower than a million house prices, stay for the low key racism and lack of public transit."

Too soon?

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I am white and relatively rich. I grew up in a suburb of Boston very much like the one the student described. I'm also of Irish descent. I find the student's description to be very accurate. Was everyone like that? No of course not, but it sure felt like it sometimes. I really can't even begin to imagine being offended in any way by this. This over-reaction is so far over the top, in a number of ways. We need to stop whitewashing Boston's racism. I love this city but we have to stop denying that there is a serious problem with racism. Of all the great things about the Boston and its people, I have never understood this blind spot. (BTW, I'm also very proud of my Irish ancestry, but that doesn't change the truth I lived in my community and in my own family.)
This over-reaction is a deep embarrassment and only serves to reinforce our racist image, which is not undeserved. Smarten up, people. I am deeply embarrassed by this over-reaction. I do believe that Boston has made progress in addressing racism but very obviously there is still a lot to do.

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This tracks with my experience there

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"As part of a civics class for 13- and 14-year-olds in the eighth grade, students were assigned to write about stereotypes about their neighborhoods - with the goal of then discussing and dealing with those biases."

As a part.

Not as the entire assignment.

If you wanted to have a discussion among some 125 8th graders about stereotypes their peers hold, first you'd need to make kids aware of what those stereotypes are and who holds them. After the writing assignment is complete, you'd want to circulate the students' thoughts, and not by posting them on social media. You might post them in the library and then, during a library period, have students circulate, read the posts and take notes so as to frame their reactions. The final step would be classroom discussions and reflections.

Did the complainant take the step of speaking with administrators so as to have the opportunity to understand the scope of the work? Did he seek a chance to talk with the teacher at school?
Yeah, probably not.

Because in a week which began with 10 people slaughtered in a Buffalo supermarket, White Feelings Matter.

BLS administrators ought to have protected their teacher and methodology, not apologized to a nosy visitor, so immature that he takes on a 13 year old, naming a child on Facebook to fan outrage.

Let's remember who are the donors to the $60 million pot of money held by BLSA, and then it all comes into a clearer focus.

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tbh one of the most objectionable parts of this 'essay' is the line "old white people."

I think one of the worst things about our shallow society is the disrespect for and dismissal of elders. Also this essay is just depressing. Some commenters already defended it by saying it is in the student's 'vernacular' and is expressing their valid experience. Well, they aren't expressing much. It's not well written, and by well written I don't mean grammar - I mean having a clear line of thinking such that it can be expressed in words. These are just listed feelings, the student has not made much effort to think or express.

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is there a different way we should be described than old white people?

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... an "elderly". ;-)

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As for your literary criticism, isn't it supposed to be an expression of "feelings" or opinions? Isn't that what stereotypes are? As far as I can tell, they weren't asked to write a persuasive essay to convince a reader that the stereotypes are true.

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This assignment was not a formal essay. People in this thread should stop judging it as such. It’s no more an essay than your comment is an academic journal article.

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FWIW, Trump/Pence got less than 26% of the 2016 vote in Ward 20. That includes all of W. Roxbury and part of Roslindale. I have seen some "blue line" flags in WR, and I know of some Trump supporters there--5,765 votes by them in Ward 20, though far from a majority.

If part of the assignment is to outline a stereotype of a neighborhood, anything is game, and we should not assume it would have balance or perspective. If you start with personal impressions, that often means whatever stands out, often in a negative way. While lacking or incomplete as social science, or even misinformed, how you feel about what you see or hear is still telling.

Are people in West Roxbury really rich? I grew up in Dorchester and Hyde Park, so my family couldn't afford West Roxbury. That did not keep some people in my neighborhood from thinking I was rich--or at least marginally more so. Even if WR overall is hardly Trump heartland, there may be reasons what some residents or visitors don't feel welcome or think they lack access to some larger kind of community participation. To the extent that depends on money required to participate in youth sports or patronize a business, some people can feel shut out, even if that's not necessarily caused by deliberate racial exclusion. As Sylvie Tissot explained in her book on Boston's South End, exclusion--and the feeling of exclusion--can be generated in other ways.

A civics class should take students to the next level and ask for a reality check on personal impressions or received ideas by going to other sources. Maybe this was exactly what happened at BLS. Racial and economic differences are real, and they deserve to be examined, not just by themselves, but for what they cast into relief about concerns for everyone. And terms thrown around loosely in conversation need to be used with precision, especially in areas where the meanings of words are so hotly contested. I have no problem with students being engaged in civics at a personal, even visceral, level--as long as it's part of process teaching how--but not what--to think.

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perhaps it was a rather effective learning exercise after all.

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we need an elected school committee.

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Here.

Apologies in advance, especially if you're visually impaired: It's a JPG image of the document hanging on a wall, at a slant, with a shadow on it, in the BLS library (credit to Nolan for the photo). I'm going to need a bit of rest before I try to re-type it all; it's pretty long. I did black out the student's name.

Note: The resident BLS expert confirms that the wall it's posted on is, in fact, in the BLS library. I had to ask her partly because the essay, regardless of what you think of the content, is very well written and reads like it was written by somebody a bit older than eighth grade.

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.

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Why couldn’t the other author do a similar take without invoking race?

This was well done and gets the point across without racial animus.

The only time they say Irish is when speaking specifically of the fake Irish accents and annoyances of the St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Disclaimer: I am not even close to Irish.

The other author’s piece is racist, Adam.

“old white people”

The author is upset because people are old and of a certain race? That’s both ageist and racist, if one really cares.

“the white girls who wear white apparel”

Yeah…nothing racist at all from this person.

“The Irish people.”

That’s the whole sentence! I’d love to hear you explain how saying you don’t like an entire race or group of people is not racist.

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Does anyone else see the irony in the "mah freedumb!" political demographic (overwhelmingly white and conservative) openly rallying for blatant and unfettered censorship against a student's reflections on their experiences and the teacher who gave the assignment while simultaneously bemoaning "cancel culture" and the purported stifling of conservative voices on social media? It's almost as if they believe that some people's exercise of their freedoms are privileged over other people's.... hmmmmmmm.

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I never said censor anything and I’m not part of that demographic.

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and like you have a lot of time on your hands.

I bet you can educate yourself as to why mentioning race isn’t racist and why reverse racism doesn’t exist.

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I realize mentioning race is not racist, but when you do it with total disdain for the race you are writing about, it actually is racist. If the teacher had any tact, they could’ve helped the student learn how to portray their thoughts and feelings without sounding full of racial hate.

Anyone can be racist. I know changing definitions is en vogue, but a racist can exist regardless of their appearance or status. I’m not talking about reverse racism and don’t see evidence for that concept either. We agree on that.

Saying a person cannot be guilty of racism but only racial prejudice changes nothing in reality. If a person holds hate in their heart towards another group of people because they are unlike themselves, then that person is racist and needs help to fix their misconceptions.

This assignment was written by the words of a racist and then posted by the school. Those are the facts.

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Naw, racism has nothing to do with fundie talking points. It's marginalizing or perpetuating marginalization of people within the existing power structure. Black folks having had enough of white nonsense is a normal and reasonable response to racism; it isn't racism.

Most racism doesn't involve "hate." It involves well-meaning white people who won't educate themselves and won't really listen to folks who experience racism.

Here, since you "I'm not racist but" types love to quote MLK when you can twist his words to bolster colorblind racism, here is a relevant passage from him actually relevant to the discussion at hand:

First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

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And he’s right. Anyone holding on to the status quo are part of the problem when it comes to any marginalized individuals or groups of people.

I think part of the problem in these conversations lies in the changing definition of racism. Here are two:

Wiki

Racism is the belief that groups of humans possess different behavioral traits corresponding to inherited attributes and can be divided based on the superiority of one race over another.[1][2][3] It may also mean prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against other people because they are of a different race or ethnicity.

Merriam-Webster

1 : a belief that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race

2a : the systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantage of another
specifically : WHITE SUPREMACY

b : a political or social system founded on racism and designed to execute its principles

This second definition was just recently added.

https://www.vox.com/platform/amp/identities/2020/6/10/21286656/merriam-w...

It’s nice they added an update, but that doesn’t mean the first definition just becomes nonexistent. Racism exists in every country, with or without white people. Despite what some think, anyone can be racist. It has nothing to do with talking points. You don’t get to just rewrite definitions and say you’re correct.

Also, taking a direct quote from MLK is not twisting words. The people twisting his words are those who say it’s now racist to judge people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. We are now supposed to all walk around approaching people by skin color first? That’s how a racist would operate.

Living this way does not mean one is totally oblivious to another’s background or life standing based on any part of their identity. It also does not mean you have to approach every single human interaction or life decision from the standpoint of race, because again, that’s what a racist would do.

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This student has uncovered a lot of stereotypes about WR. It sounds like the objective of the lesson was lost, when this student's perceptions are being taken as truths. Now the lesson should focus on understanding how our own biases impact our perceptions and can cause harm. Lumping a people into one negative category is never good for our personal growth and society as a whole. It's important for us all to unpack our own biases no matter the color of our skin or socioeconomic status
.

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