Editorial: Federalist critique of D203 equity training a dangerous distraction

Central Times Staff

Last week, The Federalist, a national conservative online magazine, published a story claiming that a Feb. 26 Naperville District 203 equity training was an “attack” on teachers, specifically white ones. The article was constructed using information leaked to the publication by a staff member from our very own school, who is identified in the story only as a “whistleblower.” The article makes the case that an acknowledgement of and efforts to address systemic racism leads to further discrimination. In addition to making several absurd claims, the article also essentially denies the existence of white privilege or racial injustices within the school system, even going so far as to place terms like antiracism in quotation marks to indicate that they are figurative language.

Momentarily setting its troubled content aside, it must be said that we have seldom seen the lines of opinion and news so horrifically blurred together. As mentioned, there’s the continuous weaponization of punctuation, where quotation marks are used to emphasize an indignation toward opposing beliefs. Loaded language is often used with little context added, and a strategically-worded clickbait headline is used to provoke and mislead readers: “Illinois Teachers Shamed For Color Of Their Skin In Taxpayer-Sponsored ‘Antiracist’ Training.” 

Though Central Times recognizes the right of any publication to align with any ideology and exercise their free speech, at its core, this article is extremely one-sided and deceptive. In fact, the results of an anonymous survey, provided to CT by school administration, showed that 140 of the 146 Central staff who responded agreed that the institute’s content “increased [their] knowledge and ability to better perform in [their] role.”

The problematic article, penned by Gabe Kaminsky, amplifies the charged arguments made by the whistleblower. The whistleblower calls on us to “look at the children as individuals,” and in that, we completely agree. But because an individual’s identity is composed of their race, religion, heritage, gender, sexual orientation, experiences, etc., things they have no control over, it is important to not disregard these facets of their identity. This is exactly what antiracist training teaches.

Another unsubstantiated claim from the whistleblower: “they are saying that if you are white, you are racist and have white privilege. Even if you say you are not racist, you are told you are.” Nowhere does equity training specifically equate being white to being racist; it is the lack of awareness and conscious effort to fight discrimination that creates racism. The colorblind approach to race and ethnicity is now largely seen as a skin-deep dismissal of the problem rather than a friendly acceptance of all people, regardless of their race.

The Central Times commends Naperville District 203’s efforts to provide educators and staff with ongoing equity training and vehemently denounces Kaminsky’s article and its attempt to sell us ideology as fact.”

From our vantage point, the inherent harm in antiracism training is that it might make the trainees uncomfortable. And yet, uncomfortable is an underwhelming word to describe how many of our marginalized students feel at Central on a regular basis. Perhaps you’re aware of the incidents that have been rightfully picked up by national news media, such as when, two years ago, a Naperville Central student posted islamophobic comments on their Snapchat to “commemorate” 9/11, or last year, when a Naperville Central student posted a Craigslist advertisement designating a Black student as a “slave for sale.” Others go unaddressed. At our school, a teacher can—and did—say “chink” (a racial slur) in front of a Chinese student without reprimand, while another teacher recently defended a colleague’s use of the n-word during a meeting.

When these events occur, both students and staff members are typically too afraid to report them, which contributes to an already suffocating air of silence in our schools. This anonymous whistleblower who felt they couldn’t speak their mind to district administrators only further highlights the asphyxiating culture here. Therefore, the problem we should address isn’t antiracism training like Kaminsky claims, but a lack of open discourse, which the equity institute actually provided for. 

The Central Times commends Naperville District 203’s efforts to provide educators and staff with ongoing equity training and vehemently denounces Kaminsky’s article and its attempt to sell us ideology as fact. It is the acknowledgement of disparities within our community and a united effort to alleviate those inequities that will ultimately lead to fewer incidents of racism and discrimination, helping more students succeed in their learning environment. 

Despite being a moderately conservative community, Naperville by and large recognizes the legacy of race in this country, and the work our school district and city council has started reflects a collective will to address that narrative. We should not feel guilty or confused by the oversimplified, harmful views of a tiny minority, because those opinions have been blown out of proportion by underhanded means. We are all obligated to stand by our progress, march forward without fear and fix the issues of the day. Only then can we, in the words of the whistleblower, “create a society that works together, a society that has the values that our country was founded on.”