Buffalo Public Schools (BPS) in Erie County, New York, found itself the subject of national headlines this week for its work incorporating anti-racist principles into its curriculum.
BPS, a district that serves about 34,000 students in New York’s second-largest city, also drew attention last year for its introduction of Black Lives Matter (BLM) curriculum. Schools across the U.S. have implemented similar content into their lessons since 2016, seeking to establish more robust material around racial justice, African American history and structural racism.
The curriculum has received pushback from the right along with accusations that its teachings are “anti-white” and inappropriate for school.
SCOOP: Buffalo Public Schools claims “all white people” perpetuate systemic racism and forces kindergarteners to watch a video of dead black children warning them about “racist police and state-sanctioned violence.”
I’ve obtained whistleblower documents that will shock you.🧵
— Christopher F. Rufo ⚔️ (@realchrisrufo) February 23, 2021
This week, the City Journal, which is a public policy magazine and website published by the conservative Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, published an article by Christopher F. Rufo on BPS’ curriculum, stirring outrage from conservatives online and in the news.
Among other claims, users chided the district for allegedly telling students that “all white people perpetuate systemic racism.”
Buffalo Public Schools claim ‘all white people’ perpetuate systemic racism and force kindergarteners to watch video of dead black children warning them about ‘racist police and state-sanctioned violence’ https://t.co/c106zWAxek
— James Hirsen (@thejimjams) February 24, 2021
Dr. Fatima Morrell, BPS’ associate superintendent for Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Initiatives, led the charge for the incorporation of BLM-based curricula for grades K-12 for the 2020-2021 school year. It is derived from the organization Black Lives Matter at School, an educator-driven movement advocating for racial justice in education.
Its guiding principles include “restorative justice,” “empathy,” “loving engagement,” “trans affirming,” “globalism,” “queer affirming” and others aimed at expanding community understanding of racial justice.
BLM at School lists its goals as ending zero-tolerance discipline, encouraging districts to hire more Black teachers, mandating Black history and ethnic studies in all grades, and redirecting funding spent on police in schools to counselors for students.
As part of the new initiative at BPS, middle school students begin learning terms like “systemic racism” and are provided an article by sociologist Niki Lisa Cole. In the article, Cole defines systemic racism and explores race relations, racial wealth disparities and how power structures in historical and modern contexts.
In one small section titled “The Power of White Elites,” Cole discusses the role of white elites in maintaining and changing racial status quos.
“While all White people and even many POC [people of color] play a part in perpetuating systemic racism, it is important to recognize the powerful role played by White elites in maintaining this system,” Cole wrote in her article.
“White elites, often unconsciously, work to perpetuate systemic racism via politics, law, educational institutions, the economy, and racist representations and the underrepresentation of people of color in mass media,” Cole added. “This is also known as white supremacy.”
Morrell told WKBW Buffalo that the curriculum is designed to empower students and teach historically marginalized voices. The materials are meant to be used as “fodder for discussion,” not hard and fast facts. She called the claims that the district is telling students that all white people perpetuate racism a decontextualization pulled out to be “sensational.”
“It’s not our job to change someone’s research. What we do is we give our students the research base, and we are teaching our students to critically think and to question all things that they learn in school,” she said.
“Historically, we know that we have been marginalized in these spaces. So we are really just trying to piece together the whole quilt of human experience in our curriculum and deliver that.”
It’s true that one of BPS’ middle school teaching materials includes an article that states, “While all White people and even many POC play a part in perpetuating systemic racism, it is important to recognize the powerful role played by White elites in maintaining this system.”
However, educators at BPS are not organizing lesson plans around that one phrase, which is for middle school students only, nor are they pushing any of the research as hard and fast facts.
Buffalo police officers are shown talking to an elderly protestor, before the man was shoved to the ground, on June 4, 2020, during a Black Lives Matter rally. WBFO / Twitter