THE HUB - Feature Article

  • George Arlotto: This time, we must heed the alarm on white privilege

    Posted by Melvin Edwards on 6/17/2020

    At a recent protest in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, a young girl stood solemnly holding a sign with 19 words that should touch all of our souls: “George Floyd isn’t a ‘wake-up call.’ The same alarm has been ringing since 1619. Y’all just keep hitting snooze.”

    The message conveyed in the photo circulating online is sharp. It’s biting. It’s hurtful.

    It’s true.

    It’s true that for 401 years the society in which we live has developed and thrived on a white privilege so expansive that many can’t see it, much less understand the impact. It’s true that even those with the best of intentions have failed to do enough to enact the necessary change.

    The alarm sounded by Floyd’s horrific and inexcusable death is one we cannot ignore. Not this time. We must wake up, for we have mountains of work to do.

    The results will not come overnight, but the work must be done with haste. We haven’t a moment more to spend on how we got here; we must admit that the path to the place we now find ourselves has been littered with oppression, discrimination, inequity, and a privilege that has allowed both subconscious and conscious actions to result in systemic inequalities.

    So how do we get not just where we want to go, but where we need to go? First, we must acknowledge where we’ve been wrong. Second, we must do something about it.

    Have we, over centuries of education, whitewashed the history and contributions of African-Americans? The answer is yes. We must do better. I must do better.

    Our Office of Equity and Accelerated Student Achievement and our Academics Team are leading the charge to examine materials from across the country to create rubrics surrounding cultural literacy and sensitivity to use as we develop curriculum. This work aligns with the Educational Equity policy adopted by our Board of Education in May as well as the Maryland State Department of Education’s Guide to Educational Equity. It will result in more well-rounded and inclusive materials delivered in more culturally appropriate ways for all students.  

    We are also putting a workgroup together to create a second Global Community Citizenship Course that will focus on social justice. That group will include members of our community and will help develop a course I expect to have in place for the 2021-22 school year.

    In elementary and middle school, we are expanding and enhancing our Second Step curriculum to not just talk about themes such as kindness, empathy, and inclusion, but to bring to life stories of people of all races and ethnicities who epitomize these values. These lessons can provide a way for us to allow all students to see people with whom they more closely identify in their daily lives.

    We also continue to work with our school resource officers to define roles and enhance a program that has been a model in Maryland and beyond. In addition to their police department duties, our SROs are mentors, coaches, and role models for our students. They are committed to establishing relationships that last long after our students leave us.

    No matter the relationship, we also must be willing to have courageous conversations, even when they may be painful. Our executive team will study Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” this summer. In addition to our student forum, our Office of Equity and Accelerated Student Achievement will team with Kindness Grows Here to host an adult forum later this month. I envision even more community conversations in the coming months.

    This is a path that can engage and uplift not just our children, but our communities. That can only happen, however, if we wake up and act together.

    George Arlotto is superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools. He can be reached at superintendent@aacps.org.

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