The School District of Philadelphia is standing behind a lesson plan teaching 5th graders about a “Black Communist” from the 1960’s after a conservative leaning reporter broke the news of the assignment.
Three weeks ago, Christopher Rufo published an article called “Bad Education” in City Journal. It detailed controversial class instruction along with pictures of the curriculum that had been leaked to him.
“According to whistleblower documents and a source within the school, a fifth-grade teacher at the inner-city William D. Kelley School designed a social-studies curriculum to celebrate the political radical Angela Davis, praising the ‘black communist’ for her fight against ‘injustice and inequality,’” Rufo reported. “As part of the lesson, the teacher asked students to ‘describe Davis’ early life,’ reflect on her vision of social change, and ‘define communist’—presumably in favorable terms.”
Rufo then claimed that the lesson culminated with students being instructed to conduct a “Free Angela Davis” protest.
A fifth-grade teacher at the inner-city William D. Kelley School designed a social-studies curriculum to celebrate the political radical Angela Davis, praising the ‘black communist’ for her fight against ‘injustice and inequality…
Davis is a long-time radical activist who was acquitted by an all-white jury on charges of murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy related to a deadly shootout in a California courtroom in 1970.
She has had a sometimes fraught career in academia and has a long history with international communist and socialist regimes. Most notably, at the height of the Cold War, Davis traveled to Moscow in 1979 to receive the Lenin Peace Prize and at the ceremony praised “the glorious name” of Vladimir Lenin.
The “case study” handout to students was titled, “Black Communist,” and, as Rufo pointed out, asked the children to define communism with the help of a dictionary.
District spokeswoman Monica Lewis said the materials were not a part of the district’s main curriculum, but that the lesson was appropriate all the same.
“The School District of Philadelphia has taken a stand to acknowledge and dismantle systems of racial inequity,” Lewis told Broad + Liberty. “There is a plethora of research and data that shows disparities in K-12 education, disparities that can only be rectified through a thoughtful and sensitive approach.
“Only by creating an equitable and inclusive climate in all schools and offices, can we fully achieve our mission to deliver on the civil right of every child in Philadelphia to an excellent public-school education and ensure all children graduate from high school ready to succeed, fully engaged as a citizen of our world,” she added.
Lewis’ entire response on behalf of SDP is included below.
Longtime civil rights and education activist Bob Woodson slammed the district’s rationale.
“What does this have to do with reading and writing?” Woodward began. “Secondly, this sounds like indoctrination, it doesn’t sound like a history lesson. I just think it’s, it’s destructive. Black communism?
“But you know, what troubles me more is when you look at the performance of the students. When I look at some of the numbers coming from this school, 94 percent of the kids are black and only 13 percent of the Kelly students will have achieved basic literacy — 13 percent and they have the worst school in the state of Pennsylvania. And instead of inspiring the students about the merits of the system in which they are living, they are decrying the system and its values and saying, it’s almost providing the children with an excuse for not performing.”
The 13 percent statistic comes from Rufo’s article in City Journal which did not have a citation. But according to the “Future Ready PA Index,” which tracks school performance, the William D. Kelley school badly lags the statewide average achievement in English, Math, and Science.
For the 2018-19 school year, only 20 percent of the children in the Kelley school were proficient or advanced in English, compared a statewide average of 62 percent; in math, only 11 percent of Kelley’s students were proficient versus 45 percent statewide; and 28 percent of Kelley’s students were proficient in science and biology while the statewide average was 66.
The school is 93 percent Black students, and 86 percent of the student body come from economically disadvantaged homes.
I really think that the leadership in the Philadelphia school system is really using the whole race grievance narratives as an excuse for not doing what the school system is paid to do, and that is to teach children how to read and write.
Woodson said he is seeing more lessons and curriculum like this every year, but believes the 1619 Project by the New York Times was an especially important catalyst, saying the newspaper helped “mainstream” these kinds of materials in the classroom.
“I really think that the leadership in the Philadelphia school system is really using the whole race grievance narratives as an excuse for not doing what the school system is paid to do, and that is to teach children how to read and write,” Woodson concluded. “[Black] literacy rates even under segregation were higher than they are now. And so I think that the school system should be challenged as well as the teacher’s union for teaching kids how to read and write, not use them as sources of indoctrination.”
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter.
School District of Philadelphia statement from spokeswoman Monica Lewis:
School District of Philadelphia statement from spokeswoman Monica Lewis:
The School District of Philadelphia has taken a stand to acknowledge and dismantle systems of racial inequity. There is a plethora of research and data that shows disparities in K-12 education, disparities that can only be rectified through a thoughtful and sensitive approach. Only by creating an equitable and inclusive climate in all schools and offices, can we fully achieve our mission to deliver on the civil right of every child in Philadelphia to an excellent public-school education and ensure all children graduate from high school ready to succeed, fully engaged as a citizen of our world.
When publications and writers publish disinformation and mischaracterizations about race and curriculum without attempting to verify the truth or fact-check, they further perpetuate institutional racism and bias that we unfortunately see in our society. As a fundamental part of our democracy, newsrooms and publications have an obligation to also confront systematic bias, especially in their editorial processes. When they fail to do so, they further reiterate the work that needs to be done and affirm why the School District of Philadelphia has made this commitment.
In regards to the lesson referenced in Mr. Rufo’s piece, it is not a part of the District’s elementary curriculum. However, teachers throughout the District are encouraged to develop their own lessons and units around historically marginalized groups and people aligned with established academic standards in each subject that is coordinated, articulated and implemented in a manner designed to result in the achievement of academic standards at the proficient level of all students. As part of ongoing professional development, teachers often develop curriculum in the Teacher Institute of Philadelphia (TIP), hosted by educators at the University of Pennsylvania. TIP has developed and shared a unit plan entitled, “African American Hair, Freedom and Civil Rights: Using Film, Media and African American Hair Styles to Analyze Civil Rights,” to help teachers from throughout the region introduce lessons on historically marginalized groups.
The School District of Philadelphia believes that incorporating narratives of a wide variety of voices, including those whose narratives have been historically marginalized, must be regarded as an asset to teaching and learning and will provide a more enriching and authentic learning experience for all students in Philadelphia regardless of racial identity.