There’s a lot we don’t know about why a C.K. McClatchy High School student was able to show off his blatantly racist “science” project for two whole days before it was mercifully removed.
But what we do know is that, at yet another Sacramento County school, racism reared its ugly head, and the adults whose job it is to supervise students and defuse such divisiveness utterly failed to do so.
It happened at Mira Loma High School, where teachers and administrators with the San Juan Unified School District downplayed the routine harassment of two black students, Makayla Madkins and De’Ajhane Caldwell, by a classmate in the school’s prestigious International Baccalaureate program.
It also happened at Pleasant Grove High School, where teachers and administrators with Elk Grove Unified School District brushed off complaints from Rachael Francois, a black student who said she had been called the N-word and that small nooses had been found hanging from trees on campus.
And now, it’s happening at McClatchy and the Sacramento City Unified School District.
It took until last Wednesday for someone at the Land Park school to take down the now infamous student project, titled “Race and IQ,” from the Mini Science Fair. Slapped together with pink construction paper, tape and minimal research, the student, who peers say is of Northeast Asian descent, set out to prove that the racial disparity in McClatchy’s elite Humanities and International Studies Program was justified.
To do that, he gave a handful of teenagers an online IQ test, and found that “non-Hispanic whites and Northeast Asians have an IQ advantage of fifteen points over blacks and Southwest Asians, and 10 points over non-white Hispanics.” Therefore, he concluded, black, Hispanic and Southeast Asian teenagers aren’t as smart as those who are white and Northeast Asian.
Not only was the project racist, the methodology was the very definition of junk science and should be beneath the standards of an elite academic program.
Which raises the question: Where were the teachers when the student floated his half-baked idea? Why did no one intervene to turn this into a teachable moment?
And where were the administrators when the inevitable uproar started – first from students, then from parents and then, as word spread on social media, from around the globe?
Our community deserves answers. More to the point, we shouldn’t have to keep asking the same questions – not at McClatchy and not at any other high school in California in the 21st century.
A plan by Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Jorge Aguilar to examine the lack of diversity in the district’s elite academic programs is a good start, but real change will require more than just enrolling more teenagers of color.
“The use of racially offensive language in our schools, by anyone, does not reflect our values as a school district and will not be tolerated,” Aguilar said in a video message released Saturday, hours after The Bee’s Diana Lambert and Anita Chabria published a story about the embarrassing episode at McClatchy. “ ... Yes, we’ll respect freedom of speech, but we will also uphold our duty to limit speech that is likely to cause disruptions to our students.”
Teachers and administrators have to be more sensitive to allegations of racism and more proactive about addressing it in the classroom, even when that means setting the most stubborn students straight.
Sacramento holds itself up as a beacon of decency, diversity and inclusion. It’s time we start walking the walk, not just talking the talk.