Why was a Canadian principal mobbed on social media for trying to educate herself about her diverse students and how to best reach them? Why was an American Dean of Students fired for having expressed views on racism in America? And if there is a need for more diversity among educators, then why is the mobbing of educators with diverse viewpoints happening on both sides of the border?
Teacher diversity matters with regard to student learning, and those teachers who lack a personally diverse background should educate themselves on how to teach diverse populations. Yet somehow, Principal Battaglini of the Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School got a progressive tongue lashing on Twitter for doing just that.
Ideological diversity matters too. Indeed, we need more of it. So it’s disturbing (to say the least) to discover that Dean Jamie R. Riley was let go from the University of Alabama for tweeting a belief that many progressive Americans share—that the flag is problematic, and emblematic of a divisive national history.
In introducing a new principal of the Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School, the school posted a photo of her in her office. She was shown smiling beside a book on her desk called The Guide for White Women Who Teach Black Boys. Published in 2017, by Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr. and Ali Michael, Ph.D, the book has positive reviews on Amazon from educators who want to do better to address their own internal biases and better serve their black male students.
Despite this, the existence of this book (on the desk of someone who this book was directly intended for) garnered criticism that either it was offensive that she was reading it, that it was a PR stunt, or that it was sexist as the book was only about “boys.” It was a classic, inane Twitter storm, but it was enough to raise the issue of whether or not it’s racist for an educator to make use of anti-racist literature to be a better educator.
The New York Times recently published on the importance of teacher diversity, noting that “…studies show that teacher diversity can make a difference in students’ performance and their interest in school. The effect is stronger on boys. Research has found that boys, and particularly black boys, are more affected than girls by disadvantages, like poverty and racism, and by positive influences, like high-quality schools and role models. Yet they are least likely to have had a teacher that looks like them.”
So why was the University of Alabama’s assistant vice president and dean of students pushed out not for his job performance, but for expressing his views years ago? Riley’s tweets were brought to light by Breitbart, though the comments were made well before he was appointed to his current position in December 2018. Was Riley really relieved of his position for his views or for having expressed them or for the remarks having been made public?
In Battaglini’s case, the existence of the book on her desk was considered an admission of racism and being inconsiderate to black male students. But her impulse, and the impulse of the authors, was the exact opposite. She was educating herself per the going social mandate, attempting to exorcise her own innate biases, and best serve the students in her charge. Thankfully, she survived her shaming. Riley was not so lucky.
For Riley, this was a tragically successful attempt to destroy his livelihood because he spoke his mind. There’s every reason to believe that the University of Alabama knew about the tweets, and about Riley’s perspective on race and the flag, prior to his hiring. It wasn’t until Breitbart reported on it that the man lost his job. The school should have stood up for Riley, they’d presumably hired him because he was the right candidate for the position, and not because his views conformed to whatever Breitbart thinks they should have. Free speech is only worth fighting for if it’s for all. Considering how many digital pages Brietbart has dedicated to the issue of free speech, it’s a little disturbing to see the outlet succeed in taking away Riley’s.
Surely whether you’re on the right or the left, one thing reasonable people should agree upon is that mobbing and shaming people with the aim of getting them fired is wrong and has helped create this tribalistic hellscape we are currently living in.
For the love of god, let’s do better. We could start by giving Riley his job back, and letting a principal work in peace to serve her students to the best of her ability without getting hate for it.