News Analysis Jun 1, 2021 10:41 PM EST

Minnesota's teacher of the year claims school culture is 'embedded in white supremacy'

An explanation of critical race theory in the US education system still fails to quash concerns even when an award-winning teacher tries defending it.

Minnesota's teacher of the year claims school culture is 'embedded in white supremacy'
Nick Monroe Cleveland, Ohio
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When it comes to the debate surrounding Critical Race Theory and the fight against it in our society, we need to make sure we're looking at the big picture. It's one thing to hear about Disney making their conservative employees feel uncomfortable. But when you get that news it's wrapped in a layer of scandal from the get-go.

Chris Rufo is an outspoken critic of CRT. He's the one who first broke the story.

For reference here's his definition of the ideology and its application of practice.

But how did a massive conglomerate like Disney fall privy to introducing partisan politics in the workplace? Moreover, what shifted the US public education system in the past few years towards being this culture war minefield it is today?

Buckle up, ladies and gents. Now we finally have a chance to properly hear the argument from the other side.

The podcast interview between the Nomadic Hustle channel and Minnesota's 2020 teacher of the year, Qorsho Hassan, is enlightening from start to finish. That's because the approachable and kind nature of Ms. Hassan allows you to more clearly distinguish the moments where the universal values of being a teacher flirt with 2021's divisive dogma known as CRT.

This 43-second snippet posted on Twitter by MythInformed doesn't convey the seemingly upbeat and supportive tone Qorsho Hassan expresses throughout the hour-long discussion.

"Well why are students of color struggling? Why are they having a hard time integrating or acclimating to school culture? And the reality is, is that the school culture is embedded in white supremacy. And the system is really teachers, white teachers, they're the ones that are in the majority of the classrooms. Upholding white supremacy and making sure that you know…. they are the gatekeepers."

"Whether they realize it or not. Like you can say 'oh you know I wasn't aware' that this student of color was facing food insecurity…" she continues. Qorsho Hassan says when describing disadvantaged students in the classroom.

But now for the background.

Qorsho Hassan was born in Louisiana to Somali parents. So there's a duality between that heritage alongside American culture in her ideological development.

The start of the Somali Civil War is unclear but Qorsho Hassan's parents escaped before it broke out. She had to grow up in a one-parent household because her dad died in a car accident. It left her mother to take on multiple jobs to sustain Qorsho's well-being and upbringing (along with an older sister).

That's how Ms. Hassan found herself in Atlanta, Georgia. She remembers it fondly for being around other black and brown students, using the phrase being around "people that looked like me." Qorsho is careful to point out her teachers were white though.

She's proud to be Somali and black. But she also felt like an outcast during her early years, as first through third grade was hard because she needed to learn English and was also frequently subjected to behavior intervention otherwise.

Qorsho Hassan said she acted out in class because it seemed like that's what the other students expected her to do anyway. It wasn't until fourth grade that Hassan had a teacher who asked her about her culture and what she enjoyed reading. She drew from that refresh of inspiration began excelling in her classes as a result.

While Hassan's childhood was very American she recalls her mother learning about the deaths of Somali friends back in their home country.

Qorsho Hassan said she never wanted to be a teacher until her last year at Ohio State University. It was there she started volunteering for the AmeriCorps program and was exposed to Columbus City school district youth. A crowd she describes as "mostly black and brown" pre-K students, Hassan connected with the kids and worked on improving their literacy skills.

She fell in love with the energy. It's here that the foundation of Qorsho's teaching perspective is established. Ms. Hassan believes she has the future in her classroom, and it was her duty to mold these minds properly.

Qorsho says she went about fulfilling that responsibility by bringing in community members and spotlighting different careers. One time she brought in a Somali Muslim police officer, and the kids asked him all these "inclusion and diversity" related questions.

"I taught them well," Hassan said.

Hassan believes being a teacher in 2020 and 2021 is like building a plane in mid-air. By her stating it's now the time to "transform and innovate education," she means taking advantage of the current period of American political instability.

"2020 illuminated for a lot of white educators what was already there," Qorsho Hassan says at roughly the 18-minute mark. What happens when "students of color" fail tests? She believes it's the system's fault, and that the kids who are expected to learn responsibility did nothing wrong.

The mantra of Qorsho Hassan's teachings is that students can't learn through suffering. Instead, it's only possible when all of their basic needs of food, WiFi access, adults, and safety are already met.

But in addition, she also believes that the "school to prison pipeline" causes students of color to be conditioned to be criminalized.

It's around this point in the podcast we return to the portion highlighted by MythInformed. Qorsho Hassan openly claimed that school culture is embedded in white supremacy, and white teachers are gatekeepers of this whether or not they realize it.

An interesting point Ms. Hassan brings up: the introduction of virtual learning in early 2020 changed a fundamental dynamic of education. Teachers saw the living conditions of their students for the first time.

This is an observation that immediately presents a class-based argument. However Qorsho Hassan believes treating every student equally doesn't consider the potential that different students have different needs. She sees mentally labeling students on the basis of their skin color is the solution to that.

When it comes to Qorsho Hassan's teaching stint in Malaysia (roughly 22 minutes 40 seconds in), it hits the theme of why this whole situation with critical race theory and education is ultimately alienating.

Hassan gripes about "anti-blackness" being rampant in Malaysia because of the native population's opinions of Nigerians.  However on the other hand (at 24:38) Qorsho Hassan is smug about what she said was her "deviating" from the "imperialistic" system in place. That is explained by her to mean the purpose of her trip was teaching the English language and American culture, and not delivering.

Qorsho Hassan worked at a high-poverty alternative school for Somali families in Columbus, Ohio, for roughly four years after returning from their Malaysia excursion. Zero tolerance policies didn't work for "kids of color" according to Hassan, not making it clear if she believes white students needed to be held to a higher standard.

It was a time where Qorsho Hassan was allowed to experiment because her students had high test score returns.

Qorsho Hassan doesn't come off as a dishonest person, at all. She readily admitted to the podcast host that she had no idea what the Minnesota Teacher of the Year award was, before being nominated. Hassan didn't rule out the potential of it being spam, a perfectly genuine reaction.

After realizing the award was real, though, it sounds like Qorsho Hassan put in the work that the nomination process entails to be finalized.

"Did you think you'd actually win?" the host asked. "Nope!" Hassan happily replied. Qorsho had only been in Minnesota for three years and that formed a lot of her basis for doubts.

The principal who nominated Qorsho labeled her a "changemaker." She was very direct about pointing out perceived "inequalities" at the school where she worked.

Hassan says at 32 minutes 40 seconds that, unlike a "typical white male," Qorsho's principal mentor took her criticism "in stride."

But then Qorsho Hassan switches back to being a universally relatable human being. She was nervous about giving a speech when winning the Minnesota Teacher of the Year award, like anyone and everyone in her position would easily also be.

The reality of being the first Somali American teacher doesn't in itself scream political correctness. It can physically happen as a matter of fact, separate from ideological framing.

From what Ms. Hassan said she seemed to feel empowered by the visibility of the occasion. Enough that she chose to share the moment of public attention and its electricity with the rest of her community, which is commendable. Other Somali educators across the USA felt inspired by Qorsho Hassan's victory based on her race and reach out to her in turn, to share in the positive energy of that impact.

If that was the only aspect to this conversation, it'd be a different story.

However (at 38 minutes 35 seconds) in what Ms. Hassan calls "whitelash," the high-profile nature of the announcement of her winning the teacher of the year award meant emails saying she won because she was a Somali and/or Muslim.

Qorsho said it was hurtful in the sense that it fed into her feeling of imposter syndrome. Something that people of all different races have.

The name-calling offended her.

With that in mind, it’s unclear why (again) at the 40-minute mark, she's happily entertaining using the phrase "whitelash" again to describe another controversy involving her career.

Qorsho Hassan read Something Happened in Our Town: A Child's Story About Racial Injustice in her classroom. It's a kid's book about a white family and a black family both reacting to an officer-involved shooting of a black man in their community. She read it to her class in October 2020 after George Floyd's death. The controversy led the largest police union in Minnesota to complain to Minnesota's governor.

Here's that letter.

"Language in this book leaves the impression unchecked that police officers routinely pull over, arrest, and kill black people without consequence. It says cops are 'mean to black people' or 'shot them because they were black' or police officers 'stick up for each other' to help police officers get away with doing bad things. This book encourages children to fear police officers as unfair, violent, and racist."

Qorsho Hassan says she spent the weeks before the incident "affirming" to the students her support of their identities, to make sure they felt "positively about being black or being brown or even being white."

This seems to contradict something Hassan stated earlier that students of color needed to be treated differently than white students for the sake of equity.

Qorsho Hassan says it was her duty to teach a group of fourth-graders about "patterns." She says that includes teaching her students how to check if their parents at home are racist.

When it comes to reading Something Happened in Our Town, Hassan frames it as an explanation to fourth graders asking her “how do police get away with murder,” "why does this keep happening," and "why did George Floyd have to die?"

The main thing to take away from this part of the discussion: Qorsho Hassan redefines "objectivity" as teaching her students how to be "anti-racist" and making that accessible in kid-friendly terms.

Qorsho Hassan says police have a narrative of "protecting and serving," but in her view, they're only "protecting and serving white communities." Meanwhile, Hassan believes police are "predominantly harming and criminalizing black communities."

This Nomadic Hustle podcast host described going to school in Maine circa 2003, 2004. He said at his middle school there was a fight in the cafeteria. His old principal had no idea who was in the fight, so to compromise (in the principal's point of view) he just said on the intercom: "ALL Somalians come to the office."

A gesture that'd have the teacher fired in 2021. But on the flipside of that is the fact the teacher would've been fired in 2021. American society as a general whole, both Left and Right, still understands what the common sense middle-ground is in terms of racial equality.

The racism of even 2003 - 2004 is not happening in the classroom now. Instead what we're left with is Qorsho Hassan's definition of racism in the education system. She says kids of color still experience racism every day "without even realizing it."

Hassan says the following are examples of 2021 racism in the classroom:

  1. Mispronouncing a student's name? That's apparently racist.
  2. Tell a "BLACK" boy to put his hood down and pull his pants up is racist, according to Ms. Hassan. By signaling out black people only in this example it leads to a whole other swath of questions in itself.
  3. Telling people to speak English and stop talking in their "first" language is racist, a statement made under the assumption that English isn't a child's first language in the first place.

These so-called "microaggressions" (Qorsho's characterization of it) creates a toxic environment where minority "students are policed for existing."

At the 49-minute mark, Qorsho Hassan decides to say policing behaviors and the rubric of a student's learning are one and the same. If an authority figure is punishing a student too much it'll make them feel alienated from what everyone else is learning.

BUT ALSO, according to Qorsho Hassan, what everyone else is learning only "reflects the white part of the classroom."

By Hassan's characterization she limits a student's capacity to behave and be productive in a collective setting as inherently connected to their race.

However a part of Qorsho realizes the podcast conversation needs to get back on track, so she changes subject to the public push for "ethnic studies" and preserving the version of history Ms. Hassan says is the "accurate" characterization. That is to say: Qorsho believes (and teaches) that European settlers came to America explicitly to destroy Native communities and enslave African Americans.

In Hassan's retelling there's no room to argue that the slavery and fighting with Native Americans happened by immediate circumstance alone, in contrast to the belief there was immediate malice.

In closing, Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year believed "Derek Chauvin is not an anomaly." After the George Floyd incident it was a focal point where the focus shifted to this CRT dogma being introduced into the classroom.

The Nomadic Hustle podcast asks Qorsho Hassan to give advice to Somali students who might be listening. Hassan responds with the universal "be true to yourself" slogan of guidance. But based on the conversation she had in the past hour? It's unclear if Qorsho Hassan would give that same guidance to white students.

Our ongoing confusion and contention regarding CRT is because as an agenda it has a higher prioritization on controlling the language and terminologies used in the classroom setting.

It's only made more clear with recent court decisions, like the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals saying the Biden administration using a "race-based approach" to distribute COVID-19 relief funds was unconstitutional.

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