School District Curriculum Website Still Offline in Censorship Dispute with Teachers

Oct 10, 2014

Posted in Arts and CultureEducation/Schools/YouthEqual Rights/Equity

By Ashley Chambers

Oakland teachers are still waiting to see if the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) will re-establish a curriculum website that provided federally funded history curriculum units that encouraged students to study and evaluate social justice issues

The website was shut down after Fox News published an article that contained complaints from the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police on one lesson plan.

The website, called “Urban Dreams,” consists of 27 curriculum units developed by educators.

“Academic and professional freedom is essential to the teaching profession. When these criteria are met, even controversial issues may be an appropriate part of the instructional program,” said National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia in a letter to OUSD.

Craig Gordon

The site was shut down by OUSD in April, without public notice, immediately after the Fox News story was published alleging that one unit by Urban Dreams teacher Craig Gordon compared Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Mumia Abu-Jamal, a renowned journalist now serving life in prison for the killing of a Philadelphia police officer in 1981.

Gordon’s unit introduced high school juniors to Dr. King’s views that are more unknown to the public highlighting his opposition to the War in Vietnam and his advocacy of racial solidarity and how his ideas are censored or ignored by mass media.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García

Using what they learned in the unit, one lesson asks students to look at the media censorship and distortion that have impacted the case of Abu-Jamal

As a whole, the lessons in the Urban Dreams curriculum seek to engage students’ critical thinking skills and challenge them to look at historical issues through different lenses.

From the point of view of the school district, the Fox News coverage brought attention to staffs’ lack of knowledge about the curriculum website, which meant that the site had to be taken down and evaluated.

But according to some community members, the district gave in to Fox and the Fraternal of Police when it shut down the site.

In a previous Post article published in July, OUSD Communications Director Troy Flint said staff was reviewing the curriculum to ensure it complied with district standards before making a decision on whether or not to repost the Urban Dreams site.

He said the decision on the website would be made by September. Now, Flint says the plan is to have a decision by December.

According to Gordon, a credible source confirmed that OUSD staff has already deemed the curriculum to meet district standards. He also heard of a commitment to repost a revamped site by December or January.

MLK leads march against War in Vietnam, Chicago, 1967.

“I think there’s at best evasiveness; they’re not being honest, not being straightforward. It seems to me they’re still giving themselves excuses to allow the police to dictate what’s acceptable in Oakland and for our students,” says Gordon.

Flint says, “There’s a lot of information to review…to see how it fits into the overall structural program” of the school district. The district is also looking at how “to provide professional development to make sure teachers are teaching material appropriately” when dealing with controversial topics.

“That takes time,” Flint says.

In addition to the position taken by the national teachers’ union president, the California Teachers Association (CTA) has called for the reposting of the Urban Dreams site in support of academic freedom.

“As educators, we strongly support curriculum that encourages students to think critically about history and society, and challenges them to examine all perspectives of issues…we again urge OUSD to restore the Urban Dreams curriculum and website,” said CTA President Dean Vogel in a Sept, 24 letter addressed to OUSD Supt. Antwan Wilson. “

Although Gordon has tried to communicate with the district through the review process, he has received no response. He says he is looking for some direct communication from the district going forward.

“I see no reason for delaying to repost the site. The fact that they’re equivocating on their commitment is disturbing,” he said.