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Tacoma teacher against ethnic studies says diversity divides us

A teacher in Tacoma says he is trying to have an open discussion about important issues, but other teachers say he is spewing hate.

A group of teachers across Tacoma are raising concerns about an opinion piece published in the Tacoma News Tribune over the weekend. 

“The article was dismissive of students of color in almost every capacity,” said John Prosser, a teacher at Jason Lee Middle School. 

Mike Jankanish, an AP History teacher at Wilson High School, wrote the op-ed titled, “Diversity education is a divisive education.”

“I was kind of like in shock, like did I just really read that,” said Catherine Peterson, a teacher at Lincoln High School. 

“Keeping it isolated so that the only prospective students get is the white point of view, that’s what's divisive,” said Prosser.

In the article, Jankanish wrote that he is opposed to HB 1314, a legislative proposal to incorporate ethnic studies in public education in Washington.  

“This increasing emphasis on cultural diversity is not just about school curriculum but part of a larger agenda to implement the goals of identity politics,” Jankanish wrote. “This way of thinking is based on the assumption that a certain group of Americans are inherently marginalized in our society and are the victims of ongoing discrimination.” 

Prosser said the views expressed in this article don’t have a place in Tacoma Public Schools. 

RELATED: Tacoma School District opposes teacher's article about ethnic studies

“The author denied that students of color even get marginalized. He denied that discrimination exists in any capacity which is a pretty blatant trope of white supremacy and racism,” said Prosser   

"We have a certain common heritage that created the constitution of the United States," said Jankanaish.  

KING 5 asked Jankanish about what he wrote, and what he meant about the term “common culture.”

Jenna Hanchard: “You do know that Native Americans were here before the U.S. Constitution?”

Jankanish: “Yes. I don't see how that's relevant.”

Hanchard: “When you say common goals, whose goals are we talking about?”

Jankanish: “The goals that formed the country.”

Hanchard: “And you considering the formation of the country when Europeans arrived?”

Jankanish: “Yes, as a political unit.”

The Tacoma Public School District released the following statement in response to the opinion piece:

“Mr. Jankanish’s opinion is inconsistent with the beliefs and philosophy of Tacoma Public Schools. We regularly honor and celebrate the many cultures that make up the 30,000 students we serve.”

In response to the district’s statement, Jankanish said, “I really don’t care what the administration is going to think or not think about it. I made an argument and made a statement.”

Some teachers said Jankanish’s views could have an impact on students and make them not feel safe, comfortable, or valued within his classroom after reading the op-ed.

“All of that is nonsense,” Jankanish responded when asked about his students feeling valued or protected in class. “The reason it's nonsense is because it assumes the validity of the kind of analysis that they bring to the table. 

Tacoma teachers hope the community sees this an opportunity to speak out. 

“This is a chance for people to step up and say we don’t put up with this rhetoric,” said Jamie Romberg, an English language learners consultant teacher in Tacoma with the Clover Park School District. “We don’t want this kind of thinking in our classrooms or affecting what our students are hearing.”  

In a statement, Tacoma Public School Board President Karen Vialle said in part, “I was appalled at the tone of the letter. We have worked so hard on diversity. It was disconcerting to me and the board. There's no place in our society for that kind of thinking."

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