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Originally published April 11, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 11, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Guest columnist

Putting politics ahead of kids

White people, you're privileged, and guilty, guilty, guilty of oppressing disadvantaged minorities. Denial only makes things...

Special to The Times

White people, you're privileged, and guilty, guilty, guilty of oppressing disadvantaged minorities. Denial only makes things worse.

This is the message currently emanating from the Seattle School District. Never mind that this dubious construct undercuts needed emphasis on minority student achievement.

District officials this month are sending students from four high schools to an annual "White Privilege Conference" in Colorado. The conference is billed as an "opportunity to examine and explore difficult issues related to white privilege, white supremacy and oppression" — "a challenging, empowering and educational experience."

The conference has little to do with mastering reading, writing, math and science; or with graduating from high school and keeping one's head above water in college. Those are the lessons high-school students should be learning, not that they will be given social promotions in the name of equity and inclusion.

The focus of Seattle Public Schools bureaucracy is clearly political indoctrination, not academics. The district is even planning an "equity summit" in the spring, which White Privilege Conference attendees are to help lead.

What's the thinking behind this theory of white privilege? For the 2006 conference, a paper by Tobin Miller Shearer (who is white) argued that white people could not enter the kingdom of God unless they confronted the way racism and white privilege shaped their lives and spirituality. He maintained that white people tend to be far too individualistic and need to acknowledge their membership in a group that is unavoidably racist.

Robert Jensen, a journalism professor writing in the Kansas City Business Journal, echoed those sentiments. Breaking free of white privilege means "challenging the pathological individualism of this culture so we can see how our successes and our failures are always partly social, not strictly individual," Jensen asserted.

So, there you have it. Somehow, in 2007 in the United States, "society," racial bias and stereotyping are still controlling forces, oppressing minorities.

I have a different view. What we have here is an institutional evasion of personal responsibility. Why is it such a great bugaboo to think that actions have consequences?

The emphasis in Seattle Public Schools on "institutional racism" and "white privilege" flows from unpleasant outcomes that must be spun politically to explain such things as the district's most recent state achievement test scores.

In core academic subjects, whites and Asians still exceed blacks, Latinos and Native Americans. The disparity is not simply a matter of color: School District data indicate income, English-language proficiency and home stability are also important correlates to achievement.

In encouraging academic success for all, rather than blaming the larger society for minority-student failures, let's take the parental role into greater account. In Washington state, according to the U.S. Census, the families with the highest percentage of single-parent households are black, Native American and Latino, the same groups that most often lag behind in our state's achievement tests.

As for family stability and well-being, a troubling indicator is that home ownership among African Americans in Seattle and the state — once above the national average — has dropped precipitously. And, for the first time in Washington state, the 2000 census found more black children living with single rather than married parents. Those are the dynamics that need to be addressed.

In the real world, success in school and as adults results from individual responsibility, hard work, family cohesion and a home culture that exalts student learning, planning and respect for authority.

By promoting the "white privilege" canard and by designing a student indoctrination plan, the Seattle School District is putting retrograde, leftist politics ahead of academics, while the perpetrators of "white privilege" are minimizing the capabilities of minorities.

That diminishes us all.

Matt Rosenberg is a Seattle writer and communications consultant ( E-mail him at

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