PHOTO: Williamson County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney leads a discussion on the district’s cultural competency council Thursday evening. / Photo by John McBryde
By JOHN McBRYDE
Discussions about the cultural competency council in Williamson County Schools continued Thursday evening as Board of Education member Candy Emerson and Superintendent Mike Looney co-hosted a meeting with about 15 concerned parents at the district’s Professional Development Center.
During the meeting, which lasted an hour and a half, discussions got a little heated.
“If I’m to tell my son that we’re to be judged by the content of our character and not by the color of our skin,” said Bill Russell, father of a Franklin High School student, “then how am I ever going to be able to do that when our teachers are being told basically the opposite, that one color is lesser than the other? It’s all about color and it needs to stop. Racism is dead; racism left as an institution when the Civil War ended.”
Rebuttals ensued, not surprisingly.
Mostly, however, the conversations were civil and on even keel, even if the sides were sharply divided between those who see value in the council and those who take issue with it. Concerns from the latter group were also voiced about a series of videos the district produced as part of cultural sensitivity training for teachers, including one that refers to the term “white privilege.”
The training videos were produced by WCS staff and are meant for teachers. However, they are now available for anyone to view.
“I just feel like that, when I saw those videos, I’m supposed to feel guilty for being white,” said Cindy Miller, who lives in Brentwood. “I’ve had to work for everything I’ve got all my life. I worked hard to get where I am, and I felt hurt.”
Derrick Hampton, father of a son at Nolensville High and a member of the cultural competency council when it first formed, said he could see controversy brewing when “white privilege” reared its head.
“I knew this day was coming when I heard we had a video for white privilege,” he said “This term is a political term, and now we’re sitting her talking about white privilege. We should be focusing on the kids.”
Shanera Williamson, who has lived in Williamson County for 13 years, said “white privilege is a sociological term. It is something sociologists use in general to explain a concept.”
“When I came to Williamson County,” she continued, “I think I was shocked at the level of misunderstanding that we have on education and the role of how it looks for us to want to deal with ideals but to also live in reality. I know that my children have some privilege. What I’m asking them to do is to leverage that so they can help those who don’t have it.”
Looney explained that the council was formed over a year ago when parents came to him with concerns about field trips that classes were taking to area plantations.
“The docents were essentially marginalizing the enslaved population in America at that time, and talking about how grand and wonderful life was for slave owners,” he said. “People of color don’t understand not teaching both sides of that story. I thought that was a fair criticism.”
Looney said the discussions will continue.
“I am encouraged,” he said as the meeting closed. “I’m so encouraged that we have an honest conversation about a really important topic. I assure all of you regardless of where you come from or you might think tonight, I want to do the right thing by your kids.”