Jun 19, 2015

Racism In The Allentown School District

I've posted before about the local Power Northeast group, which has been demonstrating against what they claim is institutional racism in the Allentown School System. At public school meetings they have worn surgical masks, and turned their back on the board members. Recently, at POWER'S request, four board members met with the group. While those members may have attended the meeting as a responsive and conciliatory gesture towards the groups' concerns, Scott Armstrong is upset that in doing so, they have validated a very negative agenda. We all know that racism is all too real. The horrific shootings in Charleston this week remind us that racial sickness abounds. It is, however, necessary for students to know that their teachers and school support their success. The meeting produced a document which states that systemic racism must be addressed in the school district. It goes further, and states that this racism is the cause of low test scores and the high drop out rates. I don't believe that this is true, but worse, it discourages, rather than encourages, the students. Many of the students live in poverty, and some come from dysfunctional families. These are difficult circumstances for any student to overcome. But, to convey the message that the deck is stacked against them, even in the sanctuary of their school, is a disservice.


Anonymous said...

I don't know exactly what the document reads, but DO know, racism is not THE cause of low test scores and dropout rates. Racism could be one of several contributing causes, but certainly not the only cause.

One inconvenient truth is, racism can work both ways.

For example, young people (regardless of color) very well could bring an attitude into the classroom that causes them not to perform their best, only because they see the adult upfront as an adversary. A deterrent to fair and equitable reward, no matter what their effort. Such students could choose not to participate in the learning process. To tune out, not complete assignments, etc. I've seen this many times over the years.

Let's cut right to the chase. Letter grades, numerical grades, BOTH are determined through certain levels of standard and compliance. In today's America, more people believe just about 'anything goes,' and SHOULD go without personal responsibility and repercussion. Standards? Who needs standards?

I often ask why people obey traffic lights. Maybe it's because if they don't, something negative could happen?

If the described document helps everyone feel better, fine. But, there's so much more to do by all parties. THIS advocacy group is making things too simplistic.

Fred Windish

Anonymous said...


The group makes the claim the poor academic outcomes are the result of systemic racism within the district. When the four board members, Smith Gerlack,Lamb, and Zimmerman agreed "that racism is a problem in the ASD" they validated this ugly charge. They have also besmirched the school district, it's administrators,its employees, and those associated with the district.
No where in the notes I received of this meeting is the word "poverty". That is beyond any doubt the cause of the district's problems and poor academic outcomes. This group should be protesting at city hall not the ASD.

Scott Armstrong

DreamingOfJustice said...

Went to junior high at Greenbelt, in Prince George's County, Maryland. In 1975, the school was 75% African-American, with the difference split between caucasians and latinos. I realize I am a universe of one, but my experience was that several things create a toxic climate in school.

* Gangs- we could not use certain restrooms in the school, and other restrooms were boarded up because of concerns with muggings, attacks, etc. I was strong arm robbed a few times each week, until I found a group of big girls to protect me in exchange for my mother's cookies. No joke, LOL. At least it worked. Otherwise, I was harassed verbally and confronted daily in gym, home ec, and other wide access classes.

* Allowing personal choice dress, instead of uniforms, so that depending on what you wore, what color you wore, and where you wore it, you might find yourself a target for bullying, gang-related harassment, etc. It took months to figure out the "code".

* Not securing lockers when not in use..so that unassigned lockers became storage for contraband items and illegal items.

* Burned out staff, who turned a blind eye to all but the more egregious offences. Some staff who were strict were so overly involved with monitoring class behavior that actual learning and content presentation was low. This was even in the more advanced classes.

I finally was delivered from this environment when my father was transferred to another location, a few counties away and we moved.

These are the same problems that have always plagued city schools. Nothing racial here..just apathy, mediocrity, and poorly raised students.

michael molovinsky said...

fred and scott, my copy of the meeting notes by the school board secretary indicates that POWER members state;

• Systemic racism is damaging to students and is reflected in low achievement, destructive behaviors, and high dropout rates.

the notes further report that board members state;

Agreement that racism is indeed a problem in the ASD

although i fully agree with scott that exasperation about dropout rates is misdirected by the Power group, i think that we must recognize that these notes are only paraphrases of what was said. in a second handout document issued by Power itself, although they cite racism at ASD as systemic, and call for measured improvement in graduation rates, there is not such cause and effect statement about racism and dropout rates. i agree that the participating board members seem to have inadvertently encouraged Power, but we are analyzing notes, not issued statements.

Anonymous said...

This advocacy group seems to want better adult role models in the classroom. I suppose that means more adults with less probable cause to harbor racist attitudes. Here's a suggestion that should help.

Power Northeast should assume responsibility for forming an adult Mentoring Group for volunteer work as in-classroom assistants. The students don't care anything about college degrees, etc. Just bringing in responsible adults to help motivate and guide students will surely help the learning process. A partnership. To be effective, Power Northeast will need to find a good number of volunteers, but it will be worth it, I think.

The ASD administration will oversee all of this, of course, together with the leadership of Power Northeast who will fully staff the endeavor. Obviously, we'll need background checks and other safeguards in place.

Maybe this is already part of their plain of action. Hope so.

Fred Windish

Monkey Momma said...

I honestly do not understand why POWER isn't at all concerned about the racism coming from the kids themselves. POWER is responding to an incident at an alternative middle school in Allentown, in which the kids were reciting lyrics of a rap song to a teacher. These lyrics include the repeated phrase, "I am a Nazi." (These lyrics also include the offensive "n" word and many references to horrific, gratuitous street violence.) The kids were not responding to her requests to stop saying the lyrics, even when she tried to explain that her husband is Jewish. So the teacher responds with, "What if I called YOU a bunch of n....?"

I get that the teacher's choice of words was regrettable. But I also think she didn't intend the statement as malicious. So where is the willingness of POWER to work with others, to let people learn from teachable moments like this? Is it a once and done policy on exterminating racism? You can't combat racism if you don't allow people to make mistakes and learn from them. More obviously, where is POWER's outrage over a group of kids saying and repeating such an offensive phrase and song? The kids here are not totally innocent - they are just children, and they should be allowed a teachable moment, too - but are they not accountable for their own actions?

This whole performance by POWER suggests that no child is accountable for their own success at school. Even Armstrong, in comments here, suggests that POWER should protest at City Hall. I would submit that the kids themselves are responsible for their own performance at school. They themselves need to stay in school and graduate. They are the ones who need to study. No one can do this for them. If POWER is going to protest, they should be going door to door to these kids families. It is only the family unit itself that can demand academic success. Only families can raise their children. Mayo is not these kids' dads. The family unit itself is failing these kids - not the schools. People can point their fingers at a young teacher who made a regrettable, but non-malicious statement, but it won't solve the real problem of poverty and broken families the ASD contends with on a daily basis. The real problem with POWER is that it is taking time away from addressing real and prominent issues the ASD has to battle to get through to a very tough group of children.

michael molovinsky said...

momma @9:26, hopefully with your understanding, i'm not putting up the second comment with the link to the song lyrics. i fully agree that the incident was meant as a teachable moment, and that POWER is misdirected about it. however, it's my understanding that in addition to that incident, POWER is concerned that the school district personnel doesn't reflect the school population. we all know that in reality ASD has been aggressive for many years in attempting to hire minority teachers and administrators. i'm afraid that POWER'S motives seem to becoming more political than educational, and that the best interests of the students may no longer be served by their efforts.

Steven Ramos said...

This is an issue that requires a long discussion and more time any of us wants to commit online. Thank you MM for this forum where we can discuss these issues. Hopefully our school board members and the advocates read these posts, glean what is beneficial, and put in place a plan to improve our district. I believe this is a two fold problem What ASD is doing and what parents and student are doing to improve the education environment.

As I have experienced it and heard from other former and current students - ASD does a poor job challenging our students and encouraging them to pursue education as a life long endeavor. In my four years at William Allen there were only about 3 teachers that challenged me. Many others are lacking - maybe it's burn out, or the bigotry of low expectations, or bias. We do not know and not knowing the heart of any individual I do not approve of calling the ASD an apartheid system or to accuse them of systemic racism. What we know is that there is no excuse for a counselor to not have constant communication with each student in their care - guiding and helping them prepare a plan for life after high school and no excuse for teachers to not raise the bar and challenge our students.

Many of Allentown's students, myself included when I was one 25 years ago, waste the time and resources devoted to preparing us for life after high school. If we, along with our parents, made education a life style and pursued the challenge daily we can make the work of teaching enjoyable again, be prepared for the next phase - university, trade school, or work, and improve our overall education environment.

Now, if the activists want a faculty that is more like the student body then we need to challenge our students to pursue teaching as a career choice. Same goes for police, fire, and medical. We cannot expect to see more people in these professions that resemble the community if they are not pursuing these professions. We should have a Police/Fire/EMT ROTC to create a path for our students to pursue these careers. ASD can also work out a plan with in state universities that when a student leaves ASD and goes to an in state university to become a teacher, if they return, they can receive a delayed grant to reimburse some of their education costs.

There are many other issues affecting school performance - racism, I believe is at the bottom of that list.

I also agree with Fred on what POWER can do, but not only them, we have hundreds of churches and charities that work with children and parents in Allentown. They can all become centers of education excellence teaching our parents and students the importance of discipline, respect, attention, and commitment to achieve educational excellence. It would be a great support system for ASD teachers and counselors in their work to prepare our students.

Anonymous said...

This racism shit is not only an ASD thing it Is an Allentown Administrational Tool and allways has been¿ Almost like the calculated miscalculations for the publics eyes of the unseen numbers¿ This like the perpatration of more developmental dollars was only to afix numbers for federal dollars¿ Yet the humans that were made up of those afixed minorities truly never really counted to Allentowns Ringmasters¿

This because they were only yes people for this cul de sac were they make there own laws to afix to there agenda in the county seat¿ MM we will see if it is intact to speak out against those profiteers at large n charge¿

patent pending

michael molovinsky said...

steve@12:34, your comment is well appreciated. i agree that racism is at the bottom of the list.

redd@1:00, although the pawlowski administration is not treated particularly well on this site, i have never observed racism. i wish he was supportive of the school administration, rather than actively trying to manipulate it through the ballot box. please never use your repetitive "intact" line again, or future comments will not appear.

doug b, for me to print your recent ultra blunt comment, you will have to use your name, in a way that can be verified.

Anonymous said...

MM, to refresh your memory the vendors that were downtown for many years were refered to as a cancer by the current administration and paid to remove the cancer¿ Than some were to purchase properties and sink all the said monies into said properties to accomidate the realestate¿

Thanx, The Reel on Atown

patent pending

Anonymous said...

Research does show that racisim is the antecedent to poverty, which leads to a host of social challenges, including further discrimination and an aristocratic perspective by the better off classes.

The problem is that the privileged class does not see how racism contributes to poverty.

It's the "I did it on my own rationalization." No one really does it on their own.

Julian Kern said...

"Allentown's 58 percent graduation rate for minorities and 81 percent rate for whites is an example of systemic racism, Denis said."

So what are they trying to say? Are they saying that the reason minorities have a lower graduation rate than whites is because teachers are racist?

I am not sure I would take this P.O.W.E.R. Northeast group seriously if they are just going to make allegations that racism is the reason minorities don't graduate or drop out. There are multiple reasons why a student may drop out of school and they include poverty, home environment, neighborhood environment, homelessness, lose interest in learning, etc.
This P.O.W.E.R. Northeast group needs to focus on the issues that play a role in a student possibly dropping out instead of just citing racism as the reason because I am pretty sure racism is on the bottom of the list why students drop out.

Anonymous said...


In other words we can apply the word "racism" where ever and when ever it is convenient. It can replace personal responsibility,poverty, the breakdown in social norms and the collapse of the two parent family as the cause of societies problems. Yes, it is all very simply to have a single word answer to such a complex problem. It is also a useful tool for demagogs.

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

Mr. Armstrong:

No Not when convenient. When one applies a systematic approach to the ebb and flow of social dynamics. You show little understanding of motivation, loneliness, deprivation, power, and any number of processes that create walls for people to overcome.

All you want to do is cite the typical all-American response of "anyone can do it.....if" The answer is "not when generations of blockages are thrown up." And frankly, there is always a story behind someone's success. No one does it alone.

I do not agree with all tactics used by any group that is discriminated against, but I do understand discrimination -- its sources and abuses.

Anonymous said...


First off why anonymous? Second because I don't buy or acquiesce to the new doctrine of victimization and inherent guilt I am guilty of ignorance, stupidity or worse. This thinking is arrogant and an attempt at intellectual bullying.

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

Mr. Armstrong, if you wish to describe it as bullying, so be it.

History and research are what they are. Nothing new about what I am saying.

And I can prefer to remain anonymous.

Anonymous said...

I firmly believe there is no more racism in Allentown School District than any other district of similar size. More poverty, more dysfunctional families, more gang-infested role models, fewer parent representatives in school projects, more reading difficulties, more transiency within the student body, more students arriving to the district with little or no academic records, health records from their country of origin? ALL, a resounding YES!

The charge of racism has become too much a security blanket, particularly now. I know ASD quite well, having taught there and volunteered there for almost 40 years. You can look it up!

Like Mr. Armstrong, I won't cower in fear of this discussion.

Fred Windish