Friday, October 26, 2007

Japanese-American Internment Lesson Dropped From BI Curriculum -- for Now

This from the Kitsap Sun, October 24, 2007:

Japanese-American Internment Lesson Dropped From BI Curriculum -- for Now

By Tristan BaurickFor the Kitsap SunWednesday, October 24, 2007


A controversial sixth-grade lesson on the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans was cut from the Bainbridge Island School District this year, but it may take a new form for other grades.

"We're in the process of refining what we teach," said Deputy Superintendent Faith Chapel. "Certainly, some of the issues (taught) in that curriculum will continue, but it doesn't fit our format now."

Taught since 2003, the "Leaving Our Island" unit was initially celebrated for its comprehensive exploration of Bainbridge history and domestic wartime policy. Later, the curriculum drew national media attention after two island parents derided the unit as biased against the internment and modern government policies, including the U.S. Patriot Act.

"Leaving Our Island" focused on the more than 200 island residents of Japanese ancestry who were forcibly relocated to camps during World War II.
Chapel stressed that the four-week unit was not cut from sixth-grade studies to satisfy critics.

Instead, the move is part of a districtwide reformatting of social studies curriculums to meet upcoming state benchmarks and to match curriculums in other state schools.

"Our state, in terms of social studies, is developing a menu of basic class assessments," she said. "We want to match the state's framework and also match the (curriculum) sequences in other schools in the state of Washington."

The district replaced a sixth-grade focus on U.S. history with a new emphasis on world geography and ancient civilizations.

U.S. and Washington state history, including lessons on the internment, will likely move to fifth, eighth, and 11th grades, Chapel said.

"The Leaving Our Island" unit was developed by longtime Sakai Intermediate School teacher Marie Marrs with a $17,000 grant from the Washington Civil Liberties Public Education Program.

Lessons included student discussions with Japanese-Americans who lived in the camps, visits to historic island sites, videos, biographies and other related texts.

James Olsen, who led much of the opposition to "Leaving Our Island," declared the unit's removal from the sixth-grade curriculum a victory for students and parents.

"The sixth-grade students are the clear victor, getting back a huge chunk of time to study the events mandated in the state curriculum," said Olsen, who often spoke passionately at school board meetings, decrying the unit as propagandistic and inaccurate. "The message for other parents here on Bainbridge and elsewhere is that perseverance can pay off — you just might have to endure stonewalling and obstacles before you see results."

Chapel disputed Olsen's comments attributing curriculum changes to the critics.

"That's not an accurate perception at all," she said. "There's a great deal of support for teaching this unit. It's not certain it will take the same form, but aspects of it may pop up in other grades."


At October 26, 2007 1:19 PM, Blogger Shogun said...

Given the article doesn't bother to publish my comments but rather use them as a stawman, I'll attach what is pending as a guest editorial in the Kitsap Sun and Bainbridge Review.

Dear Editor Crist:

Attached as a PDF file is the doctoral dissertation referenced in my opinion piece. A copy was furnished to me as one of the participants in the study by Dr. Camicia. This issue has general interest to Bainbridge because it is the story of a group of parents and citizens on Bainbridge who made a grievance complaint to our local school district over biased curriculum. The issue was covered widely in your paper and covered in innumerable letters. The matter was covered in the Seattle Times, LA Times, NPR, Tokyo Manichi Times and has been a frequent item discussed since. The issue also has resonance, as you both know, because of issues of local history, local federal funding of memorials, free speech and empowerment of taxpayers over public agencies.

As you know, this curriculum became a hot-button item with charges of "racism" and other wild charges made in public meetings and in print about a call for balance and historical accuracy. I have always maintained our side prevailed even though publically BISD was unrepentant on the matter of controversial curriculum.

Low and behold the curriculum gets cut from 4 weeks (2004/05) length to one day. Given all the public relations and media attention that went into this matter, I would expect an explanation from BISD #303 on this modification. This is my voice notifying parents and taxpayers that a change has been made.

You can look over the very detailed doctoral thesis on the role of parental challenge to schools. I hope the thesis is examined by school districts in the area on what not-to-do in terms of responsiveness/or lack thereof to parents and citizens grievances over curriculum.

While my piece is 634 words, I do note many guest column you have run have been in this range. I think the lesson learned will resonate with the Bainbridge market.



James M. Olsen


Flash News: Bainbridge Island School District's embattled controversial Japanese-American internment curriculum, Leaving our Island, has been reduced from 4 weeks to 1 day duration without official explanation.

An important curriculum update follows. Can citizens positively affect change of school curriculum? During the school year 2004-05 and continuing for 18 months, a group of dedicated parents and Bainbridge residents challenged a controversial 6 th grade curriculum.

Bainbridge School District #303 (BISD) introduced a 4-week curriculum for 6th graders that was challenged for being biased, propagandistic and historically inaccurate. The controversial curriculum, Leaving Our Island, taught that President Franklin Roosevelt, his senior military and civilian advisors and much of America succumbed to rank racism, prejudice and hysteria with Executive Order 9066 war-time relocation out of West Coast Military Exclusion Zones. In addition LOI curriculum falsely and misleadingly tried to label the USA Patriot Act, war on terrorism and President Bush as a current version of race hysteria and overreach.

The response from the BISD Superintendent Crawford and his School Board was to hold meetings and hearings on the submitted challenge. After 7 months of review, BISD's response was to defiantly proclaim that the curriculum was not controversial and further stated that the Leaving our Island curriculum would continue although it was agreed the USA Patriot Act would not be a focus of this curriculum.

Interestingly, a UW doctoral candidate fellow, Steven P. Camicia, was earnestly studying the controversy for his doctoral thesis. The doctoral thesis was just published ( Teaching the Japanese American Internment: A Case Study of Social Studies Curriculum Contention) and it chronicles the events of 2004-05 in taped interviews of the principles in the curriculum challenge and rebuttal. Thanks to the diligence of Dr. Camicia, the exact positions of the teachers, Sakai Principal, BISD administrators, and community leaders were nailed down. I call this the sunlight effect from Justice Brandeis's admonition on government transparency that "sunlight is the best disinfectant." Coincidence the LOI controversial curriculum goes from four weeks to one day just as the UW Camicia doctoral thesis reaches the public? I for one don't think so.

In 2005, the challenge about the excessive length of this curriculum (four weeks), lack of historical context, failure to provide balanced text and a anti-government bias fell on deaf ears with BISD. To national and regional press BIDS #303 pledged undying allegiance to the Leaving Our Island curriculum and appeared to have sandbagged the challengers.

For school year 2007-08 BISD #303 quietly revealed in response to questions from parents of the 6 th grade Sakai students that the LOI curriculum had been reduced from 4 weeks to one day of cultural forum. A Sakai teacher stated the apparent reason for the curriculum reduction was fear of an audit for failing to fully cover other state-mandated curriculum while doing their unique LOI. Needless to say, these very issues were raised in our challenge to both BISD and Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergstom. To our dismay both parties dismissed our calls for BISD to adhere to state-mandated instruction curriculum.

Whether the reason for the severe curtailment of LOI was in fact fear of an SPI audit, the sunlight of Dr. Camicia's doctoral study, or a plan to let this controversial curriculum slip from public attention and then jettison it, I can't say for sure. However, the 6 th grade students are the clear victor getting back a huge chunk of time to study the events mandated in the state curriculum. The message for other parents here on Bainbridge and elsewhere is that perseverance can pay off -- you just might have to endure stonewalling and obstacles before you see results.

For me, I'll accept BISD #303 doing the correct thing (near elimination of curriculum) even if it is for the wrong reason -- fear of an audit.


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