Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Response to Steve Camicia and UofW

(Bainbridge Historians note, a reader sent me this piece and asked that I post it.)

I won’t beat around the bush: Steve Camicia is a charlatan and the University of Washington School of Education doctorate program does not deserve public respect.

If you, Dear Reader, care about public education, if you care about historical accuracy, if you have concerns for the education of your children and the future of our nation, read on. Consider the story you are about to read to serve as a cautionary tale.

In late 2005, University of Washington doctoral candidate Steve Camicia telephoned me after having seen my name in the Seattle papers. A story carried in the Seattle Times and LA Times covered problems I had discovered in a public school curriculum. Camicia presented himself as a disinterested researcher from the UW, in the Department of Education, pursuing a PhD on the topic of conflicts between school districts and parents over curricula.

Having myself been a student in education at the UW and having received a certificate from the State of Washington to teach English and History through the UW in 1974, I was familiar with the UW education department – at least as it had existed in the 70s. I therefore was receptive to Camicia as a representative of that institution. The UW has in general an excellent reputation – though on the basis of my experiences with Camicia I would now today say that reputation is largely undeserved, at least in today’s Department of Education.

Beginning in 2003, my husband and I and a small number of other parents had become alerted to a serious problem with a Social Studies curriculum in the 5th grade. We had filed a grievance with the Bainbridge Island School District protesting a new month-long social studies curriculum presented to children in the sixth grade, including our own children. The curriculum, entitled “Leaving Our Island,” promoted a biased view of history as propounded by a local lobbying group set on acquiring funds to build a memorial to Bainbridge Island Japanese relocated during World War II.

At the outset of WWII, these Japanese nationals and their American-born children were perceived as a threat to national security based on interception of coded radio signals sent from the United States to Japan. Additionally, President Roosevelt was rightly concerned about the possibility of economic collapse within the Japanese community and the targeting of this group by Americans incensed at Imperial Japanese brutalities abroad.

The “Leaving Our Island” curriculum omitted this information and wrongly presented the relocation as a strictly racist and hysterical action, ignored issues of national security, and fabricated horrors at the relocation centers, which it termed “concentration camps.”

When Camicia called, he stated that he was interested in speaking with me about the curriculum challenge. He denied any special interested in the topic of the conflict, only in the fact that a conflict of some nature existed, that parents were challenging some curriculum offered by some school district.

I agreed to meet with Camicia. In fact, I hosted at my home a meeting between myself, Camicia, and another parent. We spoke for well over two hours and Camicia made an audio tape of our conversation. When we asked him about his background, he stated that he had been a sixth-grade teacher and was interested in obtaining his doctorate and moving up into school administration.

I will admit that I was initially impressed with Camicia and flattered that someone connected with the UW would be interested in our case. In fact, I was so impressed and so hopeful that I introduced Camicia to my circle of parents and researchers consulting on the curriculum problem, some of whom had up to that point requested anonymity fearing retribution in the community. “Leaving Our Island” was definitely a hot-button item the story of the “concentration camps” had become quite the cottage industry. Camicia visited my home on several occasions and I provided transportation for him to and from the ferry.

Frankly, our battle against the false history curriculum to that point had been so lonely and so difficult that I was hoping that a fair and honest portrayal by a doctoral candidate from the UW would provide vindication of our position that the curriculum was unbalanced and that it was basically using school children as political pawns.

How wrong I was about Camicia and his intent.

Somehow, I missed the small signs along the way that Camicia was perhaps not what he seemed. First off there was the shift in the way he told us we would be identified. Camicia first stated we could use our real names, then suggested we choose pseudonyms for ourselves, and finally stated that he would provide names for us over which we had no control. In the last analysis, he stated that study required that we be identified by a color, “white.”

Secondly, I discovered that Camicia was not only speaking with the persons I had identified for him, but had expanded his study to include persons of his choosing from the school district. That’s only fair, right? Why however had he neglected to inform me of this aspect of his study?

Thirdly, there was that moment when at my invitation Camicia attended a promotional event for the Japanese Memorial. When I arrived, I found him chummily posting banners for the event along with its organizers. How could I have missed that? I don’t know. I was deluding myself. I was hoping for better, taking his statements at face value, and trusting in the reputation of the most significant education institution in our state, the University of Washington in Seattle.

Oh how wrong I was.

In 2007, the dissertation was published. I read the dissertation. Camicia had swallowed and incorporated whole the shoddy history of the curriculum, he had discarded testimony from WWII eye-witnesses to whom I had introduced to him, and he had produced a paper so full of mechanical errors that a grade-school student would be ashamed of having produced it. He even managed to become confused by his own assignment of pseudonyms – mixing up quotations from challengers to the curriculum with quotations from school district personnel!

Then, after Camicia was granted his dissertation, after he had secured a new job in Utah with his still-wet PhD, after he had moved out of state, Camicia slipped and revealed to me in an email that he had been formerly employed by the same institution which wrote and promulgated the curriculum we had challenged!

“10 September 2007: I worked for the Washington Civil Liberties Public Education Program, and having grown up in the Bay Area, I have been very aware of both sides of this issue since my youth.”

You can imagine my shock at that tidbit.

Camicia was not an innocent with a neutral point of view. He was a former employee of the group which funded the curriculum under dispute!

Reading the dissertation, I was sickened to find that Camicia had done no independent historical research to confirm or dispute the contents of the curriculum. He swallowed and incorporated whole the point of view and “facts” of the “Leaving Our Island” curriculum. He further stated in the same email quoted above, “I made every effort to remove bias from my study.”

The guy’s either stupid or he’s a liar – probably both.

Camicia misrepresented himself and duped me and others into providing him what he needed to obtain his quickie PhD.

(During the time we were in communication with Camicia as he was developing his research, my sister-in-law was also working to complete a PhD in nursing. When I told her of his initial call and the list of contacts I had provided him, she gasped. “Do you know how much you’re helping him?” she asked.)

At this point, I exercised my option to contact the UW. I and three other of Camicia’s study participants provided letters outlining our concerns: bad history, misrepresentation, slipshod work. For a year we heard nothing.

Then, where I had expected a thorough investigation of the problem, there was a whitewash. No individuals involved in determining the validity of our claims ever contacted us for further information. No individuals from the UW ever apologized for the way in which we were used. No individuals from the UW cared to know about the sense of outrage, the sleepless nights, the degree to which our trust in their institution had been betrayed.

Camicia learned nothing from the opportunities presented him -- to speak with dedicated researchers, with committed parents, with eye-witnesses to history. He could have been someone who gave children an opportunity to learn what really happened in history but he went into his project with bad intent. He did the bare minimum to earn a degree.

If it’s within my power, I will see to it that this burden of shame follows him wherever he goes.

Camicia chose to strike my voice and make me anonymous. And so I remain,



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