OSPI Exploitation – Erasure, Whitewashing, and Fakequity

A guest blog by Dr. Verónica N. Vélez

As a facilitator of and contributor to the OSPI Ethnic Studies framework that was released in October 2021, I was shocked and deeply disappointed to receive the news that WAESN had been removed from the list of professional development providers for educators. As someone who was invited to co-facilitate OSPI’s Ethnic Studies Advisory Committee (ESAC) and assisted in the development of the OSPI’s Ethnic Studies framework, I would like to offer a bit of history as to how the current framework being promoted by OSPI came about.

In December 2020, I was invited to join efforts with a small team of educators and OSPI staff to support what had become a challenging process in bringing together the interests and ideas of ESAC members into a cohesive K-12 Ethnic Studies guiding framework. We had only a few months to meet the legislative deadline. I raised concerns that we needed guidance from collectives that held deep expertise in K-12 Ethnic Studies and were mobilizing in real time to consider the complexity of current Ethnic Studies movements and the challenges facing Ethnic Studies teachers in politically hostile environments at multiple scales. Another facilitator who had ties to WAESN suggested we connect with Tracy Castro-Gill. From our first conversation, I was left in awe of what Tracy and WAESN were making possible to ensure an Ethnic Studies future in Washington public schools (and beyond). Though I was aware of numerous efforts throughout the country, WAESN had taken on the enormous task of reconsidering Ethnic Studies beyond an elective course, seeking instead to reimagine a range of curriculum and instructional approaches through an Ethnic Studies lens. Moreover, WAESN was deeply responsive to local communities in Washington State in their development, reminding us that to teach Ethnic Studies we must live Ethnic Studies by insisting on movement-building in our own backyard.

After that first meeting with Tracy, it became clear that only path forward in building OSPI’s Ethnic Studies framework was in partnership with WAESN. The core facilitation team, including myself, began meeting regularly with Tracy and other members of WAESN to assess the work of ESAC and think through next steps in framework development. Each meeting (often late at night) with WAESN provided relief that we could achieve an Ethnic Studies future we all needed and deserved. In the end, the framework that OSPI now celebrates on its website would have not been possible without the committed efforts and leadership of WAESN. In fact, it was Tracy who first suggested we pursue a pedagogical framework with three parts: 1) anti-racist teaching; 2) culturally responsive and sustaining pedagogies; and 3) community responsive pedagogies. Thus, the pedagogical direction of OSPI’s Ethnic Studies framework came directly from Tracy.

While the attacks on Ethnic Studies have been numerous – so much so that I shouldn’t be shocked anymore regardless of the source – the recent decision by Superintendent Chris Reykdal to remove WAESN from the list of professional development providers felt particularly acute. My investment in helping to lead OSPI’s development of an Ethnic Studies framework was done with the best of intentions, maybe largely naïve that a critical approach to Ethnic Studies could be possible in efforts to institutionalize it within public schools. Superintendent Reykdal’s argument that WAESN “targeted” educational leaders and organizations fails to understand that every movement to advance Ethnic Studies must reckon with the ways in which white supremacy manifests, even in spaces that claim “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” To remain silent threatens to bankrupt Ethnic Studies, turning it into some multicultural fantasy that satisfies white consumption and comfort. The concerns raised by WAESN are concerns shared by all of us who remain committed to a vision of Ethnic Studies that refuses to be whitewashed. Pursuing Ethnic Studies means heeding these concerns as an invitation to minimize the harm that would undoubtedly be caused if white supremacy is left unchecked. The decision to remove WAESN from the list of professional development providers is yet another example of how racial justice movements broadly, and Ethnic Studies specifically, become co-opted and de-radicalized. Watching OSPI celebrate the launch of its Ethnic Studies framework while removing the very organization that made that framework possible was insult to injury.

As I share this experience – the joy and hope cultivated by collaborating with WAESN and the frustration at their erasure by OSPI – esteemed feminist cultural critic and poet, bell hooks, has passed. As an avid reader and admirer of her work, which I teach each quarter to students at Western Washington University, I can’t help but think about her advice in times like these:

“Dominator culture has tried to keep us all afraid, to make us choose safety instead of risk, sameness instead of diversity. Moving through that fear, finding out what connects us . . . this is the process that brings us closer.”

-Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, 2003

“All our silences in the face of racist assault are acts of complicity.”

-Killing Rage: Ending Racism, 1998

“Sometimes people try to destroy you, precisely because they recognize your power – not because they don’t see it, but because they see it and they don’t want it to exist.” 

With bell guiding us, we continue our fight for Ethnic Studies.

Help us fight by emailing the following individuals demanding WAESN be relisted as a PD resource on the OSPI Ethnic Studies Framework.

Superintendent Chris Reykdal – Chris.Reykdal@k12.wa.us

Assistant Superintendent of Learning and Teaching, Kathe Taylor – Kathe.Taylor@k12.wa.us

OSPI Social Studies Lead, Jerry Price – Jerry.Price@k12.wa.us

Leave a Reply