Pirkle's race relations column went astray | Federal Way letters to the editor
June 25, 2008 · Updated 9:40 AM
Interracial relations and diversity
I read Bill Pirkle’s opinion piece (“Diversity and the FW School Board,” June 18) with interest, sadness and disappointment.
I am an African American male, now 67 years old (which means I am looking at my own mortality squarely in the face and I no longer have time to get caught up in I know better than you what is real thinking). So let me offer you a very brief outline of my experience.
I am a minister, committed to the belief that God loves us all and wants us all to care for and support each other. For 30 years of my life, I had the honor of helping students of all colors to meet their needs at Seattle University.
During that time I went through my finger-pointing, self-righteous phrase, and I honestly believed that the Affirmative Action plan was meeting the economic needs of the white women and men who oversaw the programs and the universities who used government funding to build departments (where predominantly white professors taught).
I, sadly, often participated in the ongoing divisions across the races that have kept us apart since the founding of this country. As a footnote, I think that the diversity issue began here when the first settlers and the native people forced each other to kill each other.
What do you really think about interracial relations in this country? I mean, beyond the clichés about having some really good black, brown, yellow and red friends (notice how the division between Americans always begins after we have said the “friends” part to one another)
At the same time, I did not pay enough attention to the wonderful white women and men, and the parents, faculty, staff and students of all colors who worked very, very hard to become people who respected the life of learning, their gifts and each other.
Sir, you appear to an individual who also will not see another 50 years. I earnestly invite you to move beyond either/or thinking, see both sides of our living and struggling in America at this time, and ask yourself this question: How do you want to be remembered when you have gone on to our loving God... as one who judged others or one who understood others?
Sincerely concerned for all of our children’s well being,
Joseph McGowan, Tacoma
Pirkle Report Goes too far
I won’t go so far as to give Bill Pirkle the racist label he seems to covet in his commentary (The Pirkle Report, June 18), but I must point out his obvious ignorance and question why I and others need to point this out when surely The Mirror’s editorial staff can see it as well.
Mr. Pirkle begins by implying that the Civil Rights Movement was about establishing a way to create reverse discrimination against whites rather than ending discrimination against blacks, and he gets utterly absurd by saying, “The most diverse school board possible would not have any white men of Anglo heritage.” He then cements his place near the bottom rung of intellect by saying, “Diversity really means non-white.”
I am a white man of Anglo heritage, and I am certainly unconcerned that there is a secret plan among those seeking diversity to eliminate all white men and women from positions of authority. I am concerned however, that The Mirror continues to give this man such a prominent voice in our community when he so frequently demonstrates his ignorance and disconnect from reality.
Why does The Mirror subject us to this dreadful column? Surely not to sell newspapers or further community discourse. Readers and the community would be better served if The Pirkle Report were replaced with a column of substance, a voice with opinions that are laced with an understanding of the facts, and written by someone with a mind within arm’s reach of reality. I hope The Mirror doesn’t think the number of responses to The Pirkle Report are a positive indicator, any more than one could say everyone enjoys seeing car wrecks along the side of the road because we all slow down to look.
It only takes a few to mess things up and bring progress to a halt, and sometimes we just can’t help ourselves and succumb to our base instincts. Or maybe we just slow down for caution because of the flashing lights, or the headlines in this case. Just because we look we aren’t better off after seeing a roadside tragedy or the drivel in The Pirkle Report.
How does our community newspaper justify giving credence to a man who continually gets crazy with the facts and proves that he is completely out of touch with reality by making comments like, “The minority kids go to the same school, use the same books and have the same teachers as the other kids. It’s the law.” Has Mr. Pirkle been following the lawsuit brought by the Federal Way School District against the State of Washington regarding the inequities in state funding for our public schools? Does he really think the teachers and resources found in the schools located in affluent white neighborhoods are the same as those in poorer districts or in our inner cities?
And maybe I missed it; it is entirely possible because I don’t read everything in the newspaper (I am somewhat sorry I wasted my time reading The Pirkle Report, but I am trying to make up for it), but who said the reason for a diverse campus or a diverse school board was to improve academic learning or WASL scores?
The reason we have diversity in schools is to assure we give the same opportunity to everyone. It is also to give our young people the opportunity to live, learn and grow in a complex and difficult, integrated and diverse environment that is similar to what they will face as adults in the United States of America.
Yes, Bill Pirkle was right (credit where credit is due): As you increase diversity, it increases complexity. The segregated societies of apartheid in South Africa and those in the United States before we freed the slaves and before the Civil Rights Movement were all less complex, but they were also oppressive and wrong. The ideals of our country’s heritage, freedom and equality for all create a difficult and complex challenge, but these ideals separate us from the rest. When we are blessed with leaders that live and lead by these ideals, they even elevate us above the rest.
When a voice like Bill Pirkle’s is given a regular voice in our community newspaper, he is falsely portrayed as a leading and significant voice in our community, and it tarnishes our community’s reputation.
We all benefit when our school board, our administrators, our teachers and our students are diverse, somewhat reflecting the society in which we live. We hopefully learn from each other, about each other and how to work together; not against each other. As Mr. Pirkle points out, we frequently work against each other rather than with each other. A diverse school board may be more difficult, but it can set an example for our youth about how to work together for the common good; in this case, a better education for all and improved academic learning demonstrated by higher WASL scores (the job of the school board but not the reason for a diverse board).
Yes, diversity is more complex and more difficult and everyone needs to rise to the challenge it brings. I choose to believe the new school board is up to this challenge.
We know segregation and oppression are wrong, and we know “separate but equal” isn’t equal. Having representation from multiple segments of our community on the school board is a good thing. A diverse board should have better insight on how to reach and inspire underperforming segments of our community and how to create a better learning environment through policy. It might be more difficult if the board members don’t respect each other or listen to each other’s ideas and opinions, but I won’t assume the worst.
I will expect and hope for the best — that our school board members will actually work together and not against each other. History teaches us that the opposite, a segregated society and a society ruled and governed by an aristocratic and homogenous portion of our society, is not good for all.
I suspect I am like most people in our community. I am glad to see a diverse school board.
Stephen E. Smith, Auburn