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An Open Letter to the Middleton School District from Authors in the Latinx in Kidlit Community

Last week we learned that educators from the Middleton Heights Elementary School had celebrated Halloween by dressing up as the border wall and in racist stereotypes.  Images were shared far and wide on social media. If you aren’t familiar with the incident, you can find some information about it here:

https://www.idahostatesman.com/news/local/education/article221015995.html

Over the weekend, I was approached by one of my favorite authors, Jenny Torres Sanchez, and asked if TLT could post the following open letter to the Middleton School District in hopes that members of the Latinx authors in the Kidlit community could make an attempt to counter the hate that was on display last week in this school district. We at Teen Librarian Toolbox are happy to post this open letter and hope that you will all read and share it widely. The best way to counter hate and bias is by speaking love, and these authors are offering to do just that. I sincerely hope that the Middleton Heights School District will take these authors up on their generous offer in an effort to undo the damage that these teachers have done to children who are developing their view of self and others and their place in our world.

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Superintendent of Schools

Middleton School District

5 South Viking Avenue

Middleton, ID 83644

 

November 5, 2018

Dear Superintendent,

We are a group of award-winning Latinx children’s and young adult authors. We are writing to you to express our love and concern for the children of Middleton Heights Elementary School. While we are disheartened and dismayed by the decision of staff to wear offensive and racist Halloween costumes, we are also writing to extend a generous offer, an offer of compassion that we hope you will see it in your heart to accept.

Children, their welfare, their education, and the shaping of the world, is our business. Many of us are or were educators in addition to being authors for children and young adults. To hear that the children at Middleton Heights Elementary School were subjected to this offensive behavior by the very people they trust and look to for education and guidance was beyond disappointing. And we feel such a drastic offence requires drastic measures to remedy.

While your teachers should know better, their actions show they do not. While we question their intentions at wearing such, in your words, “clearly insensitive and inappropriate” costumes, we are willing to accept your conclusion that they had no “malicious intent.” However, their poor decisions also clearly embraced close-minded and hateful thinking. And worse, modeled it for young impressionable minds.

All of your students deserve better than this. We are sure this was painful and confusing for many of them, and especially for Latinx students. Not only are they subjected to this kind of thinking outside of their school, but now within their school too, a place where they should feel secure and loved. Not excluded.

We take you at your word that you would like to learn from this and change. In that spirit, we would like to help you.

We are extending an offer to visit your school. We would like to talk to your students and staff about the richness of our culture. To show a positive and realistic representation of the very people this costume depicts as one-dimensional beings and implies should be kept out. To show that there is no danger in opening our hearts and minds to ALL people and displaying empathy and love to all mankind.

To this end, we propose a school visit where we will:

  1. Give a presentation to a general assembly where we will give motivational speeches to inspire students to accept, love, and respect each other as we build community in our country.
  2. Read excerpts from our books—books which we created to help children understand and treat others with love and compassion.
  3. Speak to and support your faculty and staff in a meet and greet apart from the general assembly.
  4. Bring and donate books by Latinx authors to enhance your classroom and school libraries.

We implore you to take us up on our offer. We are eager to visit your school and hope you will welcome us.

 

Most sincerely,

Jenny Torres Sanchez

Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Angela Cervantes

Reyna Grande

Erika L. Sanchez

David Bowles

Diana Lopez

Carmen Tafolla

Jennifer Cervantes

Isabel Quintero

Lulu Delacre

Yamile Mendez

Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Xelena Gonzalez

Lilliam Rivera

Lidia Gil

Pablo Cartaya

Celia Perez

Meg Medina

Aida Salazar

Hilda Burgos

Emma Otheguy

Anna Meriano

Debbie Reed Fischer

Julissa Arce

Full Circle Literary Agency

Comments

  1. Most of the time the media doesn’t know all the details. I am from Middleton and know these teachers and school. It was an after school team building exercise where groups of teachers dressed as different countries. They were trying to be extreme and stereotypical so they could win. There was different countries portrayed- the US and Mexico won and therefore they had a picture taken and the pictures were shown together. Someone put it up and it went crazy. Again, it was after school, not around kids. These teachers are NOT racist. They are NOT hateful. What is hateful is the outsiders threatening the teachers and school. Someone said the teachers should be shot 😢, some people are threatening and hating so bad that the kids were under lock down all day. Random people from Middleton are getting hateful and threatening comments posted to their Facebook pages. There is SO MUCH hate directed to this town right now. Those are the people that should be ashamed of themselves. The teachers never meant to be hateful yet people we don’t even know are hating us and putting our kids in danger. People are so worried about or kids education here yet our kids can’t even focus on learning right now because of police, protesters, and reporters. The kids were not hurt by the teachers after school activity, but they are hurt now by the danger outsiders are putting them in.

    • Karen Jensen, TLT Karen Jensen, TLT says:

      I agree that those children should be kept safe and that threats against the school and the district are in no way helpful. Beyond that, I agree with none of the rest of this. In the year of our lord 2018, we should all know and understand the impact and reach of images shared on social media and use common sense while posting. And as trained educators, we should understand the impact that culture has on our students. Our kids have been set in a steaming cesspool of racism, bigotry and hate that has been increasing for the past few years at alarming rates. Latinx children are in extreme danger, constant fear, and a horrific number are being kept in cages at this very moment. The border wall is a key speaking point for the rising tide of white nationalism in our country. The other images are just blatantly harmful, racist stereotypes. Kids from your district and districts all over the world now have seen these images and they have a negative impact on the overall culture. As a parent, I would not trust my child to be cared for by educators who seemed so clearly to lack an understanding of the world we live in, the impact of social media, and what appears to be the core value of caring for and nurturing of our children. I would also question their compassion and lack of bias, both traits that I feel are inherently necessary in someone involved in the public education of our children. I am not a teacher and I have never worked at a school, but I have studied child development in both my undergraduate and graduate programs. I am a professional who is expected to act in certain ways at work, even in closed door professional development situations. And I have always been clearly instructed on the importance of and impact of social media and what is and is not appropriate for a public institution to post. I have been in charge of library social media accounts and have been taught to always be aware of intent, impact and to work diligently to try and keep the institutions I serve from any negative publicity. There is a clear break down of something happening here for anyone to think that dressing up in this way is acceptable for a school in any capacity or that posting these pictures on social media would result in any other outcome than a clear outcry in defense of the children who are being educated by people who think this is funny or acceptable. I am angry on behalf of the children in this school district because I know that for something like this to happen in the background, there must also be negative things happening in the foreground. And my heart breaks for these children because I know and understand that even though it happened outside of the kids being in school, the kids still know and it is still creating an overall negative environment for those kids. Those kids deserve better from the people that we are entrusting to educate and nurture our children. And yes, they are hurt by it. And yes, they know.

    • Kathy Halsey says:

      Not sure why anyone would think of this as being a “team-building” exercise for educators. If this is the case, why didn’t the Superintendent come out immediately and notify the media? As a former educator of 32 years, I find this whole explanation to be bizarre. Sorry your town is getting threats, but why would teachers be encouraged to be “extreme and stereotypical” so they could win? Looks like everyone lost.

    • Hi Carrie,
      So you think dressing up in what you call extreme fashion and everyone with two eye can see is racist stereotypes is a normal and healthy team building exercise? And the most racist outfit were picked as the winner? This explanation is actually even more racist and bad than what was previously assumed and the fact you can’t even see that shows that this is deep issue in your community that needs to be addressed. I haven’t seen death threats. I have seen people wanting the teachers fired because no one wants children educated by people that even according to your account would dress in the most extreme and offensive way just to win a contest. And I am sorry you feel like your town isn’t responsible but clearly those teachers are from that town and are part of that culture. These things do not happen in a vacuum and your response really shows how in denial of how harmful this behavior is. Disgust is a natural response to a bad behavior. Actions have consequences. This seems like a hard concept for you to understand and one we try to teach most small children. Did they not teach that in the Middeton schools either?

  2. What a wonderful offer. And so much more helpful than simply shaming. I think it would be a great experience for everyone.

    • Karen Jensen, TLT Karen Jensen, TLT says:

      I too was moved by their offer. Thank you Bonny

    • Dave Calender says:

      Thank you for bringing it back to this generous and wonderful offer! These authors are a class act and a shining example of the power of caring adults. Thank you!

  3. Leona Schweninger says:

    How beautiful! You know I recently watched a TED talk on ethnocentricity from a young Nigerian woman about her first experience in America. How she understood the patronizing well intentioned thoughts of her dormmate as she had made similar considerations in her youth. No. These were not youth. They were teachers. Educated professionals. But human. We have to consider their human failings first. Your suggestion is eloquent. I hope they accept.

  4. Thank you for this. It’s generous beyond belief.

  5. Deborah Rentería says:

    Beautifully done!!! Thank you for doing this. Thank you for not only being the amazing writers that each of you are, but for also being the super heros we need to protect and defend our children by speaking out and (lovingly) stepping up by making this offer to the school district. Thank you for being so awesome!!!!

  6. Wow, Carrie. That’s a prime example of gaslighting that should probably be published. I want you to examine the phrase that implies that dressing up as the most stereotypical version of a country would win a contest intended to represent that country because that’s where your entire statement takes a dive into ignorance. Also in case you were ignorant of this: an afterschool activity held on school grounds is still a school activity. Those kids were placed in danger by those adults.

  7. I am so proud and honored to be part of the OPEN LETTER to the superintendent of Middleton School District and to use my voice as a writer to speak up for these children. To further explore the way children are impacted by teacher behavior and the long term consequences of that, I published an essay today that touches on what it’s like to be an immigrant child living in shame and fear: http://msmagazine.com/blog/2018/11/06/immigrant-children-shouldnt-live-climate-shame-fear/

  8. LantinX Group: I am from Idaho a different region about 5 hours away from the incident. I would love for the LatinX group to FB live or make available the presentation to the general public. I need some education on this issue myself. If there are any articles or other resources that you have all ready put together please e-mail me. Thanks for your efforts and addressing the issue from a point of love instead of a point of hate and divisiveness.

  9. I feel it’s important to note and understand, that although it’s been stated that the activity was held after school hours, and using this as justification for the action, it fails to acknowledge important key facts.
    #1- The teachers involved still felt comfortable enough to don those costumes, and spend what I can only assume would be quite a few hours, building a wall, and gathering stereotypical, racist props. The inherent racism is still a part of these individuals beliefs and morals, otherwise, they would have said no to participating in the activity, or possibly suggested to the others that it was offensive. With this racism still present in these individuals, it’s very hard to accept the idea that their preconceived notions about the students whom they are depicting in such a negative way, does not affect the way these children are treated in the classroom. Whether they are subconsciously making the choice, the result is the same. These children most likely are being treated differently.
    I believe you would have to be somewhat racist in order to smile for that picture. It tells me they are completely unaware of the needs of their students whom they are supposed to protect. With great power, comes great responsibility. These children deserve better.
    #2- Publication on social media, is quite honestly, almost as damaging, or more than presenting this activity to the children themselves. It’s impossibke with the development of the internet and social media, that these images are kept private in any way. Images spread like wildfire. And our children are highly adept at gathering info from social media, even if they themselves have no access to it. It takes one friend to hand you their phone, and you are exposed to image just the same.
    #3- I truly believe that the very fact that these images were published on social media only, sends a message to the children who were hurt by the image, were made to believe that this depiction is in someway, hidden from them, because of its negativity, therefore furthering the idea that they are being made fun of. This was not a prideful representation of culture. It’s like an ignorant caricature.
    #4- The wall. The wall itself, is a representation of what some children, relate to the idea that someday, they may be on the other side of that wall. Or someone they love on the other side of that wall will be kept from them. It is terrifying to them, and I know this to be true from real life experiences. My own child, who doesn’t have to live in fear of immigration policy, cried for nights, worrying about her friends are family being sent away, and wouldn’t be able to “climb the wall back”. She was eight. This is what children’s minds do. They sometimes see the world as a scary place. And to see the teachers they love and rely on, proudly holding a representation of this “wall” that has such negative and damaging affects on their psyche, I can’t even imagine how alone this must have made them feel. And certainly, not safe. It must feel to them as if the adults in their life, would support the idea of THEM being on the other side of that wall, or worse, prefer it.
    I feel as if these individual visuals were willing to participate in this activity, then it is appropriate to either help facilitate change in their beliefs, through counseling or education on the matter, or remove them from positions of power over children.
    It is highly unfortunate that the fall back from this has affected the peace of the classroom and school. It’s highly unfortunate people feel the need to escalate to threats and extreme anger. No parties learn or grow from hate, on both sides of this occurrence.

    • Thank you Lindsey. You are obviously a reasonable, rational thinker. Perpetuating negative, hurtful stereotypes “off the clock” is inexcusable. Period. Dot. It’s always so strange how the supporters of the one throwing the proverbial punch always wants to dictate to the one’s punched that it shouldn’t hurt because your “puncher” is such a nice person. I’m sure the children in this community were hurt and confused by their nice teachers’ “off the clock” behavior.

  10. Beautiful! We would love to support this letter by purchasing books for the donation. Please connect with us through https://www.gofundme.com/unidosconmiddleton

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