A website with lesson plans for teaching students about social justice issues was taken offline almost eight months ago for review by the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), prompting complaints that the district was censoring student inquiry.
Putting an end to the dispute, OUSD’s new Superintendent Antwan Wilson announced this week in a statement that the website will be posted again online.
“The Urban Dreams curricular materials provide students an opportunity to read texts that provoke debate,” said Supt. Wilson in the written statement.
The “Urban Dreams” website contains 27 federally funded teaching units designed by teachers to help students explore issues about history and social justice.
The site was shut down in April after a Fox News story alleged that one of the unions compared Mumia Abu-Jamal to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. alleging complaints from the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police.
In reality, one lesson in a unit about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. encouraged students to study current issues of media censorship and distortion in the case of Abu-Jamal, a widely known journalist who is now serving life in prison for the killing of a Philadelphia police officer in 1981.
“Providing our students the opportunity to read complex text, to contemplate higher-order questions, and to engage in rigorous discussion and writing are all activities we value in the Oakland Unified School District,” Supt Wilson said.
“It is for these reasons that I have asked our team to repost the Urban Dreams curriculum, making it available for instructional use in our classrooms.”
Since the website was taken down, it has been under review by the district’s department of Leadership, Curriculum, & Instruction to assess if the material met state academic standards.
In an interview with the Post, OUSD Communications Director Troy Flint recently said a decision to repost the site could be made as soon as December.
The website is expected to be reposted by January with all the original material – including a page supporting the teaching of controversial issues and the best practices to engage students.
Teacher Craig Gordon, the author of unit that prompted the controversy, said, “It’s very good for the materials to be there because…(they) provoke students to think with an open mind and discuss issues in a thoughtful way.
But Gordon still has concerns. “Why did this happen in the first place? He asked.
The debate over “Urban Dreams” has grown to the point that it has involved Pulitzer Prize winning author Alice Walker and Emmy Award-winning actor Ed Asner, who both sent letters to the school district.
Asner wrote: “Urban Dreams website (should) be reinstated without deletions… to let academic freedom prevail.”
In her letter Walker wrote, “I am dismayed to learn that the Oakland school board has dismantled a website of social justice lesson plans because the police objected to it. The board has a duty to defend students’ right to learn against police interference.”
Walker herself was once embroiled in a national censorship battle when OUSD in 1984 banned “The Color Purple,” based on the book’s “sexual and social explicitness” and “troubling ideas about race relations, man’s relationship to God, African history and human sexuality.”
After nine months, the book was approved by the Board of Education.