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Wait Just A Cotton-Picking-Minute

Editorial by Howard Eagle 

Howard Eagle

What in the world is going on in the Rochester City School District (RCSD)?

Well, actually it’s the same-old-same-old (raw racism at it’s finest), manifested via the most egregious, recent example, at least the most recent one that we are aware of. 

Quiet as it’s kept, and in spite of widespread, vehement denial—which as Dr. Ibram Xolani Kendi teaches, is the heartbeat of racism, (Kendi is an American author, professor, anti-racist activist and historian of race and discriminatory policy in America. In July 2020, he assumed the position of director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University)—similar situations are happening in the RCSD daily. For example, just days before this incident became public, a long-time RCSD employee and former RCSD parent, had notified a group of us that an educator at one RCSD school had racially-stereotyped students as “acting like gorillas,” which certainly would NOT represent the first time that a RCSD educator has used monkey references to refer to Black students. 

Some will recall a very high profile, monkey-calling; water-squirting incident that happened at Wilson Magnet High School some years ago, which led to a number of highly-charged, public protests. 

I digress, the students and parents who reported the recent cotton-picking debacle deserve much praise and support. By coming forward, they have presented this community with yet another golden opportunity to make a serious, action-oriented statement to the effect that racism really won’t be tolerated in the RCSD, nor the broader Rochester and/or Monroe County community. 

The “action” part is critical. It can’t be a matter of just more short-lived rhetoric and noise. The parents of both students who have come forward reportedly want mister Rausch fired and stripped of his teaching license. This would be an excellent way of demonstrating (concretely) that we really are serious when we say racism, and abuse of our children will not be tolerated in the RCSD.  

It’s most interesting to note that the man whom many consider as being the real RCSD superintendent, mister Adam Urbanski, initially claimed that he “could not comment” on the situation. However, later the same day the cat turned Urbanski’s tongue loose, and he decided that he could make a public statement about this after all. 

He was quoted as having said: “While we believe very strongly in due process and the right to an existing lawful protocol, we do not defend the indefensible.. If someone departs from what they should be doing, they should suffer the consequences, but due process has to be allowed first. Every good educator knows that what is the right lesson for a student includes taking into consideration who the students are. That’s common sense. That’s common decency. It’s important for us to understand that.” 

Clearly Urbanski didn’t sit down and do some sort of deep reflection that caused him to change his mind about commenting. On the contrary, being the slick politician and supporter of racism and racist teachers that he is, he saw community support was growing for the brave students and parents and that this was fast becoming a national issue. The political handwriting was on the wall. He knew that he HAD to say something because this was not going to be the norm by which similar situations get swept under the old, proverbial rug, all the time. 

So once again, it is our desire, our hope, our prayer that this will not be another missed opportunity to impact the tripartite beast and illness of individual, institutional, and structural racism in concrete, significant, measurable ways via mister Rausch’s termination, and at least suspension, if not revocation of his teaching license, in addition to reinvigoration of the struggle to bring about deadly-serious, ongoing, anti-racist education for ALL RCSD employees.

As one who has been a certified 7-12 Social Studies teacher for 35 years, and former provisionally certified school administrator, I can assure you that folks like mister Rausch are NOT good for the profession. He really does need to go. Yet, we should not delude ourselves by thinking or believing, as one of our leaders has pointed out, that Rausch is a “lone wolf.” He is not. 

Let’s talk about it. As the popular rhetoric goes, there’s a lot to “unpack.”

~

Howard Eagle is a longtime educator and local anti-racism advocate, known for his campaigns for the Rochester school board and prolific political and social commentary. Eagle taught social studies in the RCSD for 23 years, before retiring in 2010, and is now an adjunct professor in the Department of African American Studies at SUNY Brockport.

Editor’s note: Patrick Rausch, is a teacher at RCSD’s School of the Arts, recently placed on leave facing allegations of racist behavior. Parents of Rausch’s students are outraged that the teacher made his Black students pick cotton and placed handcuffs and leg shackles on some students during a history lesson about slavery. Parents and supporters are demanding that Rausch be fired from teaching.