The Missing Question, BHUSD Education and Racial Equality?


A citizen asks why the race question wasn’t asked during the BHUSD candidates TV debate

BEVERLY HILLS, CA ( 2020/10/09 – From an email sent to me today…

Given recent national conversations around race, I expected these issues to be at the forefront of this campaign. Race was not discussed at the recent debate. Do you have plans to advocate for a reformed curriculum that places a greater emphasis on racial equality as well as anti-racist training?

Thanks for asking. Great question! Wish that had been asked during the candidates forum. Journalists need to ask politicians better questions.

Yes, we need better curriculum. And, we can start by teaching about our own community’s long and remarkable history of being a leader in racial equality. For those who may not be familiar, let’s review the history of race in Beverly Hills.

Early History

Beverly Hills was an area of the Tongva Native American Indian tribe in the 1500s. Conquered by Mexico, it became a California ranch. After California joined the United States, the land was bought by an oil company. Not finding much oil, by 1907, Beverly Hills was one of many all-white planned communities started in the Los Angeles area. There were laws prohibiting non-whites and Jews from owning or renting property in Beverly Hills.

Home to the Stars

In 1919, film stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, being hounded by the press, moved to Beverly Hills, a town known for being open-minded toward artists and respecting privacy. We have Mary Pickford to thank that there is a Beverly Hills today. In 1923 she led a huge political battle to stop Los Angeles annexing Beverly Hills.

Mary Pickford

Mary Pickford, the woman who saved Beverly Hills

Beverly Hills Gets Diverse

Although the whites-only laws were still on the books, Beverly Hills was lax enforcing them. Other Hollywood artists moved to Beverly Hills. Including black stars. In the 1940s, a Beverly Hills neighborhood association went to court to try to enforce the city’s whites-only laws. The defendants included Hattie McDaniel (Mammy in Gone with the Wind), Louise Beavers (Delilah in Imitation of Life), and Ethel Waters (the Grammy Hall of Fame singer). The NAACP won the case. When in 1948 the United States Supreme Court struck down racial covenants nationwide, Jewish residents of Beverly Hills had filed an amicus brief in the case.

Hattie McDaniel

Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind, the first Black Oscar winner

When BHUSD Education Was Best in the World

In the 1970s, BHUSD had a reputation for having the best public schools anywhere. That had a huge impact on our community’s diversity. Rich and educated Persian Jews were fleeing the Iranian Revolution. Attracted by BHUSD schools, 30,000 Iranian Jews moved to Beverly Hills and the surrounding area. By 1990, 20% of the BHUSD students were Iranian.

BHUSD after Ten Years of Decline

Things changed in 2010, the year the Incumbent was elected. BHUSD began denying permits to allow out of district students to attend BHUSD schools. Many of these students were ethnic. Asian, Black and Latino children studying in Beverly Hills schools were denied the opportunity to finish their education here. Were forced out and in tears. Since then, not only diversity has dropped at BHUSD.

BHUSD, the school district so highly ranked academically that it drew families to move here from all over the world, now doesn’t even rank in the top 50 of local schools. Parents and students consider our schools inadequate, are fleeing. Our school buildings are crumbling. But, don’t assume it’s a lack of money. Passing Measure E and Measure BH, voters gave our School Board hundreds of millions of dollars to fix our schools. They haven’t.

Why do our schools keep getting worse? For one thing, it’s how we spend taxpayer money. The School Board is being sued for diverting $16 million of our education funds into projects unrelated to education.

The Incumbent has been in office since 2010. Our schools today are his legacy. He’s said declining enrollment isn’t a problem, that it’s fewer children to teach. He’s said his experience is the justification to re-elect him. But, I digress.

1619 Project or 1776 Patriots Curriculum

The question asked was specifically about racial equality curriculum reform. The curriculum solutions being pursued at the state and national level are partisan. One party wants us to teach a 1619 Project curriculum. Another party wants us to teach a traditional 1776 Patriots curriculum. The problem with mutually unacceptable partisan positions is deadlock.

The 1619 Project was written by journalists, not historians. To those accustomed to reading history written by the victor, it feels a jarring disconnect. Unlike historians, journalists are expected to tell both sides of a story. History is complicated, but history books often are not. Some politicians say it’s un-American to study America’s flaws. Some parents consider it too much information or too dark for a child.

A conservative President Trump says he will cut funding to public schools that teach the 1619 Project. The President doesn’t specify what he wants instead. Supporters of a 1776 Patriots curriculum in Congress tell us. They say they want schools to teach that the true date of America’s founding is July 4th, 1776, that America was founded on the freedom ideals of the Declaration of Independence, and to deny that slavery and oppression had a major role in building America.

These political extremes seem irreconcilable, one denying the other. However, there is another potential history curriculum. None of the above. A critically analytical curriculum can better educate students through their participation.

A Third Way to Teach History

The weakness of any curriculum pushing a particular point of view, whether that bias is pro or anti-1619, is that it is dropping us into a point in the distant past and presuming to tell us who should be considered a hero, who is a villain, who is significant and who is not. The reality is that everybody in history, no matter how saintly or how criminal with hindsight, thought they were doing the best they could. Often acting in desperation, limitations or even a tragic misunderstanding of their options.

What if we taught history not as a patriotic pledge to memorize, but as living history? What if we taught history from today, not from an arbitrary date in the past?

Start with today’s conflicts and issues, then work backwards in time. Ask students to describe what they think the Founders and other significant figures would think and do if alive today facing our problems. That would give students not only a better understanding of current events, but a deep insight into historical figures. Who we are now and how we got here.

Teaching Tolerance

Teaching anti-racism, or anti-anything, may create more hate. People often don’t respond well to being told that they are wrong. May choose to dig in, to fight. Some teachers have encountered a problem in Beverly Hills schools with bullies who want to act out using racism to get attention. Confrontation can make it worse.

Better to be the One Man Who Got 200 KKK Members to Give Up Their Robes. Or, have Superman defeat the KKK again.

To teach tolerance, a place to start is in how we look at individuals in history. Don’t arbitrarily label. Develop superior analytical skills in our students so they have good judgment in all things, know the historical context and develop their own thinking process to understand the truth.

Regarding context, for those who may not have been following ethnic education political developments lately…

Ethnic Studies Politics

Our President threatened the funding of California schools that would teach the New York Times’ 1619 Project. That history reframes the country’s origins around the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in Virginia.

Our California Governor signed bill AB 1460 in August that requires ethnic studies courses at state colleges to focus on African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans and Native Americans. Jewish Americans objected strenuously to being omitted. In October, the Governor vetoed a similar bill for high schools, AB 331, saying that the curriculum needs first to be improved.

Absent from the state and national equality discussion are the remarkable women of history. They should be included in studying history too.

Beverly Hills Demographics

  • 82.4% White
  • 8.9% Asian
  • 4.9% Mixed
  • 2.2% Black
  • 1.5% Other Races
  • 0.1% Native American

Beverly Hills doesn’t have a 47.5% Latino population like Los Angeles, but that may be more economic than due to race. The per capita income of Los Angeles Latinos is $17k, compared to the Los Angeles County average of $28k. Per capita income in Beverly Hills is $84k.

Let’s compare Beverly Hills nationally by race and wealth. Per the Federal Reserve, U.S. households wealth distribution by race 2019:

  • 85.5% White
  • 7.3% Other
  • 4.2% Black
  • 3.1% Hispanic

By these stats, Beverly Hills is more diverse than the rest of the country.

Education Equality Protests in Beverly Hills

In June 2020, protesters gathered outside the Beverly Hills High School to object to the inequality of LAUSD schools being funded at $8k per student and BHUSD schools funded at $21k per student. The demand to spread funds equally between cities only seems a solution until we do the math. LAUSD is so large, and BHUSD so small, that such a redistribution would reduce BHUSD students to $8k, but LAUSD students would gain less than $50 each.

A much better education equality solution would be to restore accepting out of district students into classes that aren’t full, to support diversity here again. To make our schools the greatest.

Robin S. Rowe was a candidate for BHUSD School Board in the November 2020 election.