Cal Grad Jeff Suzuki leads curriculum reform in his hometown

LOS GATOS, Calif .– A success story from a local school district is now a chief architect of its transformation.

Amid the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer, Jeff Suzuki started a grassroots movement that aims to tackle systemic racism in his hometown of Los Gatos.

Suzuki’s group, the Los Gatos Anti-Racism Coalition, recognized the importance of the history curriculum and began working with schools soon after its inception.

The Los Gatos Union School District, with input from Suzuki and other LGARC members, drafted the resolution on equity and inclusiveness, and the district passed the landmark measure on February 25.

The irony that a Raymond J. Fisher Middle School alumnus of the year has become the leader of an effort to reform a program he mastered is not lost on the recent graduate. from UC Berkeley.

“The universe has a sense of humor here,” Suzuki told Patch.

Suzuki launched the LGARC after an unauthorized protest in July at Los Gatos High School in support of the Black Lives Matter movement which drew a modest crowd of around 60 people.

The LGARC in about a week had well over a hundred members on its Facebook page. It has since grown to over 350.

The resolution emphasizes an active approach to promoting a more equitable society through education.

Suzuki is one of many social justice activists who believe that the anti-racist movement in the United States has taken a passive approach and that such half-measures have led to no consequences. He hopes other districts will adopt measures similar to LGUSD’s most recent resolution, promising more proactivity in dealing with injustice.

“Racism is complex and embedded in civil society. It is systemic.” Suzuki said.

“The whitewashed version of the civil rights movement is often described as a nonviolent movement where people just marched peacefully through the streets, MLK gave a speech about having a dream, and then the States- United have resolved their racism. “

“That leaves aside decades of bitter struggle and violence; civil rights activists have been lynched, gunned down in their homes, murdered and terrorized. And it’s easy to point to the KKK as the villain, but what is it the vast majority of white people? who witnessed these atrocities and did nothing? Doing nothing allows systemic racism to continue on its bloody path unabated; that was true at the time, this ‘is true now, and will continue to be true for decades and centuries. “

And in his opinion, complex problems do not lend themselves to easy answers.

“The average white liberal,” Suzuki said, “might be polite to people of color and do their best not to be racist; they might even post a post or two on Instagram to express their attachment to Martin Luther King, Jr.

“But, materially, that person is not an agent of change; to be one, that person must be proactive in dealing with the issues of their time. In other words, they must be ‘anti-racist.’

Suzuki drafted an anti-racist teaching philosophy that served as an important basis for the resolution passed by the district.

The resolution strives to create an academic framework that teaches the mechanisms behind systemic racism and fosters an environment where students of all racial, ethnic, cultural and economic backgrounds feel a sense of belonging.

“This is all easier said than done,” Suzuki said.

“There is no specific reform that a board of directors can adopt to solve any of these problems; it will be a long and difficult process to reassess the curriculum, the philosophy of teaching in schools and the protection of victims to do so. The points we have adopted are just the start of this effort. “

District Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Director Arcia Dorosti, who worked with Suzuki to draft the resolution, said the stubborn determination of the district’s former star pupil was a deciding factor in l adoption of the measure.

“Incredibly important. He was the catalyst in so many ways,” said Dorosti.

“He insisted. He was relentless about the way he pushed me, the way he pushed the city of Los Gatos in general, the way he organized the community around these issues and raised awareness about these issues. for our community and beyond. “

Suzuki has said he expects a comeback but remains committed to the cause.

“I certainly foresee obstacles,” he said, noting that he had specifically requested that language be included in the resolution calling for a commitment to persevere through obstacles, including unexpected obstacles.

“The change will be awkward, and passing this resolution is just the start, not the finish line,” Suzuki said.

Suzuki estimates that he and other members of the coalition spent hundreds of hours researching and drafting documents, working with the history department, and organizing to pass the resolution.

He expected council to approve him, but with much more resistance.

“The biggest challenge was to prepare a strong case for curriculum reform by writing detailed arguments and communicating those arguments to the history department.

Suzuki spoke at the July rally, advocating for an agenda that better illustrates the role of systemic racism in American history.

He made specific requests for programs that promote fairness in speech that were posted on Youtube.

Suzuki noted historical events conspicuously absent from the LGHS curriculum and high schools across the country such as the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 and the Rosewood Massacre of 1923, events in which hundreds of people were killed and thriving self-sufficient black communities destroyed.

He cited teaching about the role of the FBI’s counterintelligence programs in infiltrating, undermining and criminalizing left-wing black activist groups such as the Black Panthers as integral to understanding systemic racism in our country.

Suzuki also advocated the inclusion of black authors in the literature to describe the experience of black people, noting that their stories are told almost exclusively through the lens of white authors such as Mark Twain (“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn “), Joseph Conrad (” Heart of Darkness “) and Harper Lee (” To Kill a Mockingbird “).

Suzuki said he and his colleagues at LGARC had deliberated and worked on the challenges of the district’s program and mobilized people to commit to providing support for over a year and a half, long before the formation of the district. grassroots movement, which he says helped him articulate his views to the council. The result of this preparation was the relatively easy adoption of the resolution and the reassessment of the history curriculum.

It probably didn’t hurt that he was a known amount.

“I think he was a big influence on our history department because he came through our schools and was the history student of the year at Fisher Middle School,” Dorosti said.

It was clear that Suzuki knew what he was talking about.

“I have a doctorate in educational leadership with a focus on equity and social justice, and I still learned from it,” Dorosti said.

“Los Gatos are fortunate to have citizens like Jeff Suzuki. He is an amazing human being and I am honored to call him my friend.”

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