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Michigan Dept of Civil Rights to Boost Native Americans’ View of “Possible Selves” by Bannning Mascots

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According to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, the picture above harms Native Americans.  We’re not talking about hurt feelings.  Such images actually lower academic performance among Native Americans.  Please don’t dwell on the image; just a quick glance so you can follow along.  Pinhole viewing is recommended.

The MDCR has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education recommending that funding be withheld from 35 Michigan High Schools whose mascots are identified as harmful to Native Americans if those mascots are not replaced or appropriately revised.

People can quibble over what constitutes offensiveness.  Fortunately, the complaint has nothing to do with this, although such names and images have been under assault for many years by the professionally offended.  But, as the complaint points out, this is not a sufficient basis to challenge these names and images, since the courts have consistently rejected attempts to force schools and sports teams to change their names on this ground.  The days of wandering in the wilderness of offended subjectivity have passed.  We now know that, “a sufficient body of work exists to empirically, objectively and conclusively establish that the continued use of American Indian mascots harms students.”  Previously, “it has not been possible to establish that it was reasonable to conclude that mascots interfered with student abilities.”

Brenda and I had Leslee Fritz, spokes person from the MDCR on our show today to discuss the Department’s complaint.  She also emphasized the fact that this is not about the offensiveness of these images; they allege no harmful intent on the part of the schools they have placed under threat of defunding.  Intent is apparently a necessary component for the courts to rule on what is offensive, and the MDCR will have no part in making this case, which is, coincidentally, exceedingly difficult to prove.

The supporting argument to the complaint quotes recent testimony from Stephanie A Fryberg before the Committee on Indian Affairs:

“The research empirically demonstrates, for the first time, that the negative stereotypes promoted by American Indian mascots reveal negative consequences for the targeted minority group and positive consequences for the mainstream majority group.”

Her “findings” are acknowledged as providing the “basis” for the complaint:

“Her findings, quoted above, are the basis of why MDCR contends the question of whether the use of American Indian mascots by primary and secondary schools is discriminatory must be reevaluated, and why a reevaluation will result in finding that they are.”

I was interested in looking at these findings, because when I asked Leslee Fritz how the MDCR quantifies the harmful impact of such images on academic performance, she wasn’t sure.  I was curious to know the benchmarks they had established, so we could know what type of improvement we could expect in academic performance among Native Americans in Michigan once these names and images had been removed.  The MDCR has not established any such benchmark.

In looking at one of Professor Fryberg’s studies I can see the problem.  It didn’t actually measure the impact of such images on academic performance at all.  Instead, she measured the impact of such images on self reported “achievement-related possible selves.”  So, among her sample of 172 students in this particular study, the negative impact was actually on student answers to four “open-ended possible selves questions” after students looked at 4 such images, with the control group looking at no images.

Pretty conclusive.  The MDCR is satisfied anyway.  According to the MDCR complaint:

BECAUSE IT IS NOW ESTABLISHED THAT THE PRACTICE OF USING AMERICAN-INDIAN IMAGES IN K-12 SCHOOLS DIMINISHES THE EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY OF SOME STUDENTS (EVEN AS IT INCREASES THOSE OF SOME OTHERS), IT DENIES THOSE STUDENTS AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY TO EDUCATION, AND IT MUST BE CEASED.

How on earth do presumably rational people fall for such utter nonsense?  Wouldn’t it be great if all it took to improve education for tragically underprivileged kids was to ram logo, uniform and sign changes down the throats of a few Michigan schools?  No need to address problems of illiteracy, poverty, crumbling families.  Nope.  Just get rid of all “possible selves” inhibiting imagery and justice will reign.

When did we become subject to such farcical delusions?

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