Note from head of school:
Where do you stand in this time of great challenge and boiling controversy? As America reckons with her insidious, entrenched, lengthy history of racism, and anger bubbles over given the long-standing racial divide, racial injustice, and racial suffering experienced by African Americans within our society, what will you do? What will we, Taipei American School do? Dr. King also warned that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” We cannot be silent for THIS truly matters, and THIS is boiling, and we have laser-focused, renewed attention to the long-standing racial divide African Americans have endured economically, educationally, culturally and societally. About THIS we will not remain silent.
Over the past several weeks I have heard from hundreds of TAS alumni, community members, students, faculty and staff. A month ago I sent a communication to the community and responses to that outreach demonstrate the deep commitment and concern of many in this community who want to work together to make Taipei American School a place where respect, kindness, courage, and responsibility claim their rightful places not just as words in our values but as foundations in our hearts, especially as we address as a community the social unrest and injustice exposed in our era today.
The current call for reckoning over racism compels us to understand at least two critical facts: first, slavery and oppression have existed throughout the world since ancient times, and inevitably lead to a dominant culture mistreating a minority culture; and second, that cannot be an excuse to remain silent on its indecency as shown through the world-wide cry for action today, which sprung fully-formed from the lips of the murdered George Floyd who gasped “ I can’t breathe.” There are many forms of racism and prejudice swirling in the air that we breathe. Attention, right now, needs to be on that experienced by African Americans over many centuries.
Reverend King warned us all that “there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic nor popular, but we must take it because our conscience tells us it is right.” Riots frighten all of us; but, as Dr. King observed so many years ago: “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Each of us must start by listening carefully to those who have for too long been unheard.
So, yes, slavery and the oppression of other people has always existed. Genesis documents the role Hagar, “servant to Sarah,” played in Biblical times. Exodus recounts an oft-cinematized, mysterious and glorious escape from Egypt by peoples who had been enslaved there and risked their lives for freedom. A center for the study of enslaved peoples estimates that as many as forty million humans continue to be enslaved, many as victims of human trafficking today. None of this exculpates Americans from this day of reckoning on behalf of African Americans that we all face today.
American history, properly taught, includes the economic advantages gained during our early nationhood by the slaughter of Native peoples and the workplace and economic gains made through the abominable, inhumane “Middle Passage” voyages that captured African Americans endured, and too often did not survive. Our history must recount the horrors of the African Americans who slaved on plantations, often under the harshest conditions, to advance the economies of many states. All of our students need to know about the Emancipation Proclamation, why one was needed when our forefathers had already decreed that “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men [all people] are created equal , that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness…” Why did these proclaimed rights not exist for all? Why was slavery tolerated, and an Emancipation Proclamation needed?
Why did the United States “Jim Crow” laws and customs keep black people apart from white people and prevent them from having the same opportunities available to white people for so many decades? Why was Civil Rights legislation so critical, and why were those rights so fiercely fought against by people in the majority, power position?
America is certainly not alone. Subjugation of the “others” traces itself back to the very beginnings of time. But I believe that more and better should be expected from the “greatest democracy and leader of the free world” if we who treasure our American heritage have any hope of once again standing tall. “We may have all come in different ships,” Dr. King wrote, “but we are all in the same boat now.” Keep in mind that this great Civil Rights giant also warned that “we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Given the times in which we live, where silence on matters of race and social injustice is not an option, I want you to know that our educational leadership team has been meeting in various configurations for several weeks to articulate concrete steps forward to address this time of great controversy and challenge. Before the barrage of eye-opening events bombarded our senses in video, television, newspaper, and electronic communications over the past few weeks, we had begun to deliberate on the best ways to incorporate an anti-racist, anti-bias program called “Facing History: Facing Ourselves” into the curriculum. These efforts began with a very generous grant from an alumna back in January. The Deans of Programs and Faculty will Co-Chair an Anti-Oppression Task Force that will review the curriculum, with an eye towards ensuring students are aware of and sensitive to issues of prejudice and oppression, with an emphasis on systems of racial domination, while at the same time recognizing oppression’s fundamental intersectionality, and preparing and empowering students to stand up against bigotry and to dismantle systems of oppression in all their forms. They will review current practices in the teaching of American History in Grades five through twelve, with an eye towards highlighting the treatment of minorities within the greater population. You will be hearing directly from Drs. Nelson and Smith once they have had the opportunity to more formally organize their plans.
We have been discussing ways to engage parents in the much-needed dialogue to engage all critical adults in our children’s worlds in ways that promote a deeper understanding of the systemic racism endemic in societies today. Parents are children’s first teachers. We need all community members to engage in this critical work.
We need a deeper understanding of the causes of the social unrest rocking so many cities in the United States and around the world today. We are a school, and we recognize that our curriculum and our programs are inadequate and must be strengthened. We cannot be silent on these matters of social injustice and inequality; neither can we afford to be forced or calmed into a position of inaction for fear of offending our multiple audiences. “Those who passively accept evil are as much involved in it as those who help perpetrate it. Those who accept evil without protesting it are really cooperating with it,” wrote Dr. King. Confucius adds that “To know what is right and not do it is the worst cowardice.” Henry David Thoreau cautioned that “It is never too late to give up your prejudices.”
Racism is often excused as a lack of education, and we will address this abomination in a more thorough, systematized, and on-going way. All of our students have been taught that racism and discrimination are evil; clearly, we have not done enough and the lamentations of those still crying out for equality and respect pierce our hearts as well as our ears. We must do better. We must be better. And we will need the support of alumni, parents, and all community members. We cannot afford to rest on our laurels and take comfort in the bubble in which so many of our TAS students live. Not everyone is welcome in that bubble. And eventually all of our children leave it, most entering a world for which they are not sufficiently prepared. Alumni tell us they feel more than well-prepared academically. They also tell us that they feel woefully unprepared for the realities that converge in today’s society, be it in America or elsewhere, where race, privilege, discrimination and prejudice weave their ugly web and too often ensnare our conscientious, unprepared children.
Silence and inaction are not options. Education matters. Words matter. Actions truly matter. At TAS, we are acting with all due speed to strengthen our educational programs in the areas of anti-racism and social injustice. Every member of this community has a role to play, and much to contribute. Together we can overcome current barriers in the true and everlasting determination to see that our children and their children will live in a better world where racism in all its ugly forms is called out, addressed, and eliminated.
Sharon D. Hennessy, Ed.D.
Head of School
Taipei American School