Westerly’s school board recently voted to solicit bids from equity audit consultancies – to determine how well we provide equal education for all. Fortunately, Christine Cooke disagreed. Ms Wycall (“Fairness audit not the solution in Westerly, May 13) then wrote to recommend that we use our own management to audit ourselves. And warned us against equity programs that eliminate excellence – programs that produce equitable mediocrity. In my view, we need to respond to Ms. Wycall’s concerns.
Management hires consulting firms for four possible reasons: 1. A sincere desire to pay for necessary expertise that we don’t have, to do what we can’t do. 2. A less sincere desire to charge us extra for doing what our management could do — but won’t do. 3. A cynical desire to pay someone else to take the heat for delivering controversial conclusions. 4. A cowardly desire to make taxpayers pay a favored party. Hopefully, management’s desire is the first of those possibilities. Either way, paying a consultant can be a mistake, for the following reasons.
• We can do it ourselves. As the number of Westerly students decreased, the number of principals increased. We have outreach specialists who identify at-risk students. In short, we already pay a lot of people who could do what more expensive consultants charge:
- Meet our professors and specialists;
- Meet students, parents and the public;
- Solicit everyone’s comments and suggestions;
- Analyze our data;
- Review state and federal standards; and
- Remedy the injustices observed.
If management says they don’t have the expertise to audit “equity,” pay them to read the equity books. Or to attend an educational conference to learn and then bring us the latest knowledge. But beware: sources like Despite the Best of Intentions, the Controversial 1619 Project, and Critical Race Theory have their own biases, errors, and agendas. Some would “level” course offerings. Removal of advanced courses. Forcing all students to take equal courses – crushing our slowest learners and not serving our fastest learners. We must therefore use our own critical thinking skills to commit to what is best for Westerly students.
• We can use the savings for something better. Money spent on useless consultants might better:
- Establish an after-school “special forces” facility staffed with teachers and extra volunteers – to help students who have fallen behind or want to excel. To provide a better after-school environment and a better meal for some of our less fortunate children whose homes are dysfunctional. Helping these at-risk children can change their lives (and improve our performance statistics).
- Provide a course in critical thinking – logical and unbiased reasoning – based on facts and evidence. Teach the difference between unsupported or biased claims and well-supported evidence. Requiring a critical thinking course for all students entering high school will give them powerful and lasting reasoning tools.
- Offer a course in rhetoric – the art and science of honest persuasion. It could be an English choice. We should offer a rhetoric course in high school that explains the crucial importance of Aristotle’s ethos, logos, and pathos; covers Cicero’s five canons of rhetoric; and teaches the six stages of argument from the Ad Herennium. A skilled student of rhetoric can analyze the arguments of others and defend their own ideas effectively. Another powerful skill that most adults unfortunately lack.
I therefore recommend that the school committee take a step back. Get our own management capable of doing its own consultation. Commit to looking even harder for any student left behind. Use the savings to improve, not diminish, our course offerings. Help all of our students acquire the knowledge and reasoning skills needed to do their best in a challenging world.
Philo F. Willetts Jr.