Letter: In Defense of Superintendent Harrison

Redding Mailer about Superintendent Dr. Rydell Harrison

To the Editor:

Just after Easton considered its Resolution on Racism, Reddingites were thrust with considering comments of ER9 Superintendent Rydell Harrison made on his private Facebook account in the wake of the Capitol Insurrection.

A screenshot of the post was mailed, along with a letter, by a group called “Nonpartisan Action for a Better Redding,” which cited Mr. Harrison’s comments as “socially threatening,” something to “infect the curriculum,” and insisted “no parent should fear that his or her child is being politically influenced by one-sided partisanship.” Parents, they write, “always have legal recourse” for such perceived perversions of the school they all pay for.

To seek that recourse, or to pay for this letter, is to submit oneself to contradictory and counterproductive positions for our town. Before engaging with Mr. Harrison’s message, it means saying that, among Americans as “divided” and entitled to its opinion as NABR says they are, teachers are somehow expected to be blank slates even off school grounds. Maintaining this precedent would be invasive and difficult for teachers as well as arbitrary, as it would be informed by mere political fashions of the town in general and one subgroup in particular, parents. We can play devil’s advocate and dream up the worst teacher ever to challenge this but let’s be realistic, not convenient.

For those that wish to hold teachers to higher scrutiny nonetheless, a careful reading shows Mr. Harrison is not a dangerous radical. Mr. Harrison wonders, as many Union soldiers after 1865 would too, why armed people with “confederate flags” were in “our nation’s capital.” Mr. Harrison also draws a connection between the language of the former president, an inescapable influence on America’s classrooms that NABR never condemned, to that embarrassing, momentary reality. He makes no “threats” as NABR claimed, and instead he puts the onus on the reader to “search your soul” and consider how “your action or your inaction” contribute to the reality we live in. To deny that the rioters were influenced by the conspiracy theories and the racial convictions that Mr. Harrison notes –influences that those arrested themselves cite in their many depositions– is to deny fact.

Even if it does make the slightest nod to the then already-chosen president-elect, feeling guilty and attacked by a post that asks us simply to do our part against violence and inequality says more about the reader than the writer. To send mail about it is to consider nondiscrimination an existential threat. You don’t need to read the Barlow student handbook to realize discrimination and violence shouldn’t be tolerated. If this is the “Critical Race Theory” that NABR warns us of, is regular race theory merely a shared water fountain?

The results suggest Easton’s Resolution on Racism was of a more contentious subject in town for which there are many explanations. ER9, particularly Redding, has been mailed a much easier choice; we can take the dog whistle right out of the mouth by taking this postcard from the mailbox to the curbside blue bin.

Greg Coleman