DELANO, MN – A comment made by author and professor James Loewen during a presentation at Delano High School Monday drew the ire of some students, parents, and community members; prompting district representatives to respond and release a summary and recording of the presentation to district families and staff.
During a question-and-answer period, a student asked “Would you consider certain Democrats racist for telling black people that they can’t vote for Trump?”
Loewen said he grew up Republican and stayed in the party for a long time.
“Since 1964, the Republicans have been the party of white supremacy, which breaks my heart because racial issues are important to me,” Loewen said. “Some of the things Republicans stand for are good, but this racial issue breaks my heart.”
He defined dog whistle racism, where racism is implied rather than explicit, before going on to talk about President Donald Trump, though not by name.
“Unfortunately, for the last three years, our national leader – and you know who I’m talking about – has abandoned the dog whistle and is pretty much saying it straight up,” Loewen said. “ . . . He says a lot of things straight up, but, unfortunately, he’s saying it straight up about white supremacy.”
A critical comment about the presentation drew more than 150 reactions and about 500 additional comments on social media. Subsequent posts on the topic drew at least 150 more comments.
Some said the presentation forced liberal ideas on the students, who were juniors, seniors and sophomores taking the Advanced Placement history class.
They questioned why parents did not know about the presentation before it happened.
At least one person suggested that the individual responsible for bringing Loewen to the school be fired.
Others defended the decision to have Loewen speak, stated that his presentation aligned with AP history curriculum, and said schools are a place where all viewpoints should be shared.
DHS Principal Steve Heil confirmed Tuesday afternoon that parents had approached him about the presentation.
“I’ve had a couple good conversations with a few parents,” Heil said. “A few of them were curious.”
When asked to define a few, he said, “More than two or three.”
He added Wednesday that, “Not all feedback was negative. I did have a couple parents talk with me, along with email. This feedback revolves around the main topic of the speaker of using multiple sources when looking at history.”
Delano Public Schools Communications Coordinator Paul Downer sent an email to all families in the district Tuesday afternoon.
The email noted that the Delano United Diversity Task Force and other community groups brought Loewen to the community to discuss his book “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your High School History Book Got Wrong.” Delano High School agreed to host Loewen for a 75-minute presentation “about aspects of American history that are typically overlooked or misunderstood,” Downer wrote.
The email included more information about Loewen and notes summarizing his presentation.
“We appreciate the interest you have demonstrated in the content of your student(s) education, and hope you find this information helpful,” Downer wrote.
Wednesday afternoon, Downer sent an audio recording of the entire presentation to all district families, as well as a response from Loewen.
“Of course I did not say, ‘All Republicans are white supremacists,’ nor do I think so,” Loewen wrote in an email.
“Given Loewen’s wording in his original statement, it is not surprising that interpretations of his meaning varied,” Downer wrote to district families. “However, since the content of Loewen’s planned presentation was historical rather than political, there was certainly no intent on the part of the school to push a political agenda. In this case, he was providing a personal opinion to a political question.”
Heil said the crux of the conversation was to use more than one source and critical thinking when looking at history.
He explained why the presentation was limited to certain grades.
“He’s a college professor, so he presents like a college professor,” Heil said. “Topic-wise, thinking of our kids going the next step to college, we kept it to our junior and senior students and sophomore AP history students.”
“I thought his presentation was pretty good on staying on the facts,” Heil added later. “When you start asking questions, you’re asking what he thinks then.”
Regarding notification of parents before presentations, and the opportunity to opt out, Heil noted that he had made an announcement about the presentation during a school board meeting and that a note about it was intended to be in the school newsletter but “got missed among the multitude of articles. As always, we allow opting out of presentations.”