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Tacoma teacher responds to white supremacist allegation after op-ed

A few years ago, Tacoma teacher Mike Jankanish was called into a special meeting with students. The students were handing out awards to teachers and Jankanish was honored for something quite unique.

“This student gave me an award for being the only teacher who did not refer to his heritage,” Jankanish told the Saul Spady Show. “He was a full Native American student; I had him in one of my AP classes. He appreciated … that I didn’t make the fact he was a Native America the central point of him being a student.”

“He’s a Native American, he practices his culture in his family and home,” he continued. “But like Theodore Roosevelt said, at some point you are an American, not a hyphenated American.”

Jankanish teaches history at Wilson High School in Tacoma, where he is chair of the history department. He has come under fire for a recent op-ed in The News Tribune, arguing that “diversity education is a divisive education.”

More specifically, he says that the current push from lawmakers for diversity education in Washington is counter to American ideals of unity, citing the motto “e pluribus unum” or “out of many, one.” He noted that, historically, people have immigrated to the United States, honored their heritage, but assimilated into American culture.

But legislation like HB 1314 goes against that history, he argues. The bill encourages ethnic studies in public schools. He targets liberals in Olympia who emphasize identity politics in his Tribune op-ed.

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In response, the teacher’s union and the Tacoma School Board have released statements in opposition to Jankanish’s op-ed. Tribune columnist Matt Driscoll called the opinion a work of white supremacy, stating “Jankanish’s op-ed was little more than 600 words of terrified white supremacy and jingoistic nationalism sprinkled with a few Abraham Lincoln quotes to make it more palatable.”

“Did I expect there would be some controversy? Did I expect that perhaps somebody would write a response to it? Sure,” Jankanish said. “Did I expect to be called out as an absolute racist? No, quite frankly. I’m a little bit shocked by the … extreme reaction to my article.”

“At some point, you can’t have a common conversation, a conversation about anything of public importance, unless there is some kind of common public identity,” he said. “That is my concern.”

Jankanish also says that the district sent an email with recommended multicultural reading for teachers, including books by Malcolm X and other leaders.

“And it might all be good reading in some context, but there’s nothing there that all the students would then have some common shared knowledge of,” he said. “And I think that’s the wrong way to go.”

Jankanish further argued on The Saul Spady Show that western civilization has evolved through more recent generations to promote free speech and the freedom to worship as one pleases without government interference.

“And it’s evolved in western civilization to the extent beyond what happened in any other civilization, and I see nothing wrong with emphasizing that, nothing wrong with reinforcing that,” he said. “And that’s why, quite frankly, people all over the world want to come here. It seems to me they don’t want to come here to simply recreate the kind of situation they have left.”

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