It's unfortunate that the Rev. Karen Crozier and other community leaders chose to make race an issue in the hiring of a teacher for African-American, Latino and Southeast Asian studies classes at the new Rutherford B. Gaston Middle School in southwest Fresno.
By all accounts, the instructor, Peter Beck, is well-qualified. He also appears to be liked and respected — even admired — by former students. According to a Fresno Unified School District spokeswoman, Beck has a decade of experience teaching Latino Studies and taught African-American studies for two years. In addition, he led Hoover High School's Men's Alliance for at-risk teens for four years.
Crozier's beef with the school district is that Beck is white. She and others want the district to reconsider Beck's hiring. This request doesn't hold water because it's wrong to judge anyone by skin color.
We concur with Cal Johnson, the trustee who represents the southwest district where Gaston Middle School is located. As Johnson told The Bee's Hannah Furfaro, "I don't believe colorism trumps qualifications. I don't care whether it's white, whether it's black, brown or yellow."
But there are two other important points to make: Fresno Unified must improve its efforts to recruit teachers who reflect the diversity of the district's student body, and the African-American and Hispanic communities should be promoting teaching as a worthy career goal.
According to Fresno Unified, just 3% of its teachers are African-American while 9% of its students are African-American. Slightly more than 22% of its teachers are Hispanic in a district with a student population that is 65% Hispanic.
It is important for youngsters, especially those from poor communities, to come in contact with role models who can inspire them and counsel them on how to succeed in life. Role models can be found anywhere, but teachers, because of the long hours spent with students, are uniquely positioned to be life-changing mentors.
We expect that Fresno's changing demographics will help the district attract more African-American and Hispanic teachers, especially as instructors from the baby boom generation retire. It certainly helps that the district offers better pay and benefits than most other San Joaquin Valley school districts.
But more students of color need to hear from their own community that teaching is a noble endeavor and a path to the middle class. The life of the man for whom southwest Fresno's new middle school is named — "Bud" Gaston — is testament to that fact.