D97 Book Club confronts stereotype threat

Supt. Kelley leading dialogue on 'Whistling Vivaldi' until April 2019

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

During an interview over the summer, Oak Park District 97 Supt. Carol Kelley said that she hopes that the Starz docuseries America to Me prompts an ongoing dialogue about equity, which she considers "the antidote to institutional racism." 

For her part, she's continuing the conversation with the District 97 Book Club, a community-wide dialogue on Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do, by the renowned psychologist Claude M. Steele. 

The book is the latest in a range of them that Kelley has been reading with the help of the public since she was hired at D97 back in 2015. 

Kelley and D97 officials have facilitated the club through a dedicated Twitter account, @D97BookClub, monthly Community Café events, where members of the public can informally discuss district issues, and through mere happenstance. 

Earlier this year, the superintendent said that she had been keeping shelves of spare copies of Whistling Vivaldi to give out to those interested in reading it, including probing newspaper reporters (this one took the last in a batch she had been keeping at the time). 

The title of Steele's 2010 book references "the revealing story of a young black man who realizes that he can defuse the fears of white people by whistling melodies from Vivaldi," the classical composer, according to a synopsis on the book jacket. 

The story leads into a deeply studied, analytical account of "how pervasive stereotypes can actually influence behavior and performance, and how these stereotypes, left unexamined, perpetuate themselves." 

Kelley and the club have been taking in roughly a chapter a week since Nov. 12 (although some chapters will get more and less time allocated to them as readers get deeper into the book). From Nov. 26 through Dec. 3, they're focusing on chapter two. They're scheduled to take in the final chapter on April 1, 2019. 

So far, the tweets on the Book Club Twitter account have been personally revealing and informative. 

"Studies of the causes to which educators attribute student underperformance indicate that most of us employ a 'deficit model' to explain academic struggle -- we focus on what's wrong with the student, & ignore the contexts in which the student is trying to function," reads one tweet by the account's administrator. 

From David J. Seleb, the executive director of the Oak Park Public Library: "I learned first about a racial order as a child hearing racist statements made regularly about black people and other racial groups. Gender and class order issues became more clear to me a bit later, probably in high school when I began to have contacts outside my community." 

Another tweet from the administrator: "Have you ever tried to unlearn a stereotype about a population? What did you do to unlearn it? How successful do you think you were?" 

Read the book and follow the discussion on Twitter @D97BookClub. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com    

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