Dealing usefully, productively, with matters of school and race seem to be areas where thoughtfulness, gentility and an assumption that everyone involved is of good will - even if, in fact, not everyone necessarily is - are near absolute requirements. There's almost not such a thing as a single objective reality, since the view changes significantly if your stance alters just a little.
But scaling back emotion does seem to be generally useful, which may help in finding the sometimes obscure line between problem-solving and obsession, and in finding out what the problem is. Removing that last from the realm of the subjective to reasonably objective is tough work.
There are problems to be solved. The Oregonian pointed to one last week in the Portland schools: "One in four African American middle school students was suspended or expelled from Portland Public Schools last year. One in 14 white middle schoolers was suspended or expelled during the same period, records show."
This statistic - the story goes on to develop it in some detail - more than indicates the existence of a problem. But what is that problem? Is it teachers and administrators more inclined to discipline black students than others? Is it not such an inclination, but a greater difficulty in communication? Could it have to do with the social or economic conditions in parts of the city where many of the black students live? (The story does note, "Rates of discipline are disproportionate no matter whether a student attends a low-income Portland school or a wealthy one.") Is there a cultural consideration? Or something else?
No immediate answers here, just a suggestion that the school district start looking into - as it apparently has begun to do - why the disparity exists, and why it's so great. Defining the problem isn't easy.
Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat discovered that too, when his column a week ago declared that the Seattle School District is obsessed with the subject of race.