To the Editor:
Since most people in Bayonne respect our teachers and recognize the work that they do every day, I was surprised to read in this newspaper the venomous letter of September 14 directed toward Bayonne High School teacher and community leader Gene Woods. I suspect that the writer has never met Mr. Woods, because those of us who have know exactly how dedicated he is and sincere in his efforts on behalf of his students and our community.
I first met Mr. Woods at an event he organized at Bayonne High School in January. He brought to Bayonne a screening of the film I Learn America, which addresses the efforts of immigrant students to adapt to life in the U.S. The film has been viewed around the world and received acclaim. The film’s screening and discussion with the director and cast members in Bayonne was highlighted by amazing performances of self-exploration by diverse Bayonne High School students. These performances grew out of students’ previous meetings with the director and previous viewings of the film—experiences that were arranged through the efforts of Mr. Woods.
I have since met Mr. Woods as well as some of his students at important community events in town, such as at the Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting concerning a Muslim group seeking permission to open a community center. Mr. Woods allows his students to form their own opinions about racism and other sensitive issues facing our community, by exposing them firsthand to ideas and events. He doesn’t have to “indoctrinate” his students, because unfortunately many of them have already experienced bigotry from their elders, right in the city where they live.
The students whom I have met through Mr. Woods are not afraid to tackle these issues head on. Rather than make ad hominem attacks and accusations, they analyze and investigate. They understand that persons of color as well as white European-Americans can—together—have civil and honest discussions about difficult issues.
Right now the teachers of Bayonne are working without a contract. Yet I know that Mr. Woods and other teachers will not be deterred from helping their students ask hard questions and face honestly the imperfections in our city and our world, in order to make a better future.