A recent HuffPost exclusive titled, “Florida Public School Teacher Has A White Nationalist Podcast,” details how a 7th grade social studies teacher in Crystal River, Florida, moonlights under a pseudonym as a podcaster, young adult novelist, and a rather public figure with a considerable presence and following in the alt-right media. The website Angry White Men, which tracks the alt-right, first wrote about “Tiana Dalichov” on March 1, 2018. It seems that Dalichov, whose real name is Dayanna Volitich, got a bit sloppy on an episode of her podcast “Unapologetic” on February 26, 2018, revealing that she teaches in a Florida public middle school. The scene is still playing out at the district administrative level, and over the weekend Volitich’s online presence has gone silent, but the archives are preserved and speak volumes.
This story is concerning for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it has been a little over a week since Trump suggested allowing teachers to carry guns at school. Volitich, who has supported the eradication of Muslims, said the “Jewish Question” is complex, and defended a student science project that concluded that some races are smarter than others, supports the idea. She has also criticized the student organizers from Stoneman Douglas High School, calling student journalist, David Hogg, a truant and a toddler for refusing to return to school until gun control is passed. Then, when a Georgia teacher fired a gun inside his classroom, Volitich suggested it was a conspiracy orchestrated by liberals opposed to the arming of teachers.
Another piece of the story of particular concern is the fact that Volitich teaches 7th grade. Middle school is a highly impressionable stage of adolescence. It really isn’t a question of “if” middle school students are being indoctrinated, but “what” they are being indoctrinated into. A big part of middle school education is to start them on the road to thinking critically. But most 6th, 7th, and 8th graders are not there yet. Middle school students, more often than they themselves realize, still take most “truths” at face value. They are receiving moral and ethical cues from everyone around them; family members, teachers, youth pastors, and peers. Teachers can and should play a valuable role in shaping a student’s worldview. But Volitich’s worldview runs contrary to MLK’s moral arc of the universe that bends toward justice. Human progress (and American progress), however slow, is the impetus for the struggle for true equity in public education. Well-meaning public school teachers are busy addressing the realities of institutional racism and their own implicit bias. There is no space in our schools for the overtly racist ideologies of the alt-right. The free speech of white nationalists and white supremacists must be confined to spaces outside of the classroom.
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of the story is that in addition to teaching middle school, Volitich is a social studies teacher. It is one thing for a math teacher to be a white nationalist. It is another thing for a social studies teacher to be a white nationalist. Both are of grave concern, however. When a teacher operates from a place of hate, like white nationalism, even numbers and equations become part of a racist pedagogy. No curriculum is truly objective, but math at least leans toward objectivity. Social studies, on the other hand, leans heavy toward subjectivity. Even in the presentation of “hard facts,” social studies teachers have to make subjective decisions about tone, choice of words, and body language. In addition, the overwhelming amount of information requires that social studies teachers constantly omit certain facts. This is invariably a subjective decision. If there are other alt-right teachers like Volitich, who have “infiltrated” public schools and placed themselves in one of the most influential positions, the middle school social studies teacher, then they must be rooted out.
They are receiving moral and ethical cues from everyone around them; family members, teachers, youth pastors, and peers. Teachers can and should play a valuable role in shaping a student’s worldview.
Volitich obviously knew all along how inflammatory her beliefs were. That is why she did not use her real name online. It is doubtful that there is a whole host of public school teachers like Volitich who go to such great lengths. What is more likely is that many of our mostly white or all white suburban and rural schools, especially in the south, are safe spaces for teachers who are at least sympathetic and/or vulnerable to the vitriol and hatred perpetuated by the alt-right media. No doubt there are teachers who attend pro Confederate flag rallies. And there is definitely no doubt that in many schools the Civil War continues to be taught to have primarily been about states’ rights and not about slavery. That is why “aspiring woke white teachers” must speak up. That is why anti-bias, anti-racist white teachers in mostly white schools are so vital. And that is why aggressive recruitment of teachers of color in our most diverse schools is so important.
Time will tell concerning the next generation of Trump inspired bullies and narcissists. Tomorrow’s adults may be better equipped to think more critically, having been raised in the age of fake news. But as Dr. King reminds us, “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability.” Without the due diligence of consciousness raising educators willing to speak out, the harmful school presence of the ideology of those like Dayanna Volitich may go unchecked.