December 3, 2021
If you are unsure what the real objective is of those who loudly protest the influence of Critical Race Theory on Public Education, let me enlighten you.
I’ve written previously about “grassroots” groups that spring up to protect children from the dangers of CRT. We now have a chance to better understand what they are “protecting” children and the community from.
Last June, a Tennessee chapter of one of these, Mothers for Liberty, filed a complaint with Dr. Penny Schwinn, Commissioner Tennessee Department of Education that gives insight into what they want to achieve and why they are so dangerous. They were deeply concerned about how the State was teaching American History because the curriculum was just telling the truth.
The complaint alleges that the materials being used by their schools, A curriculum entitled “Great Minds PBC Wit & Wisdom (WW) English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum, Grade 2, Module 3, “Civil Rights Heroes” violates their state’s recently passed anti-CRT laws because it “includes the following anchor texts: ‘Martin Luther King Jr and the March on Washington’ by Frances E. Ruffin, ‘Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story’ by Ruby Bridges, ‘The Story of Ruby Bridges’ by Robert Coles and ‘Separate is Never Equal’ by Duncan Tonatiuh. The classroom books and teacher manuals reveal both explicit and implicit Anti-American, Anti White, and Anti-Mexican teaching…the narrow and slanted obsession on historical mistakes reveals a heavily biased agenda, one that makes children hate their country, each other, and/or themselves.”
Teaching American history that has not been whitewashed is their issue. Preventing the teaching of an American History that reflects the reality of slavery, Reconstruction, and the ongoing struggle to build a nation that realizes its promise of equality for all is their target. These protestors are defending a false history, one that expunges the evil that was done to people of color, suppressing the words and pictures that tell the uncomfortable truth many of us struggle to accept. They point to the “photographs of white and colored drinking fountains” as evidence of the way history is being turned against their children; they cite asking “Which of these fountains looks nicer to you?’” as an example of how this curriculum violates that state law.
Ruby Bridges’ story of her experience as a 6-year-old Black child hoping to receive the education she is entitled by attending a previously all-white school is, we are being told, too difficult a story, one that children should not have to tolerate in our public schools. Why? Because it “depicts photographs of a neighborhood sign that reads “WE WANT WHITE TENANTS IN OUR WHITE COMMUNITY” and a smiling white boy holding a sign that says ‘We wont [sic] go to school with Negroes…[and]… shows a group of white people holding up signs that read, ‘We want segregation [sic]” and ‘We don’t want to Integrate…’ [and]…shows the Norman Rockwell painting The Problem We All Live With, depicting Ruby Bridges walking to school with the ”N word” in the background.” This is all cited in the complaint in Tennessee as being too harmful for their children to experience (and perhaps for them as well).
Even worse, and more harmful to children, is sharing that young Ruby Bridges prayed for those who threatened her life. “The final page of the book features Ruby’s prayer for the white mob. The use of these words pull directly from Luke 23:24 in which Jesus prays ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,’ thereby making a direct comparison between white people and those that crucified Jesus…” Certainly, that is what Jesus would do!
Our history is uncomfortable. Recognizing that racism was real, and it was ugly is not comfortable, particularly if you are White. And for children who have been shielded from that truth hearing about it for the first time in school may be rattling. The protestors understand this discomfort because they are feeling it as well. But rather than deal with it, they wish to assuage their own discomfort by suppressing their history. That keeps them from having to take responsibility for its lingering impact and grapple with their own culpability. And it keeps them, they believe, from having to answer difficult questions from their children.
Their complaint ends with this cry of pain. “From January to March, 34 lessons daily drill common themes into 7- and 8-year-old children via classroom books, readings, assessments, vocabulary lessons, grammar exercises, narrative writing, imagery focus, role-playing, and class discussion: White people are bad. People of color are mistreated (by white people). America is unjust. Police officers (and firemen) target people of color. This explicit and implicit indoctrination–the relentless teachings of whites versus people of color under the dichotomy of oppressor versus oppressed and that our country is fundamentally racist…”
In their efforts to teach a history that absolves them from any discomfort and the need to confront the continuing reality of racism they promulgate a rewritten American History, mirroring the efforts that have plagued the nation since the Confederacy was defeated. They are the same people who turned the Civil War into anything but a fight in which slavery was front and center to one they called the “war of Northern aggression.” They are the same people fighting to keep Jefferson Davis’s name on a street in Birmingham Alabama because he and other leaders of the Confederacy are heroes rather than insurrectionists.
The whitewashing, they are fighting for is not about creating better ways to teach our checkered reality. It is about continuing to teach lies that hurt our collective effort to rebuild our nation as one nation. It continues to marginalize those whose stories are suppressed.
To make Ruby Bridges’ life story comfortable, a story that avoids telling of the hate directed at her because she is Black is to teach every child of color that their history is something to be ashamed of and to be ignored. It mirrors how we are told we should tell the story of Thanksgiving or of how we settled this nation.
Those angrily protesting CRT are not engaged in a high-minded debate about the best ways to teach difficult material. They are out to change our history as they did when Reconstruction ended and the South rose again. Their complaint to the Tennessee Department of Education was solely about what should not be taught because it raised the truths they do not want us or their children to confront.
If we are to have a chance to grow beyond the pains that still plague us, we cannot stand silent in the face of their assault. We need to show support for those doing what needs to be done and those teaching history with the goal of learning the truth no matter how painful that truth might be.