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Southern Children Need to Hear the Truth about History

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tags: Southern history, culture war, teaching history, critical race theory



Legislative attempts to restrict how children are taught about racism in schools have multiplied, according to the nonprofit news organization Chalkbeat, which tracked such efforts in 28 states. Tennessee, where I live, just passed a law banning any discussion of race that might cause a student “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress.” Laws like this one are designed to tie the hands of teachers and simultaneously appeal to the meanest elements of the Republican base.

I’ve watched this play out at close range as the Williamson County chapter of Moms for Liberty, a national organization of conservative parents, filed an official grievance with the state commissioner of education. The complaint alleges that “Wit & Wisdom,” a literacy curriculum used in more than 30 state school districts, including Williamson County, violates the new state restrictions.

The specific target of Moms for Liberty’s ire: a unit in the second-grade curriculum called “Civil Rights Heroes.” The texts singled out for objection include “Separate is Never Equal” by Duncan Tonatiuh, the story of a Mexican American family’s successful effort to integrate California schools; “Martin Luther King Jr. and the March on Washington” by Frances E. Ruffin; and “Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story” by Ruby Bridges, the Black woman who integrated New Orleans public schools when she was a first grader.

It’s important to note that these titles are all early readers or read-aloud stories written for young children. Nothing in them is untrue, nor is anything “anti-American” or “anti-white,” as the Moms for Liberty argue. They’re just true stories, told simply, of people contending heroically with the terrible consequences of racism.

The Moms for Liberty complaint is based in a ludicrous reading of these wonderful books. I read every book in the unit and was amazed at how carefully they all kept the unavoidable ugliness to a level that would not traumatize a child — not a Black or Brown child whose ancestors may have faced far worse than the injustices recounted in these pages, and not a white child whose ancestors may have sympathized with the people hurling insults at 6-year-old Ruby Bridges.

On the contrary, the books take care to point out that some white people did stand up for the rights of their Black neighbors. Indeed, the only message that could possibly be derived from these stories is the need to treat others with dignity and to work for justice for all people. Today Ms. Bridges gives talks to schoolchildren about what happened to her as a little girl. In “Ruby Bridges Goes to School,” she writes, “I tell children that Black people and white people can be friends. And most important, I tell children to be kind to each other.”

People here are already standing in defense of history against the attempts of our Republican leaders to prevent the teaching of truth, and I have faith that more and more Southerners will work to overturn these laws that ban the teaching of truth, just as they worked last summer to bring down those Confederate statues.

Read entire article at New York Times

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