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On Thursday, the news broke that a group of educators in Texas tasked with updating the social studies curriculum for second graders proposed teaching slavery as "involuntary relocation."
The workgroup says that language aims to address the lack of slavery in the curriculum. But this whitewashed version is not the answer. It's not even answer adjacent.
Although the State Board of Education unanimously "directed the work group to revisit that specific language," it's hard to believe it won't resurface, given Texas' history.
Senate Bill 3
In May of 2021, Texas passed Senate Bill 3, banning "critical race theory" or "true history," depending on who you ask.
It wildly limits school practices through politically charged, vague language to censor the true history of the United States and the repercussions of slavery. Lest White children feel guilty or that their merits are unearned.
The bill says that slavery and racism are "deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality."
Ah yes, a simple deviation from liberty. Is that how the overturning of Roe v Wade will be categorized in 100 years?
Explaining slavery as "involuntary relocation" is about as whitewashed as it gets.
Teaching second graders this distorted reality is worse than not teaching them about it at all.
Erasing slavery's truth leaves White people blameless, which is Senate Bill 3's aim.
In Caste, Isabel Wilkerson explains the United States as an old house.
"Not one of us was here when this house was built. Our immediate ancestors may have had nothing to do with it, but here we are, the current occupants of a property with stress cracks and bowed walls, and fissures built up around the foundation... And, any further deterioration is, in fact, our hands."
If we try to ignore the stress cracks, the walls will crumble. If we ignore the racism the US was built upon, we will undoubtedly perpetuate inequitable and racist systems. The past might not be "our fault," but our present and future are in our control.
No one who wants to teach real history wants second graders to feel bad about their identity. In fact, teaching the whole truth allows for a more complete, nuanced racial history for all races.
On The Colbert Report, Ibram X. Kendi discussed his new book, How to Raise an Antiracist. He also explained that the fear many Republicans have over so-called "Critical Race Theory" stems from an incomplete story.
If we teach children about slavery, we must teach them about White people who were enslavers. But we can also teach them about White people who fought against slavery.
"Why can't we allow White children to identify with White abolitionists?" Kendi asks. "Kids [like adults] are not colorblind, and how we shape the curriculum impacts our children."No, Slavery Was Not "Involuntary Relocation" Click To Tweet
A Warning to Other States
I live in Washington State, a supposedly liberal haven, thanks to Seattle. Unfortunately, it's all too easy to point fingers at Republican states like Texas and say, "that won't happen here."
But the national news, especially the barrage of Supreme Court cases this past week, is screaming at us to pay attention.
But even in Washington, a half an hour from Seattle, a middle school librarian was chastised for having "sexually explicit" books in his library. This past January, the principal pulled LGBTQ+ books, and the case was brought to the school board. As of June 9, the Kent School district has delayed the decision to pull and ban books, specifically Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts) by LC Rosen.
This case has been quiet. After all, it's just a few books in one school district, right? But the librarian, Gavin Downing's work is nothing short of advocating for the First Amendment rights of his students.
More striking, in January Republican legislators in Washington state proposed HB 1886 and HB 1807, both eerily similar to Texas’s Senate Bill 3. 1807 proposed banning education that suggests “The United States is fundamentally or structurally racist or sexist” or that “an individual should feel guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of their race or sex.”
Both bills were dead on arrival, but that doesn’t mean they won’t resurface. There is clearly a strong contingent who wants to see them through.
Lessons Close to Home
I helped create and lead a Juneteenth lesson for our district. As a White leadership staff, we asked for initial ideas and progress feedback from Black parents in our district, and I'm so glad we did.
In one meeting, a Black mom thanked me for what we were doing but taught me how one of our points whitewashed the origins of Juneteenth. The (credible) source we adapted our information from stated that the news of slavery's end didn't reach Texas until Juneteeth, but she clarified that it wasn't so much the news that was slow, but Texas' grip on slavery that was strong.
Her words have echoed in my head, especially in the wake of this "involuntary relocation" news.
"The South is going to do what the South wants to do. That's always how it's been, and that's still how it is," she told me.
This may be true of this woman's family's long and painful relationship with the South. But living in the Northwest does not excuse me from advocating for teaching the truth. As the library censorship case illustrates, even if your state seems free from limiting ideologies that distort history, it most likely isn't.
If we want all students to understand their history without guilt but with empathy, we must teach them the truth. If we want citizens to work together to repair the past for our collective future, they must understand our past. We can only do this by teaching with honest, even painful, language. Wherever you are, if you believe in liberty and justice for all, the news from Texas affects you too.
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