By Vernon A. Williams
You would think that coming out of the social uprising of 2020 that schools across the country would explore ways to make inclusion and equity staples of the nation’s reinvigorated education system.
Of course that’s idealistic, since we know the exclusion of African-Americans from every aspect of learning in U.S. classrooms is historic, strategic and intentional, there was little genuine hope for even token efforts.
But it is surprising that a fresh brand of bigotry is emerging to complement GOP arrogance and Q’anon sympathizer mentality. While such incidents may still be the exception rather than the rule, they are increasing and cannot be ignored.
In Wisconsin, Black children were humiliated by a classroom exercise that examined the best methods for punishing enslaved human beings.
Just outside Indianapolis, Hamilton Southeastern Schools outgoing Superintendent Dr. Allan Bourff wrote to faculty calling Black Life Matters a political rather than social movement; effectively applying more restrictive guidelines for incorporating BLM into the curriculum.
The community outcry against the subjective classification was swift and strong. Roughly 24 hours after his first missive, Bourff sent a follow-up letter. Instead of calling Black Lives Matter a political issue or asking for it to be treated as such, he called it a “social issue” multiple times and never used the words “political” or Politics.”
“The intent of yesterday’s letter to the faculty was designed to provide instructional strategies to discuss and teach Black Lives Matter, one of the most significant issues of our time. I understand that the impact was hurtful, and for that I apologize,” Bourff wrote.
In backtracking that rivals Michael Jackson’s moonwalk, the second message said: “The letter was designed to provide guidance for teachers to lead these discussions and to assist students as they develop their own positions on this important social issue.
In an unrelated case, school officials tried to allow students to decide whether or not they wanted to honor Black History Month. The charter school in northern Utah that announced it is allowing parents to opt students out of its Black History Month curriculum has sparked a debate over whether parents should have the option.
Maria Montessori Academy Director Micah Hirokawa said on the school’s Facebook page on Friday that he “reluctantly” sent out a letter explaining families are allowed “to exercise their civil rights to not participate in Black History Month at the school,” the Standard-Examiner reported.
Hirokawa said “few families” asked not to participate in instruction related to Black History Month. But he declined to say how many parents or their reasons for making the decision.
“We should not shield our children from the history of our nation, the mistreatment of its African American citizens, and the bravery of civil rights leaders, but should educate them about it,” Hirokawa said, adding that the parents’ request saddens and disappoints him.
The school’s board of directors declined to provide further comment on the decision.
The Maria Montessori Academy, which serves elementary and middle school students, incorporates Black History Month into its regular social studies and history lessons throughout the month of February, Hirokawa said.
In Rogers, Arkansas, history and social science teacher Josh Studen was fired for calling out Republican state legislators over his right to include America’s shame – slavery – in his lesson plans.
Specifically, the now-former teacher from the Arkansas Arts Academy was terminated for sending a justifiably angry email to state lawmakers who have proposed a bill barring funding for any school that includes Nikole Hannah-Jones’ Pulitzer-Prize winning collection, “The 1619 Project,” in its curriculum.
Apparently, there is no interest in allowing students in America access to the truth when it comes to the most deplorable chapter in our history. Aware of the outrageous historical snub, students from the school organized to protest the teacher’s firing but to no avail.
There is a serious need for watchful eyes and loud voices to protest and resist plans to distort, pervert or ignore Black history – this and every month.