Jessica A. Johnson
As Black History Month draws to a close this year, bellicose debates in many schools and states across the country over Critical Race Theory (CRT) and how black history is taught have no end in sight.
South Dakota and Mississippi recently passed bills under what has come to be known as “anti-CRT legislation”, although CRT is not specifically mentioned in the text of these bills.
For example, Mississippi Senate Bill 2113 specifically emphasizes that no subject may be taught that would require students to believe “that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin is inherently superior or inferior.” He now awaits the vote at the State House.
In November last year, the Brookings Institution released a report listing nine states – Idaho, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Arizona and North Dakota – as having passed anti-CRT bills, pointing out that the Arizona law was struck down by its Supreme Court and that only the laws of Idaho and North Dakota explicitly included the “theory criticism of race. The crucial dilemma facing public K-12 teachers teaching US history in these states is lawmakers’ denial of what is considered satisfactory classroom content regarding the experiences of black and other minorities in America.
Critical race theory focuses on systemic racism and how it has historically been embedded in our laws and political and social institutions. It is therefore a scientific perspective in which black history can be presented. However, when thinking about black history in general, systemic racism is always a component of scrutiny by simply telling stories of how great African American men and women overcame racial barriers in this country while still believing in its ideals of equality and justice.
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For example, an elementary or middle school teacher teaching a lesson about black inventor and scientist Dr. George Washington Carver can inspire students by discussing his humble beginnings as a slave to becoming an influential agricultural researcher whose cultivation methods have had a significant impact on the agricultural industry of the South.
Carver’s childhood began with tragedy as he, his mother, and sister were abducted by slave captors who passed through Diamond, Missouri in 1864. Carver was the only one who could be retrieved by their master, Moses Carver, who taught him to read and write. .
Carver was able to continue his education and become the first African American to earn a bachelor of science degree in 1894. He is best known for his work at the Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University in Alabama, for he invented more of 300 peanut products and discovered how the sweet potato could be used in products such as writing ink, wood filters and dyes.
Despite the racism and prejudice he endured in the heart of the Jim Crow era, one of Carver’s most famous quotes is “[n]Carver is also remembered for attributing all of his professional success to God saying that “faith in Jesus Christ was the only mechanism by which I could effectively pursue and practice the art of science.
If an elementary or middle school teacher accurately tells the story of Carver’s life, it’s very clear how he triumphed over systemic racism. No detail of his life should make a student feel inferior or offended. Now much of black history is uncomfortable to teach, such as the 1831 slave rebellion led by Nat Turner, a preacher who lived on a plantation in Southampton County, Virginia.
Turner’s insurrection resulted in the slaughter of nearly 200 slaves by white mobs and the violent mutilation of his body after his capture and hanging. I believe that the hardest truths of black history like this should be taught to older high school students. An in-depth lesson plan on Turner’s Rebellion and the subsequent stricter laws limiting the movement and education of slaves and free blacks will provide students with a better understanding of how systemic racism became entrenched in the South.
It is evident that many legislators are concerned that teaching certain accounts of black history will lead to a sort of radical indoctrination of students. Georgia just proposed four laws that will prohibit teachers from discussing anything that makes students feel “guilt” or “psychological distress,” but if history is taught appropriately, there will be some discomfort. It is a great disservice to students to try to sugarcoat the difficult parts of our past, especially when they can be motivated by their teachers to push for change in the future.