A parents’ organization in Williamson County, TN is hoping to exploit a newly passed Tennessee law forbidding the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in order to stop schools from using certain books that are part of Wit & Wisdom, an English language arts curriculum for elementary school kids in K-5. According to an article in The Tennessean, criticism of the curriculum is based on the claim that it teaches CRT and/or the material in the books that are part of the curriculum is inappropriate for elementary-aged children.
Robin Steenman, leader of the Williamson County chapter of Moms for Liberty, the parents’ organization opposed to Wit & Wisdom, brought some books about which the group is concerned to the attention of the Williamson County Commission’s education committee last May. Two of the books that raised red flags for Moms for Liberty are “Ruby Bridges Goes to School,” written by Ruby Bridges herself, and “Separate is Never Equal” by Duncan Tonatiuh. “Ruby Bridges Goes to School,” as you might expect, is about the 1960 controversy, sometimes violent, surrounding the admission of six-year-old Ruby to an all-White elementary school in New Orleans. “Separate is Never Equal” is about the lesser-known true story of eight-year-old Sylvia Mendez and her family’s challenge of school segregation laws in California in 1947, a full seven years before the Supreme Court ruled on Brown v. Board of Education.
Regarding “Ruby Bridges Goes to School,” and quoting The Tennessean article, Steenman argued that “the mention of ‘a large crowd of angry white people who didn’t want Black children in a white school’ too harshly delineated between Black and white people, and that the book didn’t offer ‘redemption’ at its end.” Regarding “Separate is Never Equal” and, again, quoting The Tennessean, Steenman claimed, “reading about the difference between formerly white and Mexican schools, as well as the idea that Mexican people, like Mendez and her family, were seen as ‘not smart’ and ‘dirty,’ forces certain beliefs into the minds of second graders who spend weeks on the book.”
Now, I’ve not read either book. But, think about what Steenman and Moms for Liberty are claiming here. They are claiming that six and eight-year-old children ought not be taught about the historical struggles of a six and an eight-year-old child because they are too young to handle it. Golly! One might consider, just as a possible retort, that if six-year-old Ruby and eight-year-old Sylvia were expected to handle living through these experiences back in the forties and sixties, maybe six and eight-year-old kids in 2021 ought to be able to handle learning about them in the safety of their classrooms.
Here we have the “soft bigotry of low expectations” applied to our children. The claim here is that our kids are too sensitive, too innocent, to fragile to learn about the actual historical struggles engaged in by children their own age decades ago. Ruby and Sylvia, even at their young age, were strong, persistent, determined to win the day for a just cause. Our children today, poor things, are so weak that expecting them to learn about Ruby and Sylvia’s histories is too much for them. This is pathetic! Let’s be clear that learning the history of race relations and civil rights in this country is not the same thing as a program like CRT, that too often teaches that White kids are racists by nature and Black and Hispanic kids are victims of their seven-year-old White school mates’ oppression. It is critical that we make this distinction, and that parents rabid over CRT don’t exploit legitimate criticism of CRT to oppose teaching history and the important lessons learned from history. The American philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We must teach our history, all of it, the good and the bad, so our children will be well equipped to take what is best about our nation and build on it to reform what is worst.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.