Last weekend, around 50 Tennessee educators marched through Memphis to oppose the state’s new ban on Critical Race Theory in the “Downtown Memphis Solidarity Walk.” The educators gathered at the site where a historical slave market run by Confederate General and Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest once stood, then walked by the Schools for Freedman historical marker and the Memphis Massacre marker before concluding at the National Civil Rights Museum.
The march was part of a national pledge called “Day of Action.” The effort was organized by Black Lives Matter (BLM) At School, a national coalition with loose ties to the original BLM, and the Zinn Education Project, which provides supplemental curriculum for “a more accurate, complex, and engaging” version of U.S. history. Some of their materials include information on the 1619 Project, reparations, environmental racism, and antiracism.
The Zinn Education Project claimed the Critical Race Theory ban would require teachers to “lie to students about the role of racism, sexism, heterosexism, and oppression throughout U.S. history.”
Information provided on the march claimed that the Critical Race Theory ban was vague and disallowed teaching about historical events like the lynchings of Black people.
The law uses vague language to ban teachers from talking about racial/social privilege and responsibility for the effects of historical oppression in class. It bans teachers from including material that makes an individual feel ‘discomfort’ when learning about race or gender in U.S. history. Unfortunately, a lot of American history is uncomfortable. But if it really happened, we should never lie to students in order to preserve comfort over truth. The law’s vague undefined language makes it even more of a problem. […] [I]nstead of prioritizing historical fact and legacy, teachers must prioritize appeasing state regulations that ban divisive history, whatever that means.
The new law effectively banning Critical Race Theory doesn’t discuss emotion. Instead, it outlines specific conclusions that educators must not teach to students. These are reproduced below:
- One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex;
- An individual, by virtue or the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously;
- An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of the individual’s race or sex;
- An individual’s moral character is determined by the individual’s race or sex;
- An individual, by virtue or the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex;
- An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex;
- A meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist, or designed by a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex;
- This state or the United States is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist;
- Promoting or advocating the violent overthrow of the United States government;
- Promoting division between, or resentment of, a race, sex, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, social class, or class of people;
- Ascribing character traits, values, moral or ethical codes, privileges, or beliefs to a race or sex, or to an individual because of the individual’s race or sex;
- The rule of law does not exist, but instead is a series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other groups;
- All Americans are not created equal and are not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; or
- Governments should deny to any person with the government’s jurisdiction the equal protection of the law[.]
Tennessee Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn promised to publish further educator guidance on the ban by August 1.
Educators were also instructed to sign a Pledge to Teach Truth, which focused on a commitment to providing a social justice-oriented education. Participants used the hashtag “#TeachTruth” to document the solidarity walk on social media.
“We will continue our commitment to develop critical thinking that supports students to better understand problems in our society, and to develop collective solutions to those problems,” read the pledge. “We are for truth-telling and uplifting the power of organizing and solidarity that move us more toward a just society.”
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