A parent coalition is concerned that the Wit and Wisdom curriculum, approved for use in 33 counties, may violate Tennessee’s K-12 critical race theory ban. The coalition, Moms for Liberty of Williamson County, formed a parent-led deep dive team to examine the entire curriculum, including the accompanying teacher manuals. According to their findings, Moms for Liberty of Williamson County believes that one of the learning modules within the curriculum for second graders teaches content that was banned from K-12 education recently by the Tennessee legislature: that one race is inherently superior to another; that individuals should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress because of their race; that the U.S. is fundamentally or irredeemably racist; and the promotion of a division between or resentment of a race.
Wit and Wisdom incorporates a type of education called “social-emotional learning.” The curriculum tackles history and complex topics such as segregation, animal reproduction, and death through the English language arts.
One of the books highlighted by the deep dive team, “Separate is Never Equal,” discusses school segregation through a narrated version of one Hispanic woman’s personal experiences of the issue. One character in the book goes into a lengthy diatribe about the educational, hygienic, economic, and social inferiorities of Mexican individuals.
The deep dive team emphasized that the book never denounced these statements as false. They also pointed out that the teacher’s manual instructed educators to introduce students to the book through illustrations first because of the content complexity. Educators are told to show students the illustrations of sad Mexican children behind bars while white children play happily in a pool, a sign that says “No Dogs or Mexican Children Allowed – Public Pool,” and Mexican children eating food surrounded by flies and cattle in an electric fence pen.
The illustration introduction is an exercise within the Wit and Wisdom curriculum called, “Notice and Wonder.”
Other Wit and Wisdom books for second graders discussed historical moments like the Civil Rights protests and Ruby Bridges, the first Black child to desegregate an all-white elementary school in the South. Content highlighted in these books as contentious included the photographs of fire hoses turned on Black protestors during the Civil Rights marches, and language discussing how the white crowd looked ready to kill Ruby Bridges.
The deep dive team also noticed that the teacher’s manual accompanying one of the books discussing Ruby Bridges teaches children the “n-word.” Educators are encouraged to do so by emphasizing the faint lettering that appears on a wall depicted in a Norman Rockwell painting.
One repetitive theme that Moms for Liberty noticed was the tendency for this module of the Wit and Wisdom curriculum to characterize white people as a negative collectively. They relayed how the curriculum focuses on “dark and divisive” aspects of U.S. history for 9 weeks in 34 daily lessons.
“Without seeing the teaching materials involved in this module, one cannot begin to grasp the high level of manipulation being inflicted upon the young minds of impressionable second graders who do not yet have the level of maturity or capacity to think critically, nor enough knowledge of U.S. history and experience to provide adequate context to the narrowly-focused [Wit and Wisdom] lessons,” wrote the deep dive team. “The narrow and slanted obsession on historical mistakes reveals a heavily biased agenda, one that makes children hate their country, each other, or themselves. The relentless nature of how these divisive stories are taught, the lack of historical context and difference in perspective, and the manipulative way the lessons were designed to be taught all work together to amplify and sow feelings of resentment, shame of one’s skin color, and/or fear.”
Earlier this month, Moms for Liberty of Williamson County hosted a public event to present their findings for other grade levels that use the curriculum, from kindergarten to the fifth grade.
Moms for Liberty is a national organization founded last year. Currently, it has 47 chapters – 3 of which are in Tennessee. In addition to the Williamson County chapter, both Hamilton and Knox counties have a chapter.
The state K-12 ban on critical race theory goes into effect on July 1. Tennessee’s Education Commissioner, Penny Schwinn, promised to publish guidance on the ban by August 1.
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Corinne Murdock is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and the Star News Network. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to [email protected].
Photo “First Day of School” by World Bank Photo Collection CC2.0.