I'm Headed to Florida to Teach-In Against DeSantis's Education PoliciesRoundup
tags: racism, Florida, African American history, academic freedom, teaching history, critical race theory, Ron DeSantis, Divisive Concepts
Kellie Carter Jackson is the Michael and Denise Kellen 68’ associate professor in the Department of Africana Studies at Wellesley College. She is the author of “Force and Freedom: Black Abolitionists and the Politics of Violence” and co-host of the podcasts “This Day in Esoteric Political History” and “You Get a Podcast!”
This week I’m traveling to St. Petersburg, Florida, to participate in a 24-hour teach-in for American democracy created by Common Power, an institute committed to fostering, sustaining and expanding voting and education.
The goal of the event is to confront the political assault on Florida’s educational system by teaching truthful history and providing education on voter suppression and voter empowerment.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken the lead on demolishing what he deems as “woke” culture propaganda. He and Florida lawmakers are threatening tenure in higher education, seeking to ban women and gender studies and other LGBTQ programs.
Scholars and educators are terrified that the GOP will severely undermine the academic freedom to write, speak and research without the risk of losing one’s livelihood. Other states are following Florida in a terrifying game of “Simon Says” that reflects a desire to roll back or restrict civil liberties.
For 24 hours scholars, educators, activists and community leaders will teach on the importance of education that refuses to marginalize and erase the triumphs and challenges of African Americans, women and LGBTQ communities who have been vital in the struggle for civil rights and voting rights. The teach-in is intentionally set for May 17, the 69th anniversary of the US Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
Often such milestones remind me how far Americans have yet to go in combating White supremacy. As a history professor, I am constantly reminded that the public cannot depend upon Black History Month, Juneteenth, T-shirts, tweets and a few key speeches to do the arduous work of teaching US history.
In my own classroom, I am perpetually battling gaps in my students’ education or misinformation. I often a recall a student who asked me, “Who is Harriet Tubman again?” He then answered his own question with his own aha! moment by saying, “Oh I remember, she is the woman who wouldn’t get off the bus!”
Knowing the difference between Harriet Tubman or Rosa Parks is not just about being able to spout off trivia, but about understanding that the progress Americans live in was created by those who struggled, sacrificed and in many cases risked their lives to make America a free and equitable society.
Such progress is not judged by the passing of time. Among the newest of the many crises that America’s educational system faces is a struggle over the control of the history, curriculum, textbooks and college majors that define the learning goals of our education system.
Recently, Slate’s popular podcast, “What Next,” interviewed a teacher in Iowa who said he quit his job as a middle school social studies teacher after the school superintendent pushed back on him teaching the idea that slavery was wrong. According to The Washington Post, when contacted for further comment, the superintendent wrote in a statement that “the district provided support” to the teacher “with content through a neighboring school district social studies department head,” but did not answer the question whether she thinks teachers should be able to teach children that slavery was wrong.
I was incredulous, mainly because I write about the abolitionist movement and Black abolitionists in particular. One of the major hurdles abolitionists faced was educating the public on the wrongness of slavery.
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