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BY REV. JESSICA ABELL

July 14, 2021
We have to pay attention to and attend local and state school board meetings to help preserve teachers' rights to teach the truth.  
Photo credit: Bob Self | The Florida Times-Union
“Union vows to defend members who teach 'honest history' of US - via The Hill (online edition)
For learning about wisdom and instruction,
for understanding words of insight,
for gaining instruction in wise dealing,
righteousness, justice, and equity;
to teach shrewdness to the simple,
knowledge and prudence to the young—
let the wise also hear and gain in learning,
and the discerning acquire skill,
to understand a proverb and a figure,
the words of the wise and their riddles.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction. - Proverbs 1:2-7
I grew up in Memphis, TN, and I am embarrassed to add Tennessee to the growing list of states that have banned the teaching of Critical Race Theory, or more explicitly the mention of white privilege, in Tennessee public schools. But five states have already passed such laws, and two dozen more state legislatures are cooking up and debating similar bans.
 
There is some irony to this, since Tennessee came onto the national educational scene in the 1920s as the site of the Scopes trial, a case about the legality of teaching the theory of evolution in school.
 
And so I am glad to share and comment on a national teachers’ union support for those in their community who are persecuted or punished in any way for teaching Critical Race Theory or its components. It will be important for the teachers in these hostage states to know that they will have support. (I like to think of the South as large communities of color, farmers, and diverse resistance cells all held hostage by right-wing state governments. I mostly stole that from a meme.)
 
I understand the pushback against teaching a more honest view of history. "History is written by the victors" for a reason - nothing is ever as simple and clean as some might prefer, any incident has multiple sides, and too much nuance undermines unquestioned patriotism and jingoism. Open discussion of race, class, and gender could shake the foundations of everything in the United States. Education is an antidote to fear and denial, which feed the knee-jerk rejections of anything that challenges our worldview. As most white Americans were never taught much of our own national history, learning true stories of how we got where we are WILL change the worldviews of many.
 
And this will frighten people. It is scary for all you’ve known to be upended. Terrifying. Teachers may be in actual danger - those educators who know that CRT is only an articulation of the lived experience of many, and that it must be explored. “Fools despise wisdom and instruction,” as our scripture for this week reminds us. Little stokes anger like something one hates being highlighted. If teachers are targeted, I pray that not only their unions will have their backs. And so say all of us.
Learn
Our national narrative is a whitewashed mess of omission, outright lies, and suppressed voices, but books and documentaries abound right now and are easily accessible. PBS’s Eyes on the Prize is excellent and gives an overview of the Civil Rights Movement. Lest you think slavery vanished in the 1860s, please watch 13th, about how enslavement shifted from the fields to prisons, or Slavery By Another Name, about the forced sharecropping experience.

Speak Out
While it has been state legislatures acting recently, Boards of Education also have an important role to play in this. State Boards of Education will be the bodies setting this broad policy, and there could be several ‘showdowns’ approaching. Reach out to your state Board and your local jurisdictional Boards of Education to express your support for the teaching of a true, holistic history. Go to Board meetings.

Listen
Those who teach and work with children are all around us. Schools require an astonishing amount of staff to run, and it isn’t only the classroom teachers who may face a backlash. Be present for any of these people in your life. Ask them how things are and really listen.
God of all peoples,
We speak many languages and think many different things. But we are all yours, made in your image and called good. Guide us on the path towards a greater understanding, of each other and ourselves, that we might learn and grow together. Strip us of the fear of the other, God, and open our eyes and hearts to the wonders others offer. Give us the courage to support each other on this journey, for none of us is meant to do this alone. This we ask in all the names we call Holy. Amen.
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