I read a recent story about an African American educator in Georgia being chased by an angry mob of parents that accused her of teaching elements of the Critical Race Theory (CRT) to her students. The gang forced the highly respected educator to resign and seek employment in another neighboring school district, where word spread about her alleged teachings. She was again forced to leave her position. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/georgia-critical-race-theory-parents-b2103824.html 

In its simplest definition, Critical Race Theory is an intellectual and social movement by civil rights scholars and others to closely examine the good, bad, and ugly of society and law in the United States. Conservative critics and others contend teaching such information in public classrooms–specifically highlighting examples of the long and racist history of the U.S., is unnecessary and promotes a negative image of the country. In other words, don’t teach bad history; ignore it.

As I read the article about the educator in Georgia, I thought about my first-grade teacher. She was an African American woman, and her name was Mrs. McKnight. It was 1967-1968 in the working-class town of Edison, NJ. At the time, she was one of only two teachers of color in the large central New Jersey elementary school. Ironically, I was one of about half a dozen students of color in the school. I was often the only student of color in most of my classes.

Glenn Townes (bottom left) 1st grade–Edison, NJ 1967-1968 (Contributed photo)

Fast forward to a social event a few years ago. One of my former classmates shared with me how he remembered how angry and upset his parents were when they discovered that his first-grade teacher was a Black woman. “Mrs. McKnight was my favorite teacher in elementary school,” he said. “But my parents didn’t like it that she was Black.” The fact that he still vividly remembered that his parents were so outraged that a Black woman was their sons’ first-grade teacher more than 50 years ago amazed me. 

Our brief conversation occurred after a few beers, and the “I was drunk and didn’t know what I was doing or saying” excuse may have factored into his part of the conversation, however, I was still fascinated by what he had said. I also can’t help but wonder if the sentiments shared by his parents resonated with other classmates and their parents? I also wonder if any parents had complained to school administrators about a teacher of color in the classroom? Also, was the fear of CRT being taught in the classroom by one of only two African American grade school teachers a tacit concern by some folks–even way back in the late 1960s? We all know that history does indeed repeat itself..

People want to sugarcoat the country’s disgraceful and appalling history of race relations by eliminating racially motivated events from the school course curriculum. According to recent legislation touted by many politicos, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, want to whitewash–no pun intended– American history.

Image from Black archives

The following quote from an educator sums up the dire need to teach ALL history to ALL students. “It is absolutely critical that students, regardless of their academic discipline, understand how oppression, inequality, governmental policies, and social identities interact to impact the lives of people as it relates to the challenges they face,” said Oscar Holmes IV, PhD., and Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs at Rutgers University. Holmes added, “Legislative attempts to restrict the teaching of American history accurately to students is antithetic to democratic ideals and should be disconcerting to everyone who believes in a fair and democratic society.”

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