Author Ta-Nehisi Coates, renowned for his best-selling memoir “Between the World and Me,” made a powerful statement by attending a South Carolina School Board meeting in support of a high school English class that was banned from teaching an essay from his book. Here’s the full story.
A Wave of Book Bans
This incident comes amidst an ongoing wave of book bans across the United States, in which Republican lawmakers and activists are banning books discussing race, gender, and LGBT topics from schools and libraries.
Ashamed of Being White
District officials decided to halt the teaching of an essay from Coates’ memoir in Chapin High School after receiving complaints from some students who expressed discomfort and shame for being white.
The Lesson Plan
The essay’s content, which centered on racism, was part of a lesson plan crafted by English teacher Mary Wood.
Academic Freedom in Question
The ban attracted criticism from state and national educator groups, who argued that Wood’s academic freedom was being censored.
The Silent Protest
In a show of solidarity, Ta-Nehisi Coates, an African-American activist and the author of the book in question, silently protested the ban by sitting beside Mary Wood during the School Board meeting.
His Presence Spoke
Although he did not speak during the gathering, his presence spoke volumes, signaling the importance of open dialogue and free expression in education.
The Strict Policies
Amid the controversy, the Lexington County Republican party called for even stricter policies regarding the materials allowed in public school classrooms.
The State Rule
Currently, South Carolina has a state budget provision that prohibits the use of state funds for teaching certain ideas related to race and gender.
This provision led to the decision to halt Wood’s lesson plan, raising concerns about limiting academic freedom in schools.
Members Shared Their Views
During the School Board meeting, members expressed general contentment with the district’s current policies concerning academic freedom and the handling of controversial materials.
However, Coates’ supporters, including a current high school student, passionately advocated for teaching his book and criticized the ban.
Tess Pratt, the chairwoman of Chapin High’s English department, spoke emotionally about her decision to remove Coates’ books from her students’ hands when the lesson was halted.
The Teacher’s Regret
She highlighted her dedication to sharing diverse stories with her students and the regret she felt for silencing Coates’ narrative.
Pratt clarified that her English Department did not teach Critical Race Theory (CRT), which had been alleged in a previous meeting.
Many members of the Republican party have been spreading the narrative that schools are teaching Critical Race Theory to students.
This is not true: CRT is not being taught in K-12 schools in the United States.
What Is Critical Race Theory?
Critical Race Theory seeks to examine American history through the lens of racism.
It holds that racism has been ingrained in America’s society because of the way its legal and social institutions have been constructed.
In short, it examines systemic and institutional racism.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me” is a powerful nonfiction book written as a letter to his teenage son, recounting his experiences growing up in inner-city Baltimore and the realities of being a black American.
This Was an Important Book
Its raw and honest portrayal of racial injustice and systemic racism has made it a crucial piece in conversations about race in America.
The School Board meeting also saw members of the SC Freedom Caucus, who had sued two state school districts in the past over alleged violations of the budget law concerning race and gender education.
The Board Spoke
School Board Chair Rebecca Hines emphasized the importance of addressing concerns about school lessons through the appropriate channels, urging parents to communicate with teachers first.
The Superintendent’s View
Akil Ross, the district’s superintendent, stressed the necessity of preserving academic freedom for future generations.
He said, “Academic freedom says, even if you disagree with it, there’ll be another opinion presented to our children. Our democracy needs that. We can’t handle differences, and I need academic freedom so that the next generation can.”
Social Media Users Shared Their Views
Several social media users expressed their thoughts on the incident.
One YouTube user wrote, “Banning books by Black authors will never stop the truth. Instead foster an environment of open dialogue and critical thinking. “
A Reddit commentor noted, “History shows nothing good ever comes from banning books.”
Another chimed in, “Where are all of the lawsuits against the whitewashed history lessons that make minorities “uncomfortable”? […] How can they even teach about the Civil War or Equal Rights movement in this (purely political) climate?”
Claiming the Author Is Anti-White?
Another user wrote, “Coates is unabashedly anti-white. His books have no place anywhere, much less a classroom.”
Almost as if in response, a Redditor writes, “Coates isn’t even that controversial, and the course asks students to either agree or disagree with the content and provide reasoning justifying their views. If you can’t justify your views, you need to reevaluate those views, which is what this course is trying to do. Dogma does no one any good, and asking people to present their reasoning for a particular viewpoint is an important part of education.”
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