The professor who swears allegiance to Tucker Carlson and the teacher who uses 'Gone with the wind' to teach the Civil War to 10-year-olds
The moral panic over something critics call CRT is only spreading
I participate in training sessions for teachers looking for more effective ways to handle their classrooms and teach a diverse group of students. During one such training session this summer, which included professors from around the country, during a short break, we were chit chatting. One of the professors proudly told us that she simply swears by Tucker Carlson of the Fox News Channel, that at 8 every night, no one in her house can talk while Carlson is talking, she’s so into him.
I’m not a fan of Carlson. I think what he does most nights is destructive, has deep white-nationalistic tendencies, if not straight up white supremacy, and that he lies and distorts while talking about those with whom he has ideological disagreements. That he has the highest-rated cable TV news talk show speaks poorly about where we are in the aftermath of the Trump presidency and Jan. 6. I’m not a fan. And yet, I would never move to punish the professor who swears by him, wouldn’t want her fired, wouldn’t want to stand over her to ensure she said nothing in class I didn’t like or might discomfort black students. I firmly believe teachers should be given wide latitude in their classrooms. That’s my philosophy and is unlikely to change anytime soon even though I know Fox News, Carlson and the like have an incredible amount of sway over some teachers. I would never support an effort to implement laws and policies to silence them. That’s why what’s been happening over the past year has been so confounding, because on many days it seems as though if I don’t take an extremist position to match the extremism of others, their extremism will win out.
And yet I will continue to resist the urge to fight fire with fire.
A few weeks ago, I spoke to a grandmother in the Myrtle Beach, S.C., area upset about something happening in her 10-year-old granddaughter’s school. Her teacher was showing them “Gone with the Wind” - the propogandist movie that’s popular among those who believe in the Lost Cause myth (as well as movie buffs).
“I was shocked by it,” the grandmother told me. “She liked the movie and she loves her teacher. It bothers me because it’s not the true history of the South. I’m just surprised that they would use a movie like that to teach.”
I’m not naming the woman or the school because it’s really not about one school. If you live in this region long enough - and I’ve been here all my life - you know this isn’t about one school or one teacher, but a mindset so common and ingrained it is kind of like wallpaper here. Besides, the woman, a 68-year-old white woman who grew up in New York where she said they weren’t learn much about slavery, says she doesn’t want to cause a stink because her daughter and granddaughter like the school. I have no problem with that.
She asked my wife, the founder of the literacy non-profit Freedom Readers and the CEO of the Boys and Girls Club here, to suggest some age-appropriate books to help her provide her granddaughter with a more rounded view of race and our history. And she said she’d be taking her on tours of historical plantations in the area so her granddaughter can get a more tangible sense of what slavery was and how the enslaved lived.
The point is that amid all this anti-Critical Race Theory hysteria, these kinds of lessons happen every day in classrooms throughout the South, and probably elsewhere, without much fanfare. If we did what some anti-CRT folks suggested, and put body cams on teachers, people would be shocked by what some teachers pass off as lessons about race and our history. That’s why only 8 percent of high school seniors could identify slavery as the primary cause of the Civil War. Think about that. In a country with that level of historical racial ignorance, we have angry white parents and opportunistic politicians selling the idea that the real threat is white kids being discomforted by talk of white privilege.
Around the time I was speaking to that grandmother about “Gone with the wind,” the Horry County Board of Education was holding a meeting. A lot of people showed up for the public comment portion of the meeting. I was one of maybe three black people there, which also included the school district’s lawyer and a reverend from a historically-black church from down the street. He was there to tell the school board chairman to research CRT before speaking about it so poorly in public. The chairman made clear that it was he - and he alone - who had spoken about the subject as part of his campaign. The board had not for a very good reason - because CRT is not being taught in area schools. That did not stop the mostly-white crowd from breaking out into cheers when one speaker after another talked about the need to ban it anyway, to put the focus on reading, writing and math, to ensure that telling white kids that “well, you’re white so you’re not so good anymore,” doesn’t happen in, because that’s how those irate white parents and grandparents described CRT.
I spent a considerable amount of time after that portion of the meeting ended speaking to many of them. I repeatedly asked for any of them to provide me a single example of CRT being taught in the schools, or even that distorted version of white kids being told they are “not so good anymore” because they are white. Not one of them could. Not one.
They instead claimed that students were no longer being disciplined in school but that massive racial disparities in discipline rates - including the fact that 90 percent of students in a neighboring school district expelled one year were black - were the fault of those black students and their absentee black fathers. They told me systemic racism wasn’t real and that the disparities were all a result of black people not holding up our end of the bargain. They said white men were the real victims of police shootings.
They said: “We are America first. This is America. We all are gonna be American together.”
They said even if CRT was not being taught in our schools now it might one day and that’s why it was important for them to speak up now. Our exchanges were animated and passionate. And after it all, they told me to not use their names or that they’ll sue me, even though I have them on audio.
Trying to salvage something, they gave me their email addresses so we could continue a dialogue and exchange ideas, thoughts and research and articles to buttress our arguments so maybe we could understand each other better. The next day, I did just that, shot off a few detailed emails. Weeks later, I’m still waiting to hear back.
This is what we are facing. We are contending with a moral panic spreading among white parents convinced schools are turning on their children, trying to scapegoat them for the country’s racist history. It matters not that CRT, as well as the kinds of ugly messages the speakers at that school board meeting were conjuring up in their heads are not being taught in the schools. In fact, in this region of the country, white students are a lot more likely to be taught a version of history that is sympathetic to enslavers such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and the Confederate States of America than that they should feel bad for being white.
I am honestly at a loss as to how to stem the tide against that, because telling the truth about what’s happening - and happened - doesn’t seem to move the needle much.