ATLANTA— Teachers, students and parents across the U.S. joined in a pledge to “teach truth” campaign, opposing new laws in various states restricting school curricula on race.
Rallies held June 11-12 were symbolic, marking the two-year anniversary since the spark of racial justice protests and marches across the nation, following the murder of George Floyd, a Black man killed by police in Minneapolis.
Protests were held at various historic sites in each of the participating states.
In Georgia, such rallies were held in the Decatur Square, where a confederate monument was removed in 2020, and at Stone Mountain Park— often called the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan with perhaps the most prominent Confederate monument in the world. The faces of three Confederate leaders are carved on the mountain.
“The Georgia government purchased Stone Mountain, the largest Confederate monument in the world, in 1958 to symbolize its contempt for Brown v. Board. Now lawmakers seek to whitewash the lessons teachers implement in the classroom,” said Sally Stanhope, a history teacher at Chamblee High School in metro Atlanta. “In April, Gov. Kemp signed into law a ban on ‘divisive concepts’ from schools. Such measures ensure a complacent citizenry unprepared to reform the injustices that haunt our country. It’s time to face the truth in our state parks and classrooms.”
Georgia’s new law, in part, prevents teaching topics that could portray that one race is inherently superior to another race; that the U.S. is fundamentally racist; and that an individual is inherently or consciously racist or oppressive toward individuals of certain races. Districts are now tasked with coming up with a complaint process for students, parents or other school staff to report teachings of “divisive concepts.”
“I’m worried that we’re going to be reproducing what is in that park right now in our classrooms and that we’re going to be raising citizens that think that three enslavers, two of which never came to Georgia, who killed millions are people, we need to celebrate and have roads named after,” Stanhope said.
Since 2021, measures to limit race discussions in schools has been proposed or passed in at least 42 states.
The actions follow a September 2020 directive from then-President Donald Trump to cease racial sensitivity training that had been taking place at federal agencies: “...all agencies are directed to begin to begin to identify all contracts or other agency spending related to any training on ‘critical race theory,’ white privilege,’ or any other training propaganda effort that teaches or suggested either (1) that the U.S. is an inherently racist or evil country or (2) that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil.”
While Critical Race Theory — a concept that suggests systemic racism is embedded in laws, policies and institutions — isn’t taught in Georgia, Alabama and many K-12 schools in other states, opponents fear restrictions in the new laws, many of which specifically reference CRT, could target teachers whose curriculum borderline other race-related topics.
The Alabama State Board of Education in August 2021 approved a ban on CRT teachings in public schools, and the state legislature this year attempted to approve more detailed race-teaching restrictions.
“We can teach U.S. history, the good, bad and the ugly without dividing children along racial lines,” countered Sen. Butch Miller, who led Georgia’s bill in the Senate. “CRT is wrong and it views American history through a racial sense. It’s a filter that focuses on victimhood, not triumph. We don’t defeat racism with racism....we must teach patriotism, that America’s good, though not perfect. “
Scott Nesbit, a white male who identified himself as a concerned citizen at the June 12 Stone Mountain rally, expressed concern that the new law will add to the stress of already overburdened teachers who could face complications of having to face complaints or change lessons.
“The (anti) CRT bill is definitely allowing for white children’s feelings to be legislated. Part of this legislation is saying if a white child feels uncomfortable then the teacher that is responsible for that white child’s feelings has to face a tribunal,” Nesbit said.
“That ambiguity and the power of that ambiguity is something we can deal with,” he said. “The question is whose feelings matters.”
Prior to the new legislation, one parent said her children attended a field trip to the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, but she said she was unsure if that would possible under the new law. Her son, Ahren Lake — a teen attending a metro Atlanta school — said learning history is often uncomfortable for all students.
“Unfortunately, we’ve been doing that for years,” Lake said. “What about all the African American children who have gotten uncomfortable when we start talking about slavery or any of this stuff? I had friends who were African American in those classes and I could tell that might have felt uncomfortable about some of those things. We only care about white children’s feelings.”
“We are not all protecting children, we’re protecting white people which is a problem,” he continued. “That is blatant discrimination to a point. I get it if you’re protecting children in all uncomfortable subjects, but you’re not.”
The “Teach Truth” rallies — coordinated by Zinn Education Project, Black Lives Matter at School and African American Policy Forum — were held in more than 25 states, particularly in states where new laws were approved this year.
“We don’t know what that law is going to look like in our classrooms or universities but hopefully we’ll get rid of it within the year and won’t have to find out how bad it can be,” Stanhope said.