Tuesday, March 07, 2023

"Could he still use the youth edition of 'An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States'?"

The title of today's blog post is from an article in The Washington Post. It came out yesterday (March 6, 2023). Its title is 'Slavery was wrong' and 5 other things some educators won't teach anymore.' Its subtitle is "To mollify parents and obey new state laws, teachers are cutting all sorts of lessons." Written by Hanna Natanson, it is a look at the experiences of six teachers. 

I encourage you to read the entire article. I'm focusing on Native content taught by two of the teachers. 

Greg Wickenkamp:
Greg Wickenkamp taught eighth grade social studies in Iowa. There, a new law had been passed in June of 2021 that barred teachers from teaching "that the United States of America and the state of Iowa are fundamentally or systematically racist or sexist." Unclear about how the law would impact him, he emailed the district when school started again in the fall, to give them a list of what he was teaching. The Washington Post article says they have copies of the emails. Because the article says "Could he still use the youth edition of An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People?", I gather that An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People was on the list he sent to the district. The article includes a video, dated Feb 8, 2022, of Wickenkamp's conversation with the superintendent. The conversation centers on slavery. He wants to say that slavery was wrong but the way the law is written suggests that a statement like "slavery is wrong" is a "stance" and therefore not ok. At the end of the school year, Wickenkamp left his position as a teacher and is working on a PhD in Education. My guess is that a statement like "colonialism is wrong" would also be deemed inappropriate. 

Teacher in North Carolina:
The post does not disclose the teachers name because that teacher fears harassment. (Note: I know that fear. Many teachers and parents and librarians write to me about something but ask that I not share it or their name. They fear backlash on themselves or their children or family.) The teacher (of sophomores) taught excerpts from Christopher Columbus's journal, using the first chapter of Zinn's A People's History of the United States. A parent objected, saying it made her White son feel guilty. The district admonished the teacher and told them to stop the lesson on Columbus. They did, and at the end of the year, switched to a different school where they were able to teach those excerpts about Columbus. 


I am one of the people who brought forth An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People.  We know some teachers are using it in their classrooms and we know that some Native children carry it around everyday in their backpack. We know it matters, tremendously. 

I'm grateful to know about the teachers featured in the article. They are exercising leadership in their classrooms. There are many, across the U.S. They and librarians are under tremendous pressure. They need support. School administrators are afraid, too. When your school board is meeting to discuss what is taught in the classrooms, and what is on the library shelves, are you going to the meeting to voice support for teachers like the ones in the article? I hope so. 

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