“There’s room in my classroom – whether you’re moderate, conservative or liberal – to engage in debate, engage in disagreement,” said Aireane Montgomery, who teaches a high school ethnic studies course at public schools across the country. Gwinnet County.
Attempts to curb racial discussions are misguided, she said, because classrooms should be a safe place to discuss issues.
The boundary push in Georgia has largely been led by white people, from lawmakers to rowdy crowds at board of education meetings. Many parents have told school boards they fear their children will learn they are racist because of the history of black oppression by white people.
“We can defend free speech and academic freedom while ensuring that our history – with all its bright moments and sore spots – is something we must learn from, not something that is etched in our DNA. “said Sen. Bo Hatchett, R-Cornelia, co-sponsor of one of the bills.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reached out to many students, teachers, and parents from diverse backgrounds whose voices were not widely heard in the debate. Some teachers asked to remain anonymous out of concern for their careers or safety.
Atlanta Public Schools social studies teacher Anthony Downer said much of what he teaches in a new African studies course would be banned if these bills become law. Her course offers a historical look at black culture and society.
He said his students were “hungry” for these lessons.
“To be fair and inclusive, you have to go beyond that,” he said.
Some say schools are doing too little to prepare students to live with diversity. They should teach more, not less.
“The curriculum we teach centers around the white male experience,” said a Fulton County college teacher. “What you have is a program that leaves out many great accomplishments of black, indigenous people of color.”
Teachers do not indoctrinate children, she said, but rather provide students with facts and “empower them to think critically.”
“It’s not like white people are bad,” she said. “That doesn’t happen in the classroom, which I think these people think – that we’re just hitting a race of people.”
Another APS social studies professor said, “This whole debate has made me a little more self-aware and made me a little more careful with nuance.”
Recently, about 50 teachers, parents and activists gathered outside the state Capitol to protest the race bills proposed by lawmakers.
Many districts in Georgia celebrate Black History Month in February with special programs. Districts in Clayton and DeKalb counties, where the student body is predominantly black, are also celebrating Black Lives Matter — a social justice movement deemed controversial in other districts.
“We celebrate diversity without fear, without favor,” said DeKalb School Board President Vicki Turner.
APS, which also primarily serves black students, recently established a Center for Equity and Social Justice. The school board registered a 2020 statement that reaffirms “that Black Lives Matter” and calls for the dismantling of “a racist and oppressive system that has a legacy of over 400 years.”
Lily Littrell, a high school student from Gwinnett County, said some teachers kept difficult subjects at bay.
“Like, ‘Oh, Jim Crow laws used to exist but they’re gone now,’ like there’s no more voter suppression in America,” Littrell, 17, said. “It’s like, ‘Because of the civil rights movement, a lot of the issues that the black community used to face are gone.
The Parkview High School student also said that the ranks of teachers aren’t as diverse as the student body, and that’s important. She was adopted from China when she was very young. His parents are white. She didn’t see a teacher who looked like her until eighth grade, when she was assigned to a math class led by a Korean woman.
She said a book by an Asian author had never been read before a language course in her freshman year.
Tsion Agaro, a student in DeKalb County, can’t count on her parents to teach her about the heavy racial history of the United States. They emigrated from Ethiopia. She said the GOP legislation is personal to her.
“In my class, we talk about bills like these and we’re all angry about it,” said Agaro, who is black. She said she felt like people like her were ignored and their story didn’t matter.
Brian Seymour II, a black father of three in Cobb County, worries that schools are avoiding sensitive topics or scratching the surface of racial history, though he has yet to see the evidence.
He loved that his 9-year-old daughter learned how Sacagawea, a young Native woman, had helped two white men – Meriwether Lewis and William Clark – on their expedition through new American lands to the Pacific coast.
Kristal Seymour said her kids have friends across the color spectrum. Race is becoming less and less of an issue.
“But I feel like if we start moving away from race theory and we start moving away from these conversations, we’re going to repeat history,” she said.
Future generations will misunderstand how they got to where they are, she said. They will not understand people who are not like them.
“Systemic racism is real,” said Raymond Pierce, president of the Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation, an organization founded after the Civil War to advocate for public education in the South.
He thinks GOP lawmakers are offering a solution to a problem — that teachers are indoctrinating their students — that doesn’t exist. And he fears it will drive teachers out of the profession.
“It lays the groundwork to then start banning books, firing teachers, going through the curriculum, and eliminating all conversations about history other than George Washington walked through Delaware,” he said.
A fifth-grade teacher at Cobb said her students were interested in lessons about refugees and the legalization of interracial marriage. Regardless of what state lawmakers decide, she will continue to teach her students the same way — delivering facts without opinion, she said.
“It’s their job to know how other people live and how other people are, and they can’t be empathetic and contribute to society if they can’t understand other people’s experience,” she said. .
Writers Cassidy Alexander and Leon Stafford contributed to this article.
What is Critical Race Theory?
Critical race theory is used in higher education to examine the effect of racism on society. It examines how race has shaped culture, legal systems and policies to produce unequal outcomes. Public school leaders say theory is not taught in K-12 grades. Critics say his principles on systemic inequity have influenced teachers and curricula.