The state of Mississippi is moving, on at least two fronts, to negatively impact the education of its kindergarten through twelfth grade students. Those two fronts are the Mississippi Department of Education and the Mississippi State Legislature. Early warnings of such actions have been provided by Dr. Earl Watkins, former superintendent of education for the Jackson Public School system, in his capacity with the NAACP.
Then, as a result of Watkins’ work with the NAACP, individuals such as Dr. Corrine Anderson, long-time educator in the Jackson area, Ms. Deloris Lee, President of the Jackson Branch NAACP, and Mr. Frank Figgers, long-time civil rights activist and current member of the board of trustees for the Jackson Public Schools, have helped spread the word regarding the actions at the MS Department of Education.
Based upon work that it has authorized, MDE has announced a public hearing scheduled for January 28th at the Sparkman Auditorium, located on the grounds of the Mississippi Agricultural and Forest Museum (1150 Lakeland Dr., Jackson, MS). The hearing, however, was not scheduled until after the Mississippi Association of Educators applied pressure regarding the revisions. The purpose of the hearing is to allow public comments on the more than 300-page document that has been developed, revising the social studies standards for the state’s public schools.
The curriculum revisions come in the wake of the national conservative movement to do away with much of the teaching about slavery, Jim Crow policies, and continuing examples of racism. The revisions were quietly proposed after State Superintendent Carey Wright assured Governor Tate Reeves and other political leaders that Critical Race Theory was not being taught in the public schools of Mississippi. Apparently, however, the department remained under pressure to eliminate various ideas on slavery, Jim Crow policies, and other examples of racism from the curriculum and materials used by the students.
In response to that pressure, teachers, administrators and consultants have combed through every social studies objective, K – 12, in order to come up with what would pass muster in the eyes of those politicians who take their lead from the likes of Donald Trump and the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Listed here are just twelve among more than one hundred such examples of the revisions. (1) In African American Studies, there is no objective on the medical, architectural, intellectual, economic, or other developments in Africa, especially, prior to the Atlantic Slave Trade. (2) In U.S. History, there are no objectives dealing with Jim Crow policies, racial terrorism, or the lynchings that characterized much of society following the abolition of slavery. (3) In U.S. History, President Herbert Hoover’s policies of rugged individualism and trickle-down economics as failed responses to the growing depression is removed as an objective. (4) In U.S. History, the role of the AFL-CIO and other labor unions is removed as an objective. (5) In Mississippi Studies, students will no longer be asked to analyze the trends and records of poverty and wealth distribution in the state. (6) Seventh grade students will no longer be asked to summarize the works of formerly enslaved African Americans who worked to lead others to freedom. (7) Fifth graders will no longer be asked to examine at least one group of people who have struggled for equality and civil rights. (8) Fourth graders will not be asked to examine sharecropping as a response to the ending of slavery. (9) Third graders will not be asked to evaluate how different energy sources have impacted the environment. (10) They also will not be asked to investigate the expansion of voting rights in the state. (11) Second graders will no longer be required to recognize the value of such concepts as the common good, liberty, justice equality, and individual dignity. (12) Kindergarteners will no longer be expected to define a citizen’s rights and responsibilities.
These are just a tiny fraction of the revisions, but what they reveal is an attempt to not have students think too deeply about the issues, focusing on level one thinking, if any at all. The revisions show that there is an attempt to not criticize past policies or oppose present ones that are favored by White conservatives. The revisions point to more propagandizing than objective teaching. It also becomes apparent that much of what may be seen as critical examination is reserved for courses such as African American Studies and Problems of American Democracy, which are electives and therefore not taken by most students. As a matter of fact, many districts do not even offer the courses.
In addition to the political pressure under which administrators at MDE operate, there are other reasons for suspicion regarding the revisions. For example, in looking at the consultants used and the teachers involved, there is a scarcity of individuals who would bring a different perspective on many of the matters of race and racism. That is not adequate representation of scholars from Alcorn, Jackson State, Mississippi Valley, Rust, and Tougaloo. There are very few educators from predominantly Black school districts among the individuals listed as contributors to the final document. It is similar to other conditions wherein Black people are so overwhelmingly outnumbered until they are not heard or seriously considered.
Concerned citizens as well as teachers’ union representatives are invited and encouraged to sign-up to speak at the hearing on January 28 and to show up at the hearing even if they are not planning to speak. Many of the teachers and representatives of the Mississippi Association of Educators and American Federation of Teachers are not pleased with the actions of MDE and plan to communicate their concerns at the hearing and later.
Meanwhile, during their first week in Jackson, state legislators have introduced a flurry of bills, including HB 437, which is designed to prohibit the teaching of certain concepts or content, to provide for the withholding of funds from districts found to be in violation of the prohibitions, and to establish mechanisms to investigate complaints alleging such violations. This is another of the efforts that fits the pattern of riding under the umbrella of opposing Critical Race Theory, although not using the term, and is really about eliminating the teaching of anything about slavery, Jim Crow, and other forms of oppression and racism.
The sponsors of these bills are well-known conservative Republican operatives. They are concerned about controlling what students learn or don’t learn for political reasons, not about the optimum development of the students. Given the fact that the state legislature is more than two-thirds Republican, one of the generic bills is likely to pass and to join MDE revisions as instruments that further miseducate and further dumb-down the state’s youth population.
Separately and together, MDE and legislative actions will attack and undermine the academic freedom which teachers should be able to exercise and which students and the community should expect. The teachers are experts in their fields and must be free to teach as they have been taught. The students must be considered and respected as free citizens. They should not be put in the position of years later having to declare, “My teachers never taught me that.” Students have the right not to be miseducated or dumbed-down as students.
Who knows, for example, whether a student would not choose to be proud of him or herself by following the path of an abolitionist or civil rights advocate rather than automatically sympathizing with a slave owner or staunch segregationist. It is perhaps the fear of their making such a choice that is driving these efforts to propagandize rather than teach the students. Yet, students should be free to develop into who they will be, and society should expect the schools to help develop the best students possible in terms of their intellectual and moral/ethical characteristics.
Politicians must be required to back-off and let teachers do their jobs professionally. Citizens are in the position to require that the politicians back-off and enable the students to become full-fledged, critical thinking adults.
We make these declarations not in order to appear bold or even trailblazing in our thinking, but because history has shown that conservative politicians in the state have long opposed fully educating all segments of society. Their preference and effort have long been to provide only the minimum education to Black children, other ethnic minorities, and even white children from poor, working-class families. The current move to miseducate and dumb-down Mississippi’s youth is just a matter of history repeating itself.
That is not what is needed in 2022, and in reality, never was.