The education of Black children, or the right to educate Black children, has been a continued fight in the United States. To be a reader seeking knowledge that reflects your human experience seems appropriate and even lauded unless you are Black or constitutionally considered three-fifths. Although the unamended Constitution does not directly refer to Black people by “race,” it does need amending to include rights and freedoms for the Black enslaved (Thirteenth Amendment). Which then lends to the highly utilized anti-literacy laws.
What are the anti-literacy laws? These laws “made it illegal for enslaved and free Blacks (people of color) to read or write. Southern slave states enacted anti-literacy laws between 1740 and 1834, prohibiting anyone from teaching enslaved and free Black people (people of color) to read or write.” While teaching Black children was not illegal in the North, northern states like Indiana and Illinois barred Black people from public schools until 1869.
The point in referencing what has been is that it informs what will be. It seems this merry-go-round of being “anti-woke,” “anti-CRT,” “anti-equitable,” and “anti-social justice” is aimed at placating those with “macro and microaggressions.” Terms and language that have Hamilton Southeastern Schools “up in arms” and possibly have its recent board-appointed Superintendent, Dr. Yvonne Stokes, being “forced out” with less than a year left in the three-year contract.
What, then, could be the reasoning or rationale?
Former HSE board member(s) would say they are unhappy with the trajectory. One, then, would ask which trajectory is it, the growth or inflow of Black and Brown/Bi-racial /People of Color
demographic that has doubled since 2006. Or is it the inclusive/ culturally responsive approach to academic excellence? The latter is a point to remember, which is the direct reason for accepting Dr. Allen Bourff’s retirement (after the BLM debacle and other concerns).
There is something to be said about the cycle of calling black women to clean up the deviations of leaders who are forced to retire or prompted to hurriedly exit tenured (or close to it) positions and then dispose of those same black women after they have answered all of the hard questions, traversed through the public with a viable plan, and stabilized the company. The statement does not mean or suggest Dr. Stoke’s exit is mentioned above, but it is a timely note to add.
Dr. Stokes’s levied approach to racial equity and inclusivity may seem to be the biggest reason for the pushback and her resignation. After insisting faculty and staff adhere to racial equity training and proposing to add microaggression language to the student handbook, “people on both sides” shared their views. And what was seen is what we already knew: the popular polarization of what some would call “anti-Black” and others “White supremacists.”
Indiana’s proposed “Senate Bill 386 seeks to prohibit schools from teaching that a group of people is inherently superior or inferior to another or that they deserve adverse or unequal treatment based on a long list of characteristics: age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, creed, color, marital status, familial status, mental or physical disability, religion, or national origin” (Appleton, 2023). One could agree that the amended bill removes most of the above-centered language, but the amended bill does not remove language surrounding race, creed, and color. Therefore, one can infer the issue of concern is a Black one.
It is, at large, a return to a troubling history. It was a time when Black children were prohibited from learning, reading, writing, and OWNING a book for fear of what they/we would become. And more, it robs all children from knowing the many great contributions through invention, medicine, science, thought, religion, civics, industry, music, art, and culture. Black people/indigenous people have contributed to the world tapestry. These laws would rather support a lie than instruct with a historically accurate curriculum. This idea impedes Black children from learning about America’s/Indiana’s atrocious past. Further, it would have Black children learn and believe slavery is the beginning and end of a whole culture of people. It is not.
So, one wonders if the recent resignation has anything or everything to do with returning to a time of political and social segregation and fugitive pedagogy. To quote the Baldwin we as Black know and love, “There are so many ways of being despicable it quite makes one’s head spin. But the way to be really despicable is to be contemptuous of other people’s pain.” – James Baldwin