Role of race and racism crucial to learning SC history

·3 min read

It wasn’t critical race theory that led an outraged parent to rush into my school demanding that his child be taken out of my class.

Despite being assured by my white colleagues that not only was I a good teacher, but I was one of the “good ones,” he still could not come to grips with the idea that his precious teenager would be exposed to this type of course.What type of Course? The African-American Experience.

Thanks to my administration’s foresight and commitment to inclusive education for all students, I was supported in the creation of a standards-based social studies elective that focused on the Black experience in the United States, concentrating on the contributions and challenges faced in South Carolina.

A majority of my students were black. They were excited to explore a version of history that centered the experiences of their ancestors and saw them as central to the plot of the American story instead of only a supporting actor making cameos during the Civil War and Civil Rights movement. A class that magnified black people’s amazing triumphs, while not minimizing many unspeakable tragedies.

I also taught white students. Why did they take the class? Some heard it was an “easy A,” some had me for other courses in the social studies curriculum, and some were genuinely curious.

Yes, my white students were learning Black History in a mostly black class and all survived. Most of them got the grade they wanted and some even enjoyed the class.

We talked about people like Denmark Vessey, Harry Briggs, Septima Clark, Sarah Mae Flemming, Judge Waites Waring, Issac Woodard, and Cleveland Sellers.

We explored the relevance of places like Orangeburg, Clarendon County, Winnsboro, Rock Hill, and Charleston.

We discussed the Stono Rebellion, the Orangeburg Massacre, Briggs vs. Elliot and unfortunately, we had to use our historical tools to examine the Charleston nine shooting in real-time.

But you know what we didn’t learn, review or even mention? Critical race theory.

We didn’t learn CRT for several reasons, mainly because it’s not part of the K-12 social studies curriculum in South Carolina.

But let’s be honest, we aren’t scared of CRT, neither was that man who refused to let his child take my class.

We are scared of the truth.

We can continue to tell a noble lie and skip the uncomfortable and inconvenient parts of our history, or we can summon the collective courage to tell the truth. Brave teaching places priority on historical facts over feelings.

We must love our students enough to tell them difficult truths regardless of how it makes us feel.

An honest historical record of South Carolina History cannot be taught without identifying, discussing, and ultimately attempting to understand the role race has played in our state’s story.

It wasn’t CRT that led that white parent to protest his white student being taught Black History by a Black man.

That was racism. I wonder what class he learned that in?

Preston Thorne, a former high school teacher, is Outreach Coordinator, Student Success Coach in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the College of Education at the University of South Carolina.

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