By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor
Dictators know an illiterate crowd is the easiest to rule; thus, the history of reading is replete with book bannings and burnings. – Laurien Alexandre
Teachers in Ohio and throughout the nation have had enough! Unsurprisingly, Black and Brown students will bear the harmful collateral damage.
As students return to classrooms, confounded school boards and administrators struggle to fill the swelling vacancies created by teachers who have left the profession or voted to go on strike.
The unprecedented “catastrophic teacher shortage” can be attributed to many things, including post-COVID exhaustion, school safety and low pay.
Yet, the major precipitating cause emanates from a lack of respect for the profession. This contempt is evidenced by “an escalating educational culture war that has seen many districts and states pass policies and laws restricting what teachers can say about U.S. history, race, racism, gender and sexual orientation, as well as LGBTQ issues,” per Hannah Natanson in the Washington Post.
Pioneer Black administrators such as Emory Leverette and teachers such as the Merle Dixon, the Harris sisters, Ethel Matten-Shoto, Marion Stovall Scott, Wayman Palmer, and Delores Vincent must be turning over in their graves.
I imagine late former Parent Teacher Association leaders from a previous generation would also be troubled if they were still living. Mrs. Stenson lived in the McClinton Nunn Homes. Mrs. Taylor, who lived in the Albertus Brown development; Mrs. Newbern, who resided on Lucas Street, all devoted their lives to educating unwealthy Black children. My mother, Mary Perryman, scrubbed floors and emptied bedpans on the midnight shift to ensure that I and children who looked like me could get a “proper” education.
Aware that systems are structured to the advantage of the “privileged descendants of power and privilege,” these leaders of old envisioned a world built and designed for all and where everyone could thrive. They believed education was the key to helping us navigate a world that had written Black and Brown people off. So, they repeatedly affirmed, “We see something in you that you do not see in yourself.”
Or, perhaps they remembered how our ancestors risked lynching, sold, or killed from learning to read or write. So, these faithful leaders served, not only because they wholeheartedly appreciated educators but also because, for Blacks, education was resistance.
Currently, legislation is under consideration that punishes Ohio K-12 schools that teach “divisive concepts” by withholding funds and threatens those who teach specific topics with a loss of their teaching license.
As a result, returning and future students can expect to be taught a pared-back, less-than-factual depiction of American history. Textbooks or books about race or sex will likely be banned and eliminated. Black writers such as Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and Richard Wright are some of the most forbidden books in the U.S. educational system.
I imagine my old teachers, administrators, and parent volunteers alive today. I’m sure they would argue that education, particularly reading, is a “critical counterweight to the lies that currently fill our public discourse.”
What can we do?
We aren’t immune to efforts to deny the freedom to read.
Yet, removing Black images or voices ultimately poisons the mind with low expectations. The refusal to include Black and other minority perspectives assigns their experience to the margins. Instead, it sees minorities as “Gangster number one.” It further teaches them that they are not allowed in specific fields of study such as science or medicine.
So, “We must take command of the story we tell about our communities and reject the lie that we are not excellent enough to achieve our life’s many purposes,” says Patrick Reyes, author of The Purpose Gap.
Therefore, Reyes further asserts that we must acknowledge and include the lives of women, racial and ethnic minorities, the incarcerated, the dispossessed, and the oppressed.
Black writers such as James Baldwin, whose experience “as an intellectual trying to make sense of our racist society is far closer to our struggles than white authors.”
Reading and studying intensely the works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, Toni Morrison, Paulo Freire, Ella Baker, and other philosophers and historians from marginalized communities are also critical.
Additionally, we can advocate for a culturally competent, adequately credentialed, and inclusive educational system.
Finally, adults can join book clubs and support high-quality afterschool, literacy, and educational enrichment programs to bridge the purpose and opportunity gaps.
While banning books is being promoted as patriotic, the truth is that reading and inclusive education are resistance.
Extraordinarily so, when education is at risk.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at firstname.lastname@example.org