I’m A Middle School Teacher And See How Critical Race Curriculum Is Creating Racial Hostility In School
Providence, RI: Some Students Have Started Calling Me “America” Because I’m White, and Colleagues Accuse Me of Having “White Privilege.”
I have been a public school teacher for the past 22 years, with the past seven in Providence, Rhode Island. I have had the honor of serving public school children and their families as an English teacher first at the high school level, and currently at the middle school level.
During my career I have always tried to provide the best education for my students. I am designated by the Rhode Island Department of Education a ‘Highly Qualified’ teacher, meaning, I have tenure and experience in my certifications. I was awarded the English Speaking Union Shakespeare Scholarship for excellence in teaching Shakespeare. I helped implement curriculum and I have hosted multiple student clubs, literary magazines, youth groups and community outreach programs.
I love being a teacher and I care a great deal about my students, almost all of whom are non-white. This past 2020/21 school year was a sad and worrisome turning point for me as an educator. Providence K-8 teachers were introduced to one of the most racially divisive, hateful, and in large part, historically inaccurate curriculums I have ever seen in my teaching career.
Yes, I am speaking about the controversial critical race theory that has infiltrated our public schools here in Rhode Island under the umbrella of Cuturally Responsive learning and teaching, which includes a focus on identities. You won’t see the words “critical race theory” on the materials, but those are the concepts taught. The new, racialized curriculum and materials focuses almost exclusively on an oppressor-oppressed narrative, and have created racial tensions among students and staff where none existed before.
During fall 2020 semester, we were given our curriculum timeline on the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War. I noticed the stories and books seemed to focus almost exclusively on slavery and racism. Those are appropriate topics that we always have taught, but the focus has become narrow, excluding many other aspects of our history.
You can see in this image of me in my classroom in 2019 that we taught about racism, including the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the novel Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, among others.
American history now is being retold exclusively from the perspective of oppressed peoples during the Revolutionary period through to the Civil War, and also in the literature of the Civil Rights movement. From my position in the classroom, it seemed that much of American history and literature was getting wiped out. No one of these new books, standing alone, would be problematic, it’s the new lack of diversity of perspective that is the problem. Although the 1619 Project itself has not yet been introduced, the historical perspective now has shifted to making slavery and racism the defining events of the founding and growth of America.
Missing from our curriculum during the 2020/ 21 school year was the diversity, perspective, truth, and rigor that previously were taught. Previously vetted books were removed from our classroom and sent to recycling. Gone was the diverse collection of American and World Literature: House On Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, James Baldwin Go Tell It On The Mountain, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, essays by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., poetry by Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, Anne Frank, Night, The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, Macbeth, Walt Whitman, The Salem Witch Trials, The Crucible , Holocaust studies, world genocide, world art, universal themes, universal characters and any book or short story from the literary cannon.
What saddened me most was that I would not be teaching the Holocaust any longer. The Holocaust unit included one of the following: either Anne Frank, The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, and depending on reading level, Elie Weisel’s Night When I asked the school reading coach where all the Holocaust books were, she said “we do not teach the Holocaust because kids can’t relate to the story.” What? Kids can’t relate to genocide, hate, discrimination, and prejudice? Yes children can relate to these universal themes, we all can. Children would never learn about the evils of hatred during the Second World War? Why? What was it about the truth and perspective that seemed to escape us during the 2020/21 school year? Exactly why was all this great literature removed from our curriculum?
Then sometime around January 2021, hundreds of new leaflet style booklets arrived, all poorly written, historically biased, inaccurate, and pushing a racial narrative. I noticed the book covers right away. They were odd. In some cases the book covers browned out the faces of historical characters like Lincoln to look black or brown, none of the books were recognizable, and all the booklets seemed to revolve around slavery or oppression.
Perplexed, I thought there was a mistake. I asked a teacher leader what was going on and he looked jokingly at me saying “Comrade, we were told to remove all classroom sets of reading material in order to make room for the incoming sets of books.” I laughed, assuming this was a joke. But it was not a joke, this was real and happening in my school, in my classroom.
In isolation and without historical perspective, the thematic message in every book was clear: White Europeans were and are evil and African Americans were and are victimized by white oppressors. Woven into this new curriculum was a school-wide social push to focus on Black Lives Matter support groups and other social justice identity groups.
This was a system-wide directive to separate white and non-white teachers for training.
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Internal professional development separating white teachers from black teachers? How is that inclusive? During these professional development sessions, black teachers were encouraged to share stories of racism and white educators encouraged to talk about what it means to be white. I can think of nothing more divisive than dividing us up by race.
Finally, for some students, standing for The Pledge of Allegiance was no longer something they did. We are not allowed to question why, and the truth is, I knew why. Already these young people were beginning to hate America. I was the only person standing and the only person that could be heard saying “liberty and justice for all”.
Midway through the academic year, some students started calling me “America” because I was white. These students, whom I love, were turning against me because of my skin color. I don’t blame them, I blame the racial narratives being forced upon them in school.
Several of my colleagues stated I had “white privilege.” I was quickly made to feel as though I was becoming the enemy. My black colleagues added more similar comments in passing, for example: “You have white privilege Bessinger, your gestures are a rich person’s gestures.”
The school culture for many was becoming increasingly tense. Children asked questions about the never-ending thematic focus on slavery. They asked me to tell them why I lived in a “white castle.” Where were my students hearing this? For sure in the new books and new curriculum.
At my school, the increasing hatred towards America seemed on the rise. I blame the books, I blame the media, the literature showing kids themes akin to America is bad, and white people are the enemy. While some teachers embraced this ideology, many secretly modified the lessons to include historically accurate supplemental materials.
After asking the school Network leaders where this curriculum came from I learned it was purchased from a company that had all preloaded curriculum materials, specifically unvetted preselected books written by predominantly unknown authors.
I have raised my concerns about the unvetted curriculum internally within the school system, and also in public testimony before a Rhode Island State Senate Committee. In response, I have been subjected to attempted intimidation and harassment.
While we must always strive to do better as a society, we cannot allow history and culture to be wiped out by political ideology. We cannot allow our children to be taught they are inferior. We cannot teach young people that white people are the enemy because our students, brown, black, indigenous, and white deserve to be children and not political pawns or political weapons. Any curriculum that shames our children or divides our children by the color of their skin should be banned. Rather, we need to work together, all colors, all races, all parties to restore truth and perspective to our classrooms and stop the indoctrination of our young people.
Providence Teachers Union Confirms Affinity Group Segregation, Historical Books Destroyed, Holocaust Education Ended (Ramona Bessinger Update)DONATE
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