Parent and Student Centered Education in the United States

Suppression of Academic Freedom in the Classroom: "The Ruby Bridges Story"

Dear Subscriber,

I marched with Dr. King and Ron Kovic. As a veteran against the war and as a person who wanted to see integration of our society, I believed it to be my obligation to do something. After many years, the same anti-establishment rhetoric is happening, and it’s being sold by folks who want us to believe they’re giving out “freedom” to parents and citizens by censoring and preventing freedom of academic inquiry inside public school classrooms. Most of my historical mysteries concern the reality of this kind of obstruction of freedom in the name of populist anger at the government for all the problems of their existence in the present.

Let me get this rationally and logically straight. A single parent can get a school to ban a documentary film, with live footage of the actual event featured. This documentary concerns a six-year-old human, who happens to have dark skin, and this film shows what the white people of that year, 1960, in Louisiana, were yelling at her when she and her parents tried to obey the Federal Government and integrate an all-white public school.
 
This 2023 parent’s child is in the second grade. The child in the documentary is in the first grade. There is a time difference of sixty-three years between this parent’s child going to second grade in a Florida public school and the dark-skinned child going to first grade in a Louisiana public school.
 
What do teachers do, again? Remind me. I only did it for twenty-five years, both in the classroom, online, and both online and in the classroom. Oh. Teachers ask questions about the material students view to focus on what is happening in the video/film/book. Correct?
 
Okay, so the law says, in most districts in the United States, in one form or another, that the teacher may have the “academic freedom” to explore all relevant issues about topics that affect the students and what they think about the focused subject matter. The teacher, may not, however, present subject matter as if it were the teacher’s private belief and/or not subject to debate or questioning.
 
What’s happening in this 2023 scenario, pray tell?
 
One parent, because of Forida State Law, becomes the sole official to question what this trained, credentialed teacher, is doing with this material (Disney documentary about a factual event) inside her private classroom. The parent focuses upon the film, and the parent’s personal opinion about the film, which she/he may or may not have even seen, and is able to get it completely banned for all students until it is deemed “proper” by a panel of “experts,” one assumes.
 
That seems logically unfair, to me, although I can relate on a personal teaching level, as I was drummed out of teaching at a school which had a single student (out of state student who paid the school more money to attend my school) complain about the content of my Advanced Critical Thinking and Composition class. My union representative didn’t even ask me what my side of the issue was, it was such a kangaroo court affair! I left the school because this was the beginning of the current change into what I call “student and parent run education” in the United States, that’s still going on.
 
So, we are beginning to allow not only single adult students, but also single adult parents, to dictate what a teacher can cover inside a classroom, without any kind of protection for the academic freedom of the teacher and other students? No democracy, in other words?
 
If this is where we’re headed, then I want no part of this country ever again. Without the freedom to explore facts, even facts that might offend one person, who happens to be a single white parent, then we have lost our sanity to educate our children properly.
 
This teacher, I would guess, asked her students about what they would think if they were this dark-skinned child trying to go to a new school, in the First Grade, with strangers all around her, in 1960 Louisiana? Why are the adults screaming racial slurs at her? What is a racial slur? What has happened between 1960 and 2023 that has helped people with dark skin overcome such behavior? Are there perhaps ways to communicate better without getting angry and using skin color as a bad word? You know. Teacher questions. The way Socrates said was the best way to allow students to think for themselves. Not their parents. Not their teachers. Not the government. Not the school board’s answers. Not the governor of the state’s answers. The child’s answers. Always and eternally the child’s answers.
 
Thanks for your attention, and keep on reading to learn something new every day. And, most of all, insist upon the truth about our collective journey together to overcome the obstacles on our way to authentic freedom.
 
James Musgrave
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