|Writings by Christopher Columbus, Mary Wollstonecraft and a police data
set have been cut from lesson plans. (Photos by Michael Robinson Chávez, The
Washington Post; Hannah Natanson, The Washington Post; Bing Guan,
"I took some of the natives by force. They would make fine servants. … With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want."
--A Christopher Columbus journal entry in 1492,
from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States
Under parental pressure and administrative criticism, many public-school teachers have removed texts like Zinn's book from their lessons, reports
Hannah Natanson of The Washington Post
. Other nixed pieces have included "Excerpts from Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
and a data set on the New York Police Department
’s use of force, analyzed by race."
National politics and divisions have moved into the classroom. Natanson writes, "The quiet censorship comes as debates over whether and how to instruct children about race, racism, U.S. history, gender identity and sexuality inflame politics . . . At the same time, an ascendant parents’ rights movement born of the pandemic is seeking — and winning — greater control over how schools select, evaluate and offer children access to both classroom lessons and library books. . . .In response, teachers are changing how they teach."
Natanson reports, "The Washington Post asked teachers across the country about how and why they are changing the materials, concepts and lessons they use in the classroom, garnering responses from dozens of educators in 20 states." From the Post's survey, here are six things some teachers have removed from their lessons along with brief examples, both paraphrased and quoted here:Slavery was wrong
: Iowa school Superintendent Laurie Noll told Greg Wickenkamp, a middle-school teacher, not to use that phrase. She told Wickenkamp, "'Slavery was wrong,' that’s not a fact, that’s a stance." Wickenkamp is no longer a teacher.Columbus’s journal
: For 14 years, a North Carolina teacher used Zinn's book as a platform to discuss slavery and Indigenous people. Last year a parent complained that "her white son had been made to feel guilty." The school system admonished the teacher and ordered her to halt the lesson on Columbus.Data on police use of force:
A Northern Virginia teacher used the data set to get her students of color more engaged with math as it relates to events. She also used it to show differences between association and causation. The teacher asked higher-ups if she should stop teaching her lesson on the police use of force. She was told yes, because it might make children uncomfortable' because of their race or if their parents are police officers, the teacher recalled.Mary Wollstonecraft’s book
: An Arkansas high-school English teacher offered students six optional passages from this piece. The school's assistant principal started questioning the teacher with different variations of the same question: “What is the purpose of using it?” “How is it connected to what you are doing?” “Is it connected by skills?” “Is it connected by theme?” The teacher eventually dropped the optional lessons.The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
and Of Mice and Men
: A Missouri English teacher and the English department removed both books from their rosters over parental social media comments about teachers. "In the 2021-2022 school year, right before she [the teacher] was slated to start teaching Huckleberry Finn
, the teacher met with colleagues at her high school. They discussed how parents in the district had begun sharing on social media details of teacher behavior they disliked, sometimes naming the educators involved. The teachers decided to cut Huckleberry Finn
. Also nixed was John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men
, which had drawn similar objections over profane language — again from white parents."A Library of Congress video of a ‘cakewalk'
: For three years, a North Carolina teacher used videos "of 'cakewalks
,' dances that Black Americans began performing in the antebellum era partly to mock the formal dances held by their White, wealthy enslavers . . . But things changed this fall when the video was paired with an essay by bell hooks — “Is Paris Burning?
” — in which the Black feminist and social critic dissects drag ball culture in 1980s-era New York. . . . [The teacher] received a flurry of emails from four parents contending broadly that the cakewalk video and the bell hooks text were irrelevant to social studies . . . Overall, she felt she got insufficient support from the district, she said. And the parent complaints just kept coming. . . . This semester, she skipped the three-day lesson on subversion, the cakewalk video, the bell hooks text. (The author did not capitalize her name.)