March 3, 2023

David Hecker: Students should be taught the truth about Rosa Parks and other civil rights leaders

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David Hecker is a former president of the American Federation of Teachers.

In this piece for the Michigan Advance, he reflects on teaching about race, having just watched Soledad O’Brien’s documentary about Rosa Parks.

Unfortunately, the reluctance to teach the truth about Black history doesn’t end with Rosa Parks. There’s a reason why curriculums tend to focus more on Martin Luther King, Jr. and less on figures like Malcolm X and Fred Hampton — and it’s the same reason why many history textbooks obscure King’s tireless fight for radical social and economic change and reduce his legacy to platitudes.

And right now, right-wing lawmakers and activists across the country are actively working to make this problem worse, by censoring discussions of racism and accurate depictions of Black history in the classroom.

So why were many of us taught these myths, and why are right-wing forces still trying to cover up the reality of our history?

For one, some of the most powerful and privileged among us are afraid of the truth. The myth that a woman did not give up her seat because she was tired is safer for many. That this was a carefully planned act of civil disobedience is far more threatening.

Secondly, the truth is an education on how you build a movement, the hard, oftentimes tedious work, the patience you need to act strategically and not only out of anger.

From civil rights to the labor movement to the movements that advanced women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights and many more, it takes planning; it takes strategizing; it takes patience to make sure you have a plan that will work. If we make people believe Rosa Parks acted alone on the spur of the moment because she was physically tired, we are not educating people on what it takes to build society changing movements.

Read the full op-ed here. 

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