September 27, 2021

Kansas City Star Editorial Board: KC school’s pro-slavery petition is exactly why kids need the hard truth about race

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It’s an alarming story that has not attracted a great deal of national attention–a group of students in a Kansas high school last week circulated a petition to bring back slavery. The editorial board of the Kansas City Star has some thoughts about what that tells us about students, and about the need for honest history.

When a group of students circulates a petition among schoolmates to bring back slavery — which is what happened at Park Hill South High School in Riverside last week — that signals a problem way beyond what kids are not learning in their classrooms. And it proves that noisy protesting parents who want the educational system to ignore the ugly parts of American history are in serious denial about our complicated reality.

Racial insensitivity at that level is a problem that needs to be fought not just in the schools, but throughout the community. Park Hill South Principal Kerrie Herren obviously gets that. He said his school is experiencing racism in the same way the wider community is grappling with it.

But what will be done about it? It is not enough only to say that bigotry won’t be tolerated.

The school not being fully transparent about what happened, and not revealing how many students were involved or exactly what discipline will be meted out, does nothing to help students, parents or the community understand that racial discrimination and harassment will be met with serious consequences — if indeed that is the case.

If Park Hill wants the community’s help to work through to the other side of racism — harmony and unity — then those among us who want change need to know what the problem looks like so we can all get busy trying to tackle it. And that’s absolutely what needs to happen.

Since 2015, the district — where about 66% of the students are white — has been training teachers and staff in cultural competency and “to create classrooms that are culturally responsive so that all students feel safe,” said Nicole Kirby, Park Hill’s spokeswoman.

The district hired a director of access, inclusion and family engagement, Terri Deayon, to guide teachers in implementing the lessons learned. This week, Deayon has been talking with parents and students upset about the incident — and learning that it is not an isolated one.

She said she knows from talking to students that “they are ready to have these courageous conversations” about such issues as slavery and the overall history of race in this country and its impact on American culture. “But we have parents who don’t believe that should be happening in classrooms.”

Parents with a similar viewpoint have been showing up at school board meetings around the country, objecting to teaching the truth about race in the classroom. They claim schools are indoctrinating young minds with so-called “critical race theory” — an obscure academic concept that zero real-life school curricula are based on — teaching them that the United States is an evil and unjust place.

That’s a lie, but it’s politically potent in this moment. The truth is that slavery is an inextricable, tragic part of the American story.

Read the full editorial here.

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