Ta-Nehisi Coates attends school board meeting to back teacher told to stop using his book on racism

Jul 19, 2023, 9:01 AM | Updated: 10:04 am

FILE - Author Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks during the Celebration of the Life of Toni Morrison, Thursday...

FILE - Author Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks during the Celebration of the Life of Toni Morrison, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, in New York. Coates attended a school board meeting in South Carolina on Monday, July 17, 2023, to silently support a teacher who was ordered to stop using his book "Between the World and Me" on growing up Black and dealing with racism in her advanced English class. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

IRMO, S.C. (AP) — Author Ta-Nehisi Coates sat silently through a school board meeting in South Carolina to support a high school teacher told to stop using his book on growing up Black in America in her advanced English class.

Mary Wood has taught the lesson before, but after a few of her Chapin High School students wrote a school board member in February that the unit made them feel “uncomfortable” and “ashamed to be Caucasian” the books were taken up and the assignment ended.

Coates wrote his 2015 book “Between the World and Me” as a letter to his teenage son on his perceptions of the feelings and circumstances of being Black in America and how racism and violence based on skin color are part of American society.

Wood asked her Advanced Placement English students to read the book and watch two videos on systemic racism she used to introduce it, then identify the themes of the works and discuss their thoughts, including whether they disagree with Coates’ view,

Records from the Lexington-Richland 5 school district indicate officials were worried the assignment could run afoul of a rule in the South Carolina budget banning schools from using state money to teach that anyone is consciously or unconsciously racist simply by their race and preventing lessons from making anyone feel discomfort, guilt or anguish based on their race.

Republicans have used the well-publicized provision to threaten other school districts in the state and one student who complained about the lesson wrote they were “pretty sure a teacher talking about systemic racism is illegal in South Carolina.”

Coates sat next to Wood during Monday’s Lexington-Richland 5 school district meeting in Irmo in suburban Columbia. Neither spoke publicly, according to media reports.

The student complaints on Wood’s lesson were sent directly to a school board member instead of to the teacher, Lexington-Richland 5 Superintendent Akil Ross said.

“Nine times out of ten that’s where the issue is resolved,” Ross said at the Monday school board meeting.

Teaching English is about telling stories and students need to be exposed to stories that both relate to themselves and are unfamiliar, said Tess Pratt, the chairwoman of Chapin High School’s English department.

“On the day that I took Ta-Nehisi Coates’ books out of the hands of Ms. Wood’s students, I silenced his story,” Pratt said. “Even though this was a decision that was not mine, I will regret that moment in front of those students for the rest of my life, because it was wrong.”

Monday’s board meeting was packed with teachers and others supporting Wood. It was very different from the last board meeting in June, where the speakers were against Wood with a few asking why she hadn’t been fired.

Republican state Rep. RJ May said lessons need to represent a color-blind society that doesn’t discriminate against white people because of racism in the past.

Another speaker who didn’t fully identify herself said Wood deserved to be fired or reprimanded because she “showed no remorse and strongly defended herself after she broke the law.”

The school board has taken no action on Wood and hasn’t changed policies based on the event.

National News

File - Graduating Harvard University students celebrate their degrees during commencement ceremonie...

Associated Press

Borrowers are reassessing their budgets as student loan payments resume after pandemic pause

NEW YORK (AP) — Millions of Americans must start repaying their federal student loans again in October, with monthly payments averaging hundreds of dollars a month. To get ready, borrowers are cutting expenses, taking on additional work, and looking for options to reduce their monthly payments. Megan McClelland, 38, said she has started asking for […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Illinois semitruck accident kills 1, injures 5 and prompts ammonia leak evacuation

TEUTOPOLIS, Ill. (AP) — A semitruck carrying ammonia overturned in an Illinois county, spilling the chemical and causing an evacuation of area residents Friday night, police said. The Effingham County Sheriff’s Office said the accident happened less than 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) east of Teutopolis near an intersection of Route 40 and residents were evacuated […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

New York stunned and swamped by record-breaking rainfall as more downpours are expected

NEW YORK (AP) — One of New York’s wettest days in decades left the metropolitan area stunned and swamped Friday after heavy rainfall knocked out several subway and commuter rail lines, stranded drivers on highways, flooded basements and shuttered a terminal at LaGuardia Airport for hours. Some 8.65 inches (21.97 centimeters) of rain had fallen […]

7 hours ago

In this photo provided by the Ocean Exploration Trust, the chrysanthemum flower crest, an honored i...

Associated Press

Video provides first clear views of WWII aircraft carriers lost in the pivotal Battle of Midway

Footage from deep in the Pacific Ocean has given the first detailed look at three World War II aircraft carriers that sank in the pivotal Battle of Midway and could help solve mysteries about the days-long barrage that marked a shift in control of the Pacific theater from Japanese to U.S. forces. Remote submersibles operating […]

7 hours ago

Associated Press

On the brink of a government shutdown, the Senate tries to approve funding but it’s almost too late

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. is on the brink of a federal government shutdown after hard-right Republicans in Congress rejected a longshot effort to keep offices open as they fight for steep spending cuts and strict border security measures that Democrats and the White House say are too extreme. Come midnight Saturday with no deal […]

8 hours ago

FILE - Federal prosecutor Leo Wise poses for a photograph at the U.S. Attorney's Office in downtown...

Associated Press

Prosecutor in Hunter Biden case cut a contentious path in Baltimore

BALTIMORE (AP) — Before being assigned to investigate President Joe Biden’s son, Leo Wise built a reputation in Baltimore as a tough and hard-charging federal prosecutor, taking on powerful, and seemingly untouchable, figures — whether a gang of corrupt cops, a police commissioner, a top local prosecutor and even a mayor. Wise’s backers call him […]

8 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

Ta-Nehisi Coates attends school board meeting to back teacher told to stop using his book on racism