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

Associated Press

Shooting kills 3 people including a young child in a car on an Alabama street

Three people including a young child were killed when their car was targeted with multiple gunshots outside a residence in Birmingham, Alabama, on Saturday evening. The Birmingham Police Department said in a social media post that a triple homicide investigation was underway in the 3400 Block of 27th Street North. The police said officers responded […]

14 minutes ago

Carlton Smith, left, and Justin Nimmo pose in from of the console of the Barton Opus 234 theater or...

Associated Press

Reviving Hollywood glamor of the silent movie era, experts piece together a century-old pipe organ

DETROIT (AP) — A massive pipe organ that underscored the drama and comedy of silent movies with live music in Detroit’s ornate Hollywood Theatre nearly a century ago was dismantled into thousands of pieces and stashed away. The Barton Opus, built in 1927, spent four decades stored in a garage, attic and basement in suburban […]

2 hours ago

FILE - Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, left, and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator ...

Associated Press

Can a Medicaid plan that requires work succeed? First year of Georgia experiment is not promising

ATLANTA (AP) — By now, Georgia officials expected their new Medicaid plan, the only one in the nation with a work requirement, to provide health insurance to 25,000 low-income residents and possibly tens of thousands more. But a year since its launch, Pathways to Coverage has roughly 4,300 members, much lower than what state officials […]

3 hours ago

Catherine Ward, owner of One Acre Farms, a functioning educational farm to help special needs kids,...

Associated Press

After Beryl, Houston-area farmers pull together to face unique challenges

PORTER, Texas (AP) — Hurricanes cause trouble for everyone, but farmers have a whole other list of problems. Beryl has been no exception: Over the past week, the storm damaged crops, soaked rabbits and chickens, terrified goats, put horses at risk of developing colic and left cows without fences to keep them penned in. And […]

3 hours ago

Debris from the Titan submersible, recovered from the ocean floor near the wreck of the Titanic, is...

Associated Press

The first Titanic voyage in 14 years is happening in the wake of submersible tragedy. Hopes are high

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The company that owns the salvage rights to the Titanic is undertaking its first expedition to the ship’s wreckage in years, and those involved in the mission said they have both heavy hearts and lofty goals for a trip happening a year after a submersible disaster involving another firm killed five […]

3 hours ago

A person uses a cell phone on Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Los Angeles. The FBI Internet Crime Compl...

Associated Press

What’s worse than thieves hacking into your bank account? When they steal your phone number, too

WASHINGTON (AP) — One Monday morning in May, I woke up and grabbed my cell phone to read the news and scroll through memes. But it was out of cell service. I couldn’t make calls or texts. That, though, turned out to be the least of my problems. Using my home Wi-Fi connection, I checked […]

3 hours ago

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