Starting in January of 2016, 6-12 grade social studies teachers will have the opportunity to teach from a “Black Lives Matter” textbook that meets Common Core criteria.
“The first chapter opens up with Michael Brown and Ferguson,” says the textbook’s co-author, Macalester College Professor Duchess Harris. “And then we backtrack to do a historical overview of interactions that African Americans have had with police encounters, historically. Then we return to Trayvon Martin and go all the way up to Baltimore.”
Harris, who lives in Minnesota and has already written a book on the civil rights movement, co-wrote the book with a journalist close to the issue.
“She lives in Florissant, Missouri, which is right near Ferguson, so she was covering it for the papers. So stylistically, in many ways, it’s like newspaper reporting,” Harris said.
The textbook is a part of an educational series being put out by Abdo Publishing. Other volumes cover ISIS, transgender rights, and the vaccination debate.
Professor Harris says kids need to be able to talk about current events and understand them. Through discussions in her university African American studies classes she has learned that events relating to Black Lives Matter were rarely discussed in high school, let alone middle school.
“I’m just hopeful that what you get is a way of being literate around this,” Harris said. “What I found with my undergraduates at Macalester is they know that these things happen. It’s not that they didn’t know that Trayvon Martin happened. No one ever invited them to have a conversation about it.”
“Students are afraid I’ll call on them and they’ll say: ‘I don’t want to say anything racist;’ ‘I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings;’ ‘I don’t want to have the wrong answer,'” she said. “That’s not how we should be in the world. That if we don’t talk about it, it will go away. Like, that’s not how it works.”
The book delivers the facts and opinions from both sides of the aisle.
“So our chapter on Trayvon Martin, for instance, would be, you know, who was Trayvon Martin? Where did he live?,” Harris said. “Who was George Zimmerman? What happened on this evening by the different accounts? When it went to trial, what were the different arguments the attorneys made? What did the jury decide? How did the public react? It’s like that.”
After hearing about the textbook, right-wing radio personality Larry Elder went on Fox News to rally against the textbook, and Black Lives Matter in general.
“This thing again, as I said, it’s just mass hysteria and it’s indoctrinating young kids,” Elder said. “Teaching them that black people are victims and, by the way, you as white people ought to feel really, really guilty about it.”
Professor Harris is confused by this reaction because she is certain that Elder, and others opposed to the textbook, have never read it.
“I have an electronic copy, my co-author has an electronic copy and then the [printing] press has it,” she said. “No one else has this book. So they are interpreting what they think the book is about. My co-author is a white woman, we have not framed this into who to blame and who not to blame. That’s not what this kind of work is about.”
“The conservatives say that it’s indoctrination,” Harris said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re not saying in our book that the police are wrong or the police are bad. We’re trying to explain to them what an indictment is.”
She says she wishes she could have included Sandra Bland in the book, the women who interrupted Bernie Sanders Seattle rally, and #laughingwhileblack, a hashtag created for a group of black women who were kicked off a Napa wine train over the weekend. But all of these events happened after her deadline.
“Because I have been trained as a historian, I am confident that 40 years from now, these people are going to be thought of as brave and transformative because that’s always what happens,” Harris said. “Think about the Vietnam War protests. Those people were demonized when that was going on.”
The book will be available on Amazon for preorder in November and will be shipped out to schools and individuals in January.