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Some books make kids 'feel discomfort' because they're White, parents say. Does a law back them?

A Moms For Liberty chapter in Nashville hopes to ban four books on racism because they make White parents and students feel "guilty" about their race.

Some books make kids 'feel discomfort' because they're White, parents say. Does a law back them?
Image Source: Moms4LibertyWC / Twitter

Trigger Warning: Racism, Slavery

A chapter of Moms For Liberty in a wealthy, Republican-leaning Nashville suburb is fighting against how American history is taught in public schools. In a complaint addressed to the state department of education this summer, members of the chapter claimed the Williamson County Schools curriculum includes "anti-American, anti-White, and anti-Mexican teaching." According to the parents, the curriculum violates HB 580, a law aimed at banning critical race theory from schools. The bill was signed into law by Governor Bill Lee in May. Section 51, part 6, of the law makes lesson plans illegal if students "feel discomfort, guilt, or anguish." Therefore, Moms For Liberty argued the Williamson County curriculum should be struck down as it allegedly makes students "feel bad" about their race, CNN reports.


Robin Steenman, who pulled her daughter out of public school last year due to a mask mandate, is now leading the fight against the Williamson County curriculum. "The school bus goes right in front of my house and my kid is dying to ride it," she said in an interview with the news outlet. "But not until I have deemed that the curriculum is safe and will do no harm." The mother, a former fighter pilot, is hoping to put an end to the current curriculum, in addition to banning at least one book in the elementary school library written from the perspective of Mexican Americans.


Since April, her chapter of Moms For Liberty has ballooned in size. From less than 20 parents meeting at her house, the group has now grown to more than 3,000 parents connecting on Facebook. In the past, they have made headlines for attacking a high school LGBTQ+ pride float and attempting to ban a children's book about the lives of seahorses because it was "too sexual." It comes as no surprise that the chapter is now looking to ban books about race, although educators have reiterated that critical race theory is not included in the K-12 curriculum and is usually an elective class in college or law school. From Steenman's point of view, the books in question make White parents and students feel guilty about their race.


She explained, "A letter was brought to my attention that was written by the parents of a biracial second-grade boy. And he's half Thai, half White -- has as a White father, a Thai mother. And then he is suddenly ashamed of his White half, his White father. He only wants to identify as Thai and he does not want to be an American." Four books in particular have become primary targets in her campaign: Three of the books are about the civil rights movement, and one is about the March on Washington written for young readers. Of the former, two tell the story of Ruby Bridges, a Black six-year-old girl who integrated an elementary school in New Orleans in 1960.


One of the books is Separate Is Never Equal, written by Duncan Tonatiuh. The debate over whether his book should be taught in schools or not comes as a surprise to him, he said. "The villain here is racism and segregation," the award-winning author explained. "At the end of the book, what I wanted to show is the Mexican American children and the White children being in school together and playing together and interacting with each other. When I shared the story with kids, I don't see kids saying, 'Oh, this makes me feel shame.' They say, 'That's not right. That's not fair. That's not how people should treat people.' That's the reaction that I get."


Months before Moms For Liberty showed up, public school moms Revida Rahman and Jennifer Cortez had launched their own group called One Willco following a series of racial incidents which rocked the district. Rahman and Cortez believe Moms For Liberty is "bullying" their school board. The latter stated, "They're bullying our school board. They're bullying our elected officials. They're causing real harm in our communities." They are worried HB 580 could be used to target teachers and take history out of schools. "When you say 'discomfort,' if the teacher can have some discomfort, where do you draw the line in that process?" Rahman asked. "That's what's concerning about the law. It's not inclusive of everybody. I don't think it's divisive, talking about these uncomfortable topics."


Kim Anderson, executive director of the National Education Association, affirmed, "There isn't a crisis in how we teach history in this country. You would never go into a school in Germany and [ask], 'Why do you teach about Nazism?' You would never ask that question because they do teach about it, because teachers want kids in Germany to understand what that history was. We're heading toward a pretty scary time. If we're talking about politicians, banning books... I thought we were long past those days." At present, a "Reconsideration Committee" formed by the school board in Williamson County is reviewing the four books Steenman and Moms For Liberty have complained about. As per one board member, the law is broad and thus hard to interpret. They did note that they expect the state will ban at least one of the books Moms For Liberty cited.


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