ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. – Francis Howell School District hired Dr. LaGarrett King last year to assist with developing two race-based courses for the 2021-2022 school year – and those courses are being heard for final approval on Thursday.
King is an Associate Professor of Social Studies Education at the University of Missouri and has been an unequivocal supporter of the wildly-controversial Critical Race Theory.
Official documents state that the school district paid King $15,000 to provide training, curriculum auditing and support to the school district’s leadership team as they develop African American History and Literature courses during the 2020-2021 school year.
According to the University of Missouri’s website, King had to obtain the approval of his department’s supervisor to be permitted to offer consultations that “are related to the professional interest and development of the Employee.”
WEBINAR WITH FRANCIS HOWELL CURRICULUM WRITING TEAM
King hosted a Zoom webinar and PowerPoint presentation with the FHSD curriculum writing team on September 25, 2020 to discuss the implementation of some Critical Race Theory principles into the school’s curriculum.
He was introduced as specializing in “African American history education, social studies and curriculum foundation, race critical theories and knowledge, and critical multicultural teacher education.”
Throughout the webinar, King discussed topics such as “white fragility”, The 1619 Project, Critical Race Theory and his objections with the U.S. political system and the way American history is currently being taught, among other things.
“The very first thing that we have to understand is that our social studies and our political system is political and racist,” he started. “Anybody that can read, knows that our history curriculum and our social studies curriculum is prejudiced. “
King went on to explain his belief that school districts and educators cannot teach outright facts, or “absolute truths”, of American history because he believes there is no such thing as an objective history.
“Are there absolute truths? Yeah. Can we get to those absolute truths? No. There’s no such thing as a neutral history.”
During the webinar, King also compared world wars to the riots and looting across America in recent years and claimed that calls for non-violence are “silly” and “prejudiced”.
“All of our World Wars were about freedom, violence,” he said. “But yet when Black people say ‘Hey, we need to take over man, we need to burn this place down.’ It’s ‘Oh no, you should do non-violence to achieve freedom.’ It’s silly. It’s prejudiced.”
Other teachers and members of the curriculum writing team expressed concerns during the webinar of implementing these principles in “Trump country” and that recent attempts have been met with backlash.
“We are in the middle of Trump Country here,” one teacher said. “Any time in my career when we’ve attempted with staff, attempted with kids and families, to even touch on the concept of white privilege, we get just incredible amounts of pushback. What suggestions do you have for us in being prepared for that?”
King suggested the teachers change the wording they use so that parents will not find out that they’ve changed the curriculum to introduce race-based education of American history and literature.
“If it’s something where you have to not utilize verbiage of ‘white privilege’ or whatever the case may be, then don’t use the verbiage but the point is the same,” King said.
“Do we really have to call it teaching social justice? Because all we’re doing is bringing attention to ourselves. Just call it social studies, but we teach it through a social justice lens,” he later suggested.
“Lee Atwater said that Republicans had to change their strategy because you can’t just go out there saying the N word, you gotta say other stuff to get the message across. So, we just have to find different ways to get our message across.”
Other teachers on the call seconded King’s suggestion of using different terms to relay the same message and one history teacher even claims to have been doing it for the past 10 years.
“I have been teaching the way I’ve been teaching for like 10 years,” the teacher said. “I have been teaching about white privilege almost every year in all my classes whether it’s World or U.S. History. Yeah I’ll admit a lot of times I’ll have sweat rolling down my back and I’m like ‘How many parent calls is my principal going to get tomorrow?’”
“I don’t advertise to my students when I’m teaching U.S. History that sometimes I would consider myself the anti-U.S. history teacher,” she continued.
One teacher suggested during the webinar to disregard any criticism from parents and to say that they can teach the race-based curriculum anyway due to the resolution that is expected to pass Thursday.
It is worth noting that the board does not have to get parental approval to pass the resolution approving new race-based courses.
“When you start to get the pushback, you can go back to this resolution that your board has made, and then that provides support for the administrators to say ‘Now we’re moving forward,’” she said.
“Yes, we are in a very conservative county, we all know that,” she continued. “Sometimes I think we have deferred to letting that stop progress. We let noise keep progress from moving forward and so this is the time. We have the resolution, we have the leadership of the superintendent, so now is the time.”
Another teacher on the webinar suggested the school district and administrators “stand strong” to criticism and to prepare “responses” for parents who express concern with the new curriculum.
The resolution that the Francis Howell Board of Education will be voting on aims to introduce two new subjects of education: Black Literature and Black History.
The “content leader” for both subjects is Dr. Sherry Jordan and both include a “curriculum revision team” made up of other teachers.
“Students will examine Black literary tradition and explore how it shapes both the reader’s understanding of their own identity as well as an understanding of others,” the course description for Black Literature reads.
“The goal of this course is to allow students opportunities to read texts that further their understanding of their identity, as well as deepen their awareness and understanding of Black people’s cultures and identities.”
The course topics decided upon for Black Literature include intersectionality, an “exploration of Black identities through literature” and reading and analyzing a memoir by Trevor Noah.
Students will also read “other stories of Black teen experiences written by Black authors to help students see the many diverse identities of Black individuals to help the students learn about themselves and others.”
Bearing large similarities to the Black Literature curriculum, the Black History curriculum has a foundation in exploring only Black perspectives of history.
“This course will investigate history through Black perspectives and provide students with a Black historical consciousness,” the course description reads. “Content within this course will explore historical, political, societal, economic, and cultural lenses while honoring the dignity and identity of Black individuals and groups.”
“Through the study of this course, students will gain a Black historical consciousness and will become equipped as engaged citizens working toward an equitable democracy.”
Optional units for the course include “What laws and economic policies affected Black wealth and how did they overcome these obstacles?”, “What historical and Modern Day struggles exist for Black people in working toward equity?” and “What is the lasting legacy of Black Cultural Icons in different avenues of society?”
BACKLASH AND CRITICISM
Recent attempts to implement the principles of Critical Race Theory into public schools’ curriculum has caused immense controversy nationwide. In April, Rockwood School District in St. Louis came under fire after a teacher suggested hiding race-based curriculum from parents.
In response to these curriculum changes, many state and local officials across the country have attempted to ban the teaching of race-based content in their public schools.
In April, Missouri State Rep. Nick Schroer introduced an amendment to “stop ‘critical race theory,’ including the erroneous and hate-filled 1619 Project, from being shoved into our curriculum in our Missouri schools,” he wrote on Facebook. “This is about ensuring no one taints a factual teaching of our American history.”
In May, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a new state law banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory. Under the new law, teachers cannot tell students that they are inherently sexist, racist, or oppressive based on account of their race or sex. The law also prohibits teachers from telling a student that they should feel guilt or discomfort due to their race or sex.
Missouri State Sen. Bill Eigel, who represents part of St. Charles County, condemned the teaching of Critical Race Theory and said if public schools in Missouri continue with attempts to implement it, their funding could be at risk.
“Giving any time or space for such an obscene lie in our public school system is a terrible idea,” Eigel told The Heartlander. “I could see significant pushback coming from the state next year to include endangering the funding for these school districts that continue to teach this lie. That’s absolutely going to be on the table.”
Overall, 11 states have passed some sort of restrictions on the teaching of race-based content and a total of 26 states have introduced similar legislation that hasn’t been successful yet.
SCHOOL DISTRICT RESPONSE
King co-authored an academic article published in Social Education in 2018 that highlighted concepts of Critical Race Theory, among other things. However, even though many of the concepts that King preaches are based in the highly-controversial theory, Francis Howell administrators have denied accusations from parents that they are implementing Critical Race Theory.
“We have shared with many who have asked that we have not adopted Critical Race Theory as our curriculum framework,” FHSD Superintendent Dr. Nathan Hoven said at a Board of Education meeting. “We are not and have no interest in advancing any political agenda.”
This new curriculum, put together with help from King, is set to be implemented at the start of the 2021-2022 school year if the Board of Education gives it final approval on Thursday. Francis Howell School District can anticipate more backlash and criticism of the curriculum change as past concerns from parents seemingly haven’t been resolved.