Tony Kendall

Y ou are reading the words of a future criminal. In the near future, I’m going to break a new Tennessee law, but I won’t think of myself as a criminal when I do it, and neither will the hundreds of other people who break this law in the same way as I plan to do. Because, as people who have chosen to enter a profession whose goal is to instruct, inform, enlighten and educate, if we don’t break this law, we are not being true to our stated mission and should erase our boards, shut off our computers, clean out our desks and go get one of those 8 million jobs that are currently available. As I’ve stated before in this space, one of my favorite axioms in all of history is Newton’s Third Law of Motion, which says when two bodies interact, they apply forces to one another that are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction, or in simple English, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In reaction to all the racial reckoning that has occurred in this nation between people of goodwill across the races since the murder of George Floyd a year ago at the knee of former Minneapolis police officer and current convicted felon Derek Chauvin, some white people grew so tired of hearing how bad they are, and their ancestors were, that they asked their state legislators to do something about it. In their continuing effort to play to the Trump base in their party whenever possible, white supremacist politicians in several states, including Tennessee, heeded their call and rushed bills through legislatures they controlled, designed to prevent the teaching of many of the uncomfortable social and racial truths about people, places and things in these United States. In the Volunteer State, the law in question is Tennessee Code Annotated Section 51, Title 49, Chapter 6, Part 10, which reads as follows: (a) An LEA (local education authority) or public charter school shall not include or promote the following concepts as part of a course of instruction or in a curriculum or instructional program, or allow teachers or other employees of the LEA or public charter school to use supplemental instructional materials that include or promote the following concepts: (1) One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex; (2) An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously; (3) An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of the individual’s race or sex; (4) An individual’s moral character is determined by the individual’s race or sex; (5) An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex; (6) An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex; (7) A meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist, or designed by a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex; (8) This state or the United States is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist; (9) Promoting or advocating the violent overthrow of the United States government; (10) Promoting division between, or resentment of, a race, sex, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, social class or class of people; (11) Ascribing character traits, values, moral or ethical codes, privileges or beliefs to a race or sex, or to an individual because of the individual’s race or sex; (12) The rule of law does not exist, but instead is a series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other groups; (13) All Americans are not created equal and are not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; (14) Governments should deny to any person within the government’s jurisdiction the equal protection of the law. (b) Notwithstanding subsection a, this section does not prohibit an LEA or public charter school from including, as part of a course of instruction or in a curriculum or instructional program, or from allowing teachers or other employees of the LEA or public charter school to use supplemental instructional materials that include: (1) The history of an ethnic group, as described in textbooks and instructional materials adopted in accordance with Part 22 of this chapter; (2) The impartial discussion of controversial aspects of history; (3) The impartial instruction on the historical oppression of a particular group of people based on race, ethnicity, class, nationality, religion or geographic region; or (4) Historical documents relevant to subdivisions (b)(1) — (3) that are permitted under § 49-6-1011. (c) If the commissioner of education finds that an LEA or public charter school knowingly violated this section, then the commissioner shall withhold state funds, in an amount determined by the commissioner, from the LEA or public charter school until the LEA or public charter school provides evidence to the commissioner that the LEA or public charter school is no longer in violation of this section. That’s right, it is now illegal to teach anything in a public school that might cause a white person to feel pain, discomfort, guilt or shame about being white in this state and if you do, they will take money from the school district that allowed you to present facts, hold discussions, impart knowledge and speak truths to captive audiences of a certain age. Who’s the d--- snowflakes now? Like most laws, good, bad and indifferent, there are parts of this law with which I agree and those that are straight out of the Jim Crow primer. Most of us can agree that points one, three, four and 11 are good ones, right? I know there is some disagreement about points two, five, six and eight, dependent largely on your political and racial views. While the definition of meritocracy as used in point seven means one thing, the way the word continues to be manifested in this country is opposite to the definition in all my dictionaries. Point eight speaks for itself and depends greatly on your politics, race and gender. Even though many on the right have no problem with point nine when the left is in power (see the 2020 election and the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters on Jan. 6), no one is teaching point nine. The same goes for point 10. No one has to teach points 12 and 13. We see examples on a daily basis of those to whom the rule of law applies and doesn’t apply, and who has all those rights. No one teaches point 14, but we know how that works in the real world, don’t we? While it’s possible to mention some of these points and not run afoul of the new law, to do so without presenting, explaining, discussing and debating the context, the outcome and the why is a bigger crime than the law itself and a dereliction of one’s duty as an educator. Every master teacher to whom I’ve been exposed goes out of their way to present all associated sides and allow the facts and truth to speak for themselves. So, when you get to one of those uncomfortable truths after the law goes into effect this fall, remember the words of two great American lawbreakers, Martin Luther King Jr. and Henry David Thoreau. “Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?” — Thoreau. “One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” — King. If you dare, disobey unjust laws! Hi, Momma Lois.

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