Oak Ridge Colleges educating civil rights historical past

The debate over the recently passed Critical Theory of Race Act in Tennessee may be ongoing, but Oak Ridge Schools officials plan to continue their current curriculum and teach about Oak Ridge’s past.

“The new law will have very little impact on our curriculum,” Kelly Williams, director of teaching and learning for Oak Ridge Schools, told The Oak Ridger in an interview. She said the Oak Ridge Schools curriculum was aligned with state standards and should still be acceptable under the new law.

The bill recently passed by the Tennessee General Assembly includes some restrictions on the teaching of racial issues in Tennessee public schools.

Some of its provisions made by the State Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, filed as amendments prohibit public or charter schools from teaching:

  • A race or a sex is superior;
  • All individuals are “naturally privileged, racist, sexist or oppressive” because of their race or gender.
  • A person should be treated disadvantageously because of their race or gender;
  • Their moral character is determined by race or gender;
  • A person is responsible for the past actions of others of their race or gender;
  • A person should experience discomfort or other psychological distress because of their race or gender;
  • A performance society is racist or sexist, or designed to oppress members of another race or gender;
  • The United States is fundamentally racist or sexist;
  • Promoting the violent overthrow of the US government;
  • Promote division or resentment between race, gender, religion, nonviolent political affiliation or class;
  • Ascribing traits, values, moral codes, privileges, or beliefs to a race;
  • The rule of law does not exist, but is instead a series of power relationships and struggles between races or other groups;
  • Americans are not created equal and are not given certain inalienable rights by their Creator, including life, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness; or
  • Governments should deny equal protection under the law to anyone under government jurisdiction.

Williams said that under the new law, teachers will still be able to give opinions on questions from students.

In addition, the new law generally regulates what is still permitted:

  • Communicating the history of an ethnic group “as described in textbooks and teaching materials”;
  • “The impartial discussion of controversial aspects of history”;
  • “The impartial teaching of the historical oppression of a particular group of people based on race, ethnicity, class, nationality, religion, or geographic region.”

However, “impartial discussion” is an ambiguous term, said Williams. She said she was awaiting instructions from the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS) on how to implement the law.

“Oak Ridge 85” and “Clinton 12”

The Oak Ridge Schools were integrated in 1955, just a year after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, making it the first racial segregation of a state-run school system in the southeast. The name “Oak Ridge 85” refers to the group of black students who have integrated Oak Ridge Schools.

Neighboring Clinton followed suit with a group of 12 black students who incorporated Clinton High School in 1956. In response, there were violent protests and a bombing of Clinton High School two years later.

Williams said Oak Ridge Schools plans to include reports on the “Clinton 12” and “Oak Ridge 85” in their curriculum. She said the Oak Ridge High School student council has been collecting interviews about the “Oak Ridge 85” and the school system has other resources, including photos.

Williams said teachers “can use these materials and bring in a little local perspective”.

Williams said that while the language of the law “leaves a lot of questions unanswered,” she said the use of Oak Ridge 85 or Clinton 12 student accounts was “permissible”.

“These artifacts help students relate to the content,” she said of the materials.

“It’s important to learn from past events in order to create a better future,” she said of the reasons people should learn about Oak Ridge 85. “It is important to understand the historical events that have brought us where we are today.”

Ben Pounds is a reporter for The Oak Ridger. Call him at (865) 441-2317 and follow him on Twitter @Bpoundsjournal. Natalie Allison of The Nashville Tennesseean contributed to this story.

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