Tennessee Group Tries to Save Elementary Students from ‘Emotional Trauma’ of Learning About MLK and the Civil Rights Movement, Education Department Responds

A Southern chapter of the right-wing parents advocacy group Moms of Liberty is protesting teaching the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in school because they claim aspects of his work traumatize students. The group further alleged that teaching children anything about the civil rights movement should be banned.

Robin Steenman, the president of the Williamson chapter of the Moms of Liberty, filed an official complaint on behalf of the nonprofit with the Tennessee Department of Education. She claimed that the Williamson County Schools district, by utilizing the K-5 curriculum Wit & Wisdom created by Great Minds, is teaching critical race theory to students.

Moms for Liberty Youtube Screenshot

Some elements of the curriculum that were highlighted in the filing were books taught in their elementary second grade module about the life and contributions of various civil rights leaders. Two books specifically named were “Martin Luther King Jr. and the March on Washington” by Frances Ruffin and “Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story” by Ruby Bridges.

Within the King book, the organization complains about the accurate portrayal of the fight for the desegregation of the American South through actual photographs of segregated drinking fountains and “white firemen blasting Black children to the point of ‘bruising their bodies and ripping off their clothes.’”

The group claimed that “some children are seeing counselors to overcome the emotional trauma inflicted upon them by what they learned in Tennessee public education.” 

The filing further suggests that “targeting elementary-age children with daily lessons on fighting past injustices as if they were occurring in present-day violates Tennessee law and will sow the seeds of racial strife.” 

The Tennessee law referenced in the filing stemmed from an anti-critical race theory bill which was signed into law by Gov. Bill Lee on May 24. The barely veiled purpose is to restrict what state K-12 public school educators can discuss in their classrooms about historic facts that show how racism has permeated American life.

Despite the law, the organization’s claim was rejected. The Department of Education replied that it can’t investigate the allegations because of a technicality. 

In a letter sent to the organization on Nov. 23, the State Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn wrote, because the law was made just this spring, her department is “only authorized to investigate allegations that have occurred during the 2021-22 school year and subsequent school years.”

Schwinn also was sure not to take sides about their objection.

“Please note that in declining to investigate these claims, the department has not made a determination regarding the merits of these allegations,” she continued. “We encourage you to work with the Williamson County School District to resolve the issues and concerns related to your complaint and ensure compliance with state law.”

Moms of Liberty, unsatisfied with the reply, posted the note in its entirety online with the caption “The fine art of the dodge.”

In response to the Moms of Liberty’s complaint, the Williamson County School Superintendent, Jason Golden, says that critical race theory is not being taught to the students. A representative for the Great Minds, the entity behind the Wit & Wisdom, stated that the curriculum is “in full compliance with Tennessee state law.”

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