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How to avoid fireworks while teaching US history in Georgia

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia wants to prevent that from happening. Last week, the organization conducted a training on “Georgia’s New Classroom Censorship Law” and its restrictions. Among the speakers who offered advice on how to talk about race in the South was Emory psychology professor and author of “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Nation.”

In an earlier interview, Westen said fighting political fires with gasoline is not the solution, but with truth and clarity. His research shows that frequently mentioned academic terms like “systemic racism” or “subtle bias” leave listeners feeling “charged and confused.” Westen said that if you simply state a prejudice and give realistic examples that people can understand, they will be more receptive.

For example, teachers can illustrate systemic racism with the concrete example that all US cities chose to build interstates through black neighborhoods rather than white communities, says Westen.

“Then, they can talk about what those highways have done to housing on both sides of the highway, and think about students living there by getting out of the car fumes. And that’s why black kids have higher rates of asthma,” he said.

Another trick: While presenting America’s history of race and racism, it highlights how far the nation has come.

“If you look at the arc of what’s been done in Georgia, this state, like any other state, had people buying and selling other people; yet now Georgia has a black senator and a black woman running for governor,” Westen said. “We’d like to believe that Thomas Jefferson didn’t own slaves, but that’s not true. Yet his great-great-grandchildren wouldn’t dream of owning another human being — it’s a wonderful aspect of our history that you can’t understand without understanding how it happened, what was right and what was wrong.

Parents want their children to learn the truth, said Andrea Young, executive director of the 22,000-member ACLU of Georgia. He cited recent school board runoffs in several Georgia counties, including Cherokee, Coweta and Gwinnett, where voters rejected candidates who ran on accusations that schools cast white children as oppressors and teach critical race ideology. Critical race theory, or CRT, is an academic concept that posits that racism goes beyond individuals to how legal systems and policies treat people of color.

Teachers can present facts without narrating them, Young said, allowing students to discuss and debate where those facts lead. Even if teachers rely on facts to illuminate America’s history of race and racism, Young warns, they still come up against those who deny the truth.

“Some parents complain about Black History Month or if kids are reading a Ruby Bridges story,” she said. “People have a right to be heard at school board meetings, but not a right to make decisions on their behalf.”

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