A Violation of the Sacred Trust

Teaching is a calling. Teaching history is a sacred trust; that is a lifelong commitment that requires continuous learning, responsibility, accountability to community, self-discipline, and fearlessness. The current climate requires teachers of history to meet the requirements of the sacred trust – especially teachers of Black history.

Black history is under attack from white policymakers and white parents alike, fearful of the reorganization of political, economic, and social priorities, in a country where whiteness is the standard, as a result of learning truth and wrestling with it. Thus, laws are passed to prevent Black history from being taught and school board seats are contested to ensure that such laws are enforced and/or established where Black history is taught.

When teachers around the country defy the war on Black studies to teach Black history—which is American history—it is encouraging. But even worse than failing to teach Black history, particularly in this climate, getting the history wrong and teaching it. That’s what Ryan Walters did in his AP History class… and he’s been elected to the position of state superintendent of public instruction in Oklahoma.

This is the equivalent of the commissioner or secretary of education for a state department of education.

Walters, the self-proclaimed enemy of “the radical left” and all things woke, was a previous AP U.S. History teacher who, it appeared, taught the very matters that conservative Republicans are against being taught in schools. However, he taught them without the care and regard the sacred trust of teaching history requires.

A video surfaced from a 2020 Zoom lecture. Walters himself uploaded the video on YouTube. Sadly, there are numerous areas of misinformation and disinformation within his lecture video.

First, Walters failed to mention Dr. Kenneth and Mamie Clark as the architects of the vaunted “Doll Test,” while at the same time failing to articulate exactly the context of the doll test and the context of the testimony conveyed on the stand during the Brown case. Had Walters shown more effort, he would have shared the court opinion where Justice Warren cites Clark and also the appellant’s briefs that offer Clark’s rationale in greater detail, where he is cited saying:

“… from the earliest school years children are not only aware of the status differences among different groups in the society but begin to react with the patterns described as… minority group children learn[ing of] the inferior status to which they are assigned… [and] majority groups… When comparing themselves to members of the minority group, they are not required to evaluate themselves in terms of the more basic standards of actual personal ability and achievement; often develop patterns of guilt feelings, rationalizations and other mechanisms which they must use in an attempt to protect themselves from recognizing the essential injustice of their unrealistic fears and hatreds of minority groups.”

To solidify that point, he could have shared a graphic displaying how children internalize race as young as three months old.

He mentions that while Nat Turner chose to kill his captors, Frederick Douglass argued the opposite… saying Douglass said to “make the argument” to make change; pitting both “views” against each other, while failing to mention Douglass’ defense against his captor Edward Covey while enslaved. Turner’s resistance likewise was self-defense. Walters could have read the passage from Douglass’ autobiography to bridge the spirit of resistance between Turner and Douglass. But he didn’t.

Walters said of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz when juxtaposing with Dr. Martin Luther King, in the video:

“Malcolm X believed that you needed to force change now. That waiting is only making it worse. That you’ve got to be — if they’re going to be violent to you, you be violent to them. Um, that if they’re going to be scared to do things, to change things for African Americans because they are scared of…kind of like…um, that racists, will like, push back, and get mad. Well, you need to be madder. And so, he started the Black Panthers, which started pushing a violent response to government oppression.”

El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz did not start the Panthers. Bobby Seale and Huey Newton did. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense did not practice nor preach violence, but rather self-defense. The same is true for El-Shabazz. That wasn’t simply bad… it was careless. Carelessness is not a characteristic of someone honoring the sacred trust of teaching Black history.

However, maybe the most egregious mistake was calling W.E.B. DuBois “W.E.B. Dubo.” That’s just a negligent insult, particularly when DuBois himself, went through the trouble of articulating how his name ought be pronounced.

Then again, Walters has professed himself as an enemy of “the radical left.” Usually, such enemies lack context within their analysis. Hence, Walters said of the Tulsa, Oklahoma massacre of Black Wall Street, “Let’s not tie it to the skin color and say the skin color determined that.” Sadly, this individual was an APUSH teacher and is the current administrative lead overseeing all Oklahoma schools.

Teaching is a calling and teaching history is a sacred trust. Walters violated the sacred trust with this recorded lecture. How many more lectures did he “teach” misinformation and even disinformation? How many other history teachers are out there like Walters; doing the work of misinformation and disinformation when it comes to Black history? An additional one is too much.

This is proof that a reason why folks don’t know truth isn’t simply because they weren’t taught it, but that they were taught the wrong thing. Maybe that explains why people, specifically white people, shy away from the Black history categories when they appear on the Jeopardy board, but I digress.

If the sacred trust cannot be honored with the integrity and intention that it commands from teachers, those individuals shouldn’t be an overseer of instruction for schools within a state, let alone hold court in a classroom. However, misinformation and disinformation are the name of the game when the truth can set folks free.

The sacred trust of teaching history is about setting folks free. The hard truth: some would rather everyone remain in the shackles that bind hearts, minds, and votes.


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