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State Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) called for the replacement of history classes with civics lessons until the state’s curriculum and textbooks are updated to be adequately diverse as he stood alongside Evanston community leaders at a press conference Sunday.
The event, co-hosted by Evanston resident Meleika Gardner, was a follow-up to a June press conference regarding Ford’s bill that, among other things, would amend the Illinois School Code to mandate black history in K-12 education. This time, the conference discussed a curriculum that highlights a wide array of minority experiences.
“Current history teachings lead to white privilege and a racist society,” Ford said. He went on to mention the white family that sunbathed Wednesday in front of a Confederate flag towel on Lighthouse Beach.
“A person who understands the true history wouldn’t really fly that flag,” Ford said.
Ford was joined by educator LaShandra Smith-Rayfield, who addressed the sunbathers and filmed a video that went viral. Smith-Rayfield said education shapes a society in the way that “you are what you eat” — the narratives students are exposed to shape their worldview. She added that proper education allows students to provide evidence for their beliefs and claims.
Evanston Rabbi Andrea London echoed the sentiment that education shapes behaviors and relationships.
“How can we live in a country with so much hate?” she asked. “It’s because we don’t understand each other. We don’t uphold each other.”
In this way, Ford has framed the demands of the bill as a tool to combat systemic racism. But many speakers emphasized how teaching history with an emphasis on non-white experiences is not just an anti-racist action, but is, simply, the only accurate account of history.
African American Studies Prof. kihana miraya ross discussed the “absurdity” of the current void in education.
“It is an insult to be standing here in 2020 explaining why teaching real history is important,” she said. “We are excluded from American history because we are excluded from ‘American,’” ross added.
Mayor Steve Hagerty spoke at the conference, saying specific thoughts on curriculum were out of his mayoral specialty, but expressing support for the bill and denouncing white-washed histories that “unfairly favor people like me.”
To fund updated curricula, Ford said publishing companies should refund the purchase of previously used texts telling narrow and white-washed histories — something many speakers, including ross, called a miseducation.
“We are sick and tired of being sick and tired of paying tax dollars for schools to miseducate our children,” ross said. “Tell our children the truth.”
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