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OPINION | MARK LOWERY: Matters of race

Goal: Avert educational malpractice by MARK LOWERY SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | June 4, 2021 at 3:10 a.m.

It never ceases to amaze me how academic elites seem to lack the intellectual curiosity to fully research the facts before they make their pronouncements. Such is the case with Tom Dillard's May 16 opinion column "Chronicling the rise of the Klan" where he suggests that I am in need of a history lesson on Arkansas' dark past regarding issues of race.

He believes I need the primer because of my sponsorship of several bills seeking to ban the teaching of "critical race theory" and the use of the highly inaccurate 1619 Project as history curriculum in Arkansas schools.

Mr. Dillard should have taken the time to review my actual testimony or the news coverage of my presentations before the Arkansas Legislature and even before the Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus. If he had, he would have learned that I not only acknowledged the troubled treatment of Blacks in the state, he would have also heard me state that it would be akin to "educational malpractice" to not teach about the 1957 Central High crisis or the Elaine race riots or any of a number of other affronts to human decency in the segregationist South and here in our own state.

My objections couched in the legislation were to incorporating so-called "anti-racist" teachings into classroom discussions, concepts that author Ibram X. Kendi describes as "any idea that suggests the racial groups are equals in all their apparent differences." Kendi further states that "the most threatening racist movement is ... the regular American's drive for a 'race-neutral' [state]." Kendi believes that the "only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination."

This divisive type of instruction in the classrooms of Arkansas schools would seek to toss aside any attempt to resolve racial differences and would put under foot most of the civil rights protections brought about by the sacrifices of Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Arkansas' own Daisy Gatson Bates and my now deceased legislative colleague and nationally recognized civil rights attorney John Walker.

Couple this with the inaccurate "historical" teaching of The New York Times' 1619 Project that America's foundations are not ensconced in the Declaration of Independence writing by Thomas Jefferson in 1776 that "all men are created equal" but instead the forced bondage and importing of African slaves to the continent in 1619 as "the moment [America] began" and set as its future a foundation of "anti-Black racism" that fostered everything "that has truly made America exceptional."

I attempted with House Bill 1761, proposed late in the 2021 session, to see if opposing sides in this debate could come together and agree on some basic principles that could be foundational in our schools--principles such as not teaching that "any race or ethnicity is superior to any another race or ethnicity" or that we should not teach "the promotion of prejudice or discrimination toward any race or ethnicity."

While we eventually disagreed on whether the bill should include a ban on teaching that "the United States, as a nation, is systemically racist" I am forever grateful to the cooperative effort with Rep. Reginald Murdock of Marianna that brought this bill within one vote in the Senate Education Committee from what I believe would have been eventual passage in the Arkansas Senate.

The bill would have only set a road map for Arkansas school districts in how differences in shared experiences related to race and ethnicity can be addressed to focus on what makes us the same. Because of language in the legislation that school districts would ultimately decide whether they wanted to pursue policies to set in place this way forward, the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators and the Arkansas School Boards Association did not oppose HB1761.

When the preamble to the United States Constitution referenced forming "a more perfect union," I do not believe the drafters were being humble to not state that the union they were forming was "perfect." I believe they were acknowledging that this would be a work in progress--acknowledging that founding fathers such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and James Madison were compromised by their owning of slaves despite their public statements pointing to the equality of all men.

We are still forming this "more perfect union" even if Tom Dillard wants to lecture me on Arkansas' dark past of political leaders who were members of the Ku Klux Klan, but conveniently ignores that institutions such as the Arkansas Democrat Party and the Methodist Church could be permanently stained by that dark history if not for a universal belief in redemption and being thankful that we are all works in progress.


State Rep. Mark Lowery represents District 39.

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