Focused pupil working at her desk in a classroom

Telling All of America’s Story is Important: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Ronni Dean-Burren is the latest addition to my list of parent heroes. Her 15-year old son Cody noticed that in his McGraw Hill Geography textbook, enslaved persons in the United States of African descent were referred to as as “workers”. In Cody’s book, American slavery was discussed as part of a larger conversation about immigration, and the U.S. being a nation of immigrants. Cody took a picture of a page from from his book with his cell phone and sent it to his mother with the message, “we was real hard workers, wasn’t we.” Outraged, Ronni took to social media to make the case that the McGraw Hill text was putting a particularly misleading twist on America history, particularly the history of slavery in America. In response to her vocal criticism, which got considerable attention, McGraw Hill Education released a statement saying that it would change the language to describe the arrival of African slaves in America as “a forced migration.”

I believe America to be the greatest of nations, but neither McGraw Hill nor anyone else has the right to retell her story, painting the institution of slavery in a much more favorable light than it deserves. Consider the implications of such an attempt to re-tell American history, in particular the history of slavery in America. Without an understanding of slavery, children can’t come to understand that the disproportionate underclass position of African Americans in the 21st Century has its beginnings with American slavery. Without a historically accurate account of American slavery, children are unable to appropriately answer lingering and often unspoken questions about the persistent gaps in wealth and education between Whites and Blacks in America.Without an understanding of slavery, children are left to mistakenly conclude that differences in life outcomes between Blacks and Whites in America come wholly as a result of differences between the races in ability and work ethic.

Thank you to Cody and Ronni Dean-Burren for sounding the alarm, and let this be a wake-up call for all Americans. An accurate account of American history is important for all of us; an account which includes both our mistakes and our accomplishments. America’s greatness is not diminished by her mistakes. But trying to erase our errors from American history would be disastrous: “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

Firing South Carolina Deputy Ben Fields is Not Enough

The video of now ex-South Carolina Deputy Ben Fields’ violent arrest of a teenage girl in Richland County South CarolCrime Sceneina has made its way over the airwaves and across social media sites. If you haven’t seen it, you must. No explanation I could provide here would do justice to just how shamefully violent this law enforcement officer was toward a child.

I was outraged when I saw the video, and I continue to grow even more upset every time I see it. What is incomprehensible to me, is not that the deputy had zero regard for the safety or well-being of a person he is sworn to protect, but that he believed he could get away with the abuse of a child in the middle of a classroom. This was a child, sitting in a desk in a classroom, who while clearly defiant and disrespectful, posed no physical threat to herself, her classmates, her teacher, or the abusing deputy. Nevertheless, ex-Deputy Fields proceeded to put the child in her place by knocking her to the ground while still in her desk, then dragging and throwing her across the classroom before arresting her and charging her with the South Carolina offense of “disturbing school”.

I continue to ask the question I’ve asked since my initial viewing of the video: What if she had been my daughter? And my response remains the same: Thank God she wasn’t.

I was pleased to hear that Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott has terminated Ben Fields. But I’m not satisfied with Fields’ termination. Termination is a sufficient form of discipline for an employee who consistently fails to adequately perform his job, who consistently fails to meet performance standards, or who commits an act serious enough to warrant ending the employment relationship, but not quite rising to the level of being criminal. What ex-Deputy Fields committed, on the other hand, was a felony. He abused his position as a deputy and unmercifully treated a child with reckless abandon. He tossed a child across the classroom like she was a rag doll; as if she had no worth. If Fields had treated a dog like he treated this child, there would have been calls for his termination on the basis of animal cruelty. But he didn’t abuse a dog; he abused a child.

So I’m not satisfied with Fields’ termination. There is nothing this child could have said or done that warranted being treated in the manner she was treated. Fields abused and hurt a child; not someone’s dog, but someone’s child. And for that, he be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. A message must be sent to Fields and to would-be child abusers wearing police uniforms that such behavior is not only impermissible, but such action will land them in jail.