Tennessee Education Dept. Rejects Complaint That MLK Book Is 'Anti-White Teaching'

The Tennessee Department of Education rejected a complaint claiming a curriculum featuring books on the civil rights movement violated a state law banning the teaching of critical race theory.

The complaint, filed in July by the conservative group Moms for Liberty, claimed the curriculum called Wit and Wisdom taught in Williamson County—near Nashville—violated the law passed in May, The Tennessean reported.

It specifically pointed to books focusing on civil rights icons including Martin Luther King Jr. and Ruby Bridges as violating the law.

"The classroom books and teacher manuals reveal both explicit and implicit Anti-American, Anti-White, and Anti-Mexican teaching," the complaint reads.

The complaint gave examples from the books they claim to have a "narrow and slanted obsession on historical mistakes" and "a heavily biased agenda, one that makes children hate their country, each other, and/or themselves."

It cited examples including photographs of white firemen blasting Black children with fire hoses "to the point of 'bruising their bodies and ripping off their clothes,'" segregated drinking fountains, and white people holding signs that said, "we want segregation."

Tennessee Education Rejects Complaint Civil Rights
The Tennessee Department of Education rejected a complaint claiming books about the civil rights movement violate the state’s law banning the teaching of critical race theory. Above, a classroom is seen in New York in July 2021. Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

The department decided last week they could not investigate the allegations because the lessons occurred during the 2020-2021 school year, and the department is only authorized to investigate allegations that occurred during the 2021-2022 school year, The Tennessean reported.

But Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn wrote in a letter to the group that the decision does not mean the department "made a determination regarding the merits of these claims," according to the newspaper.

The law the curriculum is claimed to have violated prohibits teachers from teaching lessons that teach "an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual's race or sex" or any content that promotes "division" between races.

In a letter obtained by The Tennessean, one parent of a biracial child wrote the curriculum "only highlights race and creates further division among the new generation."

Chad Colby, a spokesperson for Great Minds—the company that produces the curriculum—said in a statement to Newsweek Monday evening that Wit and Wisdom is in "full compliance with Tennessee state law."

"The books, which introduce kids to facts about U.S. history, the arts and science, and values including strength, compassion and resilience, are chosen to match different ages and grade-levels," the statement said.

Educators continue to grapple with how to best teach the history of race and racism in schools as the topic has emerged as a hot-button political issue in recent months.

Specifically, many parents have voiced opposition to critical race theory (CRT), which focuses on the idea that racism persists in institutions in the United States, including the justice system.

Some parents have said that some lessons on racism further cause racial tension and can even cause emotional distress for students. But others emphasize the importance of students learning the history of race.

Newsweek reached out to Moms for Liberty for comment.