Just before Clint Tawes’ American Literature class began at Effingham County High School, footage of the January 6 uprising at the United States Capitol was playing on his iPad.
“Why aren’t they arrested? Asked a student. “If they were black they would have been,” said another.
Soon after, the bell rang and Tawes began his scheduled instruction on Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech.
The next day, Tawes was called into the principal’s office. He said Effingham County principal Amie Dickerson asked him about the comment just before class after the parents of a white student complained about it.
“She told me that politics and controversial issues should not be discussed in class and that she wanted the school to be a place free from discussing politics or anything controversial,” said Tawes at the Savannah Morning News Friday. “I remember asking him, how is that possible?” News will come up constantly in class discussions. It’s just a regular theme of the class.
The conversation then shifted to Black Lives Matter and its Lesson of the Day, which asked students to indicate if they agreed with certain passages from King’s previous speeches for a lesson in persuasive language, Tawes said. .
“Where the conversation really hit me was when she said, ‘Black Lives Matter has no place in school.’ It just shocked me,” Tawes said. a phrase that black students, their lives matter can be controversial? And you know, she replied, with the common principle: all lives matter. “
Tawes submitted his letter of resignation on January 8, the day after that meeting, but continued to work for the remainder of the school year.
The letter, publicly released May 28, garnered nearly 4,000 reactions and 2,400 shares on Facebook and comes just as the nation was discussing critical race theory, the intersection of social, cultural and legal issues with race and racism.
A representative from schools in Effingham County was not available to speak about Tawes’ resignation or how they were handling matters regarding the race on Friday afternoon. Effingham County School Board Superintendent Yancy Ford could not be reached immediately.
Conversations on this topic reached Georgia after Gov. Brian Kemp posted an open letter opposing the critical race theory that then prompted the Georgia State Board of Education to issue a resolution limiting racial conversations in classrooms. Table voted Thursday to endorse the resolution, which does not explicitly mention the term “critical race theory” and is not legally binding.
“I applaud the members of the State Board of Education for making it clear that this dangerous anti-American ideology has no place in Georgia classrooms,” Kemp said in a statement about the resolution. “With their vote today, members of the state school board ensured that education in Peach State reflects the freedom, equality and God-given potential of every individual.”
Georgia Educators Association president Lisa Morgan said the general resolution had “frightening implications,” highlighting the resolution’s last line which noted that some parts could be codified by GABOE.
“There are a lot of current events that educators would normally bring to their classroom as part of the teaching standards for critical thinking and decision making,” she said. “I know of many educators who have asked students to read and report on newspaper articles as part of their lessons and, in many cases, to use them as primary sources for social studies. “
As it reads, the resolution is restrictive for a teacher like Tawes, who often uses students’ lives and current events to help them relate to the literature being taught in the classroom.
“It completely handicaps our ability to teach. For the past few years, I’ve been teaching American literature primarily in grade 11, and a lot of that includes discussions about race, ”Tawes, who is Native American, said of the resolution, adding that he teaches everything from Native American literature to slave stories and The Harlem Renaissance. “We should remove that completely from the program so as not to discuss race. I don’t see how that will be possible. It would make the education incredibly inauthentic because you’d be avoiding that huge elephant in the room. “
For Tawes alumnus Isaiah Winn, the resignation highlights a larger problem with how the Effingham County School District deals with racism.
“A lot of families will move here over time. People move here every day. I want people to know what’s going on before I get here, ”said Winn, who detailed his dissatisfaction with the school district’s efforts in a Facebook post May 26. Others responded to the post about the district, repeatedly ignoring racist attacks and saying the school disproportionately punishes students of color.
Winn hopes that by publishing the post, the school district will change course as well.
“I’m really concerned about the staff and administration because we (blacks) don’t have any kind of representation in administration at the district level. None of them are black or brown, ”said Winn, who attends South Effingham High School but had Tawes as a teacher when students were learning virtually. “At the school level, we only have two or three administrators in the whole county who are black or brown, and we barely have teachers who are.”
Winn hopes to see more training for teachers on racism in the future.
As for Dawes, he will continue his career at Oglethorpe Charter Middle School. He, too, is hoping that by posting his resignation publicly, the culture in Effingham County and at school will change.
“I hope the school board will re-evaluate at least some of its policies and really take the time to re-evaluate the school culture in Effingham County,” he said. “When a white parent complained about something as small as a simple comment, they immediately took action to tell me I should have redirected the students.
“And yet, for years and years, black parents and other colored parents have talked about the flag on the front of the school, about ‘Dixie’ being played at school football games, and nothing. was never done to remedy it. This contrasts with how the complaint of a white parent was handled compared to how many complaints from students and parents of color. It really shows that there is a disparity in the way students are valued at school.
Raisa is a watchdog and investigative reporter for The Savannah Morning News. Contact her at [email protected]