Right-wing outlets continue their war against critical race theory and “The 1619 Project” creator and New York Times writer Nikole Hannah-Jones. After a recent appearance on MSNBC’s Meet the Press, outlets ran stories claiming Jones said she wasn’t an educator or that she didn’t think parents should have a say in their children’s education.
Hannah-Jones tweeted Monday morning that it seems like such coverage is coordinated as if writers for these outlets and the people who follow them are simply waiting to pounce.
Without context, that could seem like damning admissions from a well-respected journalist and high-profile HBCU professor. Except context absolutely matters. During the 17-minute conversation with Chuck Todd asked Hannah-Jones a series of questions about the fake controversy around genuine discussions around race in public education.
“I don’t really understand this idea that parents should decide what’s being taught,” Hannah-Jones began. “I’m not a professional educator. I don’t have a degree in social studies or science. We send our children to school because we want them to be taught by people who have expertise in the subject area, and that is not my job.”
Right-wing outlets were fixated on the “I’m not a professional educator” statement in the context of a discussion of K-12 education. Hannah-Jones has taught journalism and writing professionally. Even as a journalist and researcher who documented a painful part of American history, Hannah-Jones thinks it makes sense to prioritize the experts in their respective fields.
Besides, as she said, being a journalist is not the same as being someone who specializes in curriculum development or teaches K-12 social studies or science, as she said. Hannah-Jones also seems to be speaking as a parent of a K-12 student when she references how parents send children to school to learn from experts, not laypeople who read random memes on Facebook.
Coverage that picks a part statements to inflame false controversy only furthers misinformation. These distortions helped provide cover for influence political decision-making in numerous states, as demonstrated by laws proposed and/or passed in states like Oklahoma and Florida.
Hannah-Jones also corrected Todd’s framing of the issues at a few points during the conversation, noting how he separated parents from parents of color as if white parents were somehow especially concerned. Responding to a question about adding more educators of color, Hannah-Jones highlighted a bigger issue she sees in the classroom.
“We should definitely have more Black and Latino educators because that is what our country looks like, but I don’t think you have to be Black or Latino in order to teach a more accurate history,” Hannah-Jones said. “The problem is that our teacher preparation programs are not equipping educators with the knowledge that they need to teach this history better.”
Teachers need the resources and confidence to support children. Professional development guides and toolkits from the Learning For Justice, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, can be helpful for teachers trying to navigate challenging issues.
Actor and Director Reagan Gomez took issue with Todd’s framing throughout the interview.
Hannah-Jones also corrected Todd on his framing of the governor’s race in Virginia, noting that it was decided based on a successful “right-wing propaganda campaign that told white parents that they needed to fight against their children being indoctrinated as being called racist.”
This is not to say that parents shouldn’t participate in their kids’ education. But framing the debate around the conservative distortions of critical race theory and teaching race in schools as merely being about concerned parents is a big part of the problem. Acting as if this is simply about concerned parents trying to protect their children from being called racist does not grapple with the real danger happening to what Hannah-Jones calls “a free and tolerant democratic society.”
Watch the full interview below:
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