The future of education
Vernon County (WI) Historical Society
[A gloomy high school classroom. Leaning back against the front of the head desk is MR. PHILLIPS, 40ish, white, with brown hair and a brown-going-grey brush mustache, wearing a white button-down shirt sufficiently translucent that we can see he’s wearing a crew-neck t-shirt underneath, a brown and grey striped tie, grey stretchy trousers, and black Clarks Bradley Vibes. He’s holding a few sheets of paper folded longways, to which he occasionally refers. On the whiteboard behind him are the names MLK JR. – BAYARD RUSTIN – SIDNEY POITIER – RALPH BUNCHE – BILL COSBY – DIAHANN CARROLL. There are about two dozen kids in the class, mostly paying mild attention.]
MR. PHILLIPS: So this’ll be a big part of your grade. But this is AP African-American History. AP means advanced placement. So we expect you to step up with some names of your own for our list as well as what their relevance is to our “End of Racism” module. Now, who here came ready to do this? [Pointing] Dylan.
DYLAN: Robert Culp.
MR. PHILLIPS: Robert Culp the actor? Why, because he was on I Spy?
MR. PHILLIPS: And you consider that relevant to African-American history?
DYLAN: Bill Cosby was the first African-American on TV so he integrated TV and he wouldn’t have integrated TV without Robert Culp because then it wouldn’t be integrated.
MR. PHILLIPS: That’s a good point, Dylan, but I dunno, isn’t it strange to give a white actor credit for integrating TV? Starring roles were all white before, at least —
DYLAN: My Mom says the white people who worked with Martin Luther King were just as important as the black people and if you don’t think so it’s racist against white people.
MR. PHILLIPS: Ha, well that’s quite a statement, Dylan. It’s true some white people stood up for —
DYLAN: My Mom is in Moms for Liberty and she goes to every school board meeting and she brings people she gets from the mall and petitions and a bullhorn.
MR. PHILLIPS: I get it, Dylan, I get it. But do me a favor and look up Sheldon Leonard who was the executive producer on I Spy, and check out his role in getting Cosby on the show.
DYLAN: Was he white?
MR. PHILLIPS: Yes, Dylan, he was white. Anyone else? [Pause. Sighs.] OK, Jamaal.
JAMAAL: [Low voice] Franz Fanon.
MR. PHILLIPS: Franz Fanon wasn’t African-American, Jamaal. You know that. What country was Franz Fanon from?
JAMAAL: He was from Martinique in the Caribbean.
MR. PHILLIPS: That’s right. So why would you bring him up —
JAMAAL: Because he was a major influence on most of the black writers and activists I brought up last class that you said we couldn’t talk about.
MR. PHILLIPS: OK, but why did I say we couldn’t talk about them, Jamaal?
JAMAAL: You didn’t give me a good reason.
MR. PHILLIPS: I gave you a reason. [Pause.] Anybody here remember? H. Rap Brown, later known as Jamil Abdullah al-Amin. That was one of the writers and activists Jamaal mentioned last class. He was African-American, and you could say he was influential. But why isn’t Rap Brown appropriate for this AP African-American Studies module? [Pause.] We already heard from Dylan, I want to hear from someone else.
OK. Well. This module has been revised and is now called The End of Racism and that’s about what, class, what ended racism in the United States?
MR. PHILLIPS: Integration, what else? An Act of Congress, right?
ANOTHER VOICE: Civil Rights Act.
MR. PHILLIPS: The Civil Rights Act. What else? I don’t have to write these on the board again, do I?
[MR. PHILLIPS sighs, goes to the board, takes out a marker and writes MUTUAL RESPECT in big letters; caps the marker and comes back around.]
Mutual respect. Dylan, I’m surprised you didn’t get this one. Now, mutual respect has a very specific meaning in this course, and we’ve been over it, but what it specifically does not include are people who did not accept that integration and the Civil Rights Act and [pointing back to the board] mutual respect had ended racism. And so people like Rap Brown, Malcolm X, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, a few others — actually several others —
DYLAN: The Ku Klux Klan.
MR. PHILLIPS: Of course the Ku Klux Klan.
DYLAN: Because it’s the same thing.
MR. PHILLIPS: The point is that we may learn, may happen to learn about people like these, because they are part of the story. But we do not study these people because they did not contribute to The End of Racism.
GIRL’S VOICE: What about Karon Mason?
MR. PHILLIPS: Sorry, who was that?
GIRL’S VOICE: Karon Mason.
[MR. PHILLIPS looks on his desk, then back at the student.]
MR. PHILLIPS: Aisha, sorry, hadn’t heard from you for a while, just about forgot who you were! Well, OK, Aisha, who’s Karon Mason?
AISHA: Cops shot him last night at Sundown and East Third.
[Pause. MR. PHILLIPS takes a clicker off the desk and dims the lights.]
MR. PHILLIPS: OK, class, we’re gonna look at the Mountaintop speech again. At the end we’ll have a quiz.
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