Lesson on injustice has district defending curriculum

A lesson on injustice and race has one Memphis mother wondering if it was inappropriate for her 10-year-old son.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A lesson on injustice and race has one Memphis mother wondering if it was inappropriate for her 10-year-old son. The school district teaching it said it’s the first complaint of its kind in the several years it’s had the curriculum.

All the students at Journey Community Schools are doing virtual learning. So, Debbie Perry saw firsthand the lesson she thinks is inappropriate for a fifth-grader.

“It’s not that I don’t think it’s the right time [to talk about injustice], I don’t think it’s appropriate for an elementary student,” Perry said.

Perry said her son came to her concerned with the lesson on his computer during his fifth grade English language arts class at Coleman Elementary. The screen asked students to discuss injustices and featured pictures of a group of black men and women recently killed by police or white community members- including a picture of a police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck.

“The kids were stating their opinion, but what I didn’t agree with was the teacher agreeing with them,” Perry said.

Perry said she heard the teacher agree with one student who said white people and black people who commit crimes are treated differently. Nickalous Manning, Journey Community Schools' Executive Director, said in the clip of video Perry took he also heard the same thing.

“We are constantly working on the ways we have dialogue, or how we choose to engage or not engage or confirm or deny,” Manning said.

“Well [my child] told me about [the lesson] and I thought it was good,” mother of a Coleman Elementary student Kentevia Williams said. “They need to know the truth.”

Williams' daughter was in the same class at Perry’s son. Manning said Perry’s complaint is the only one of its kind about the lesson in all the years the district has had it.

He argues it is age appropriate.

“From kindergarten to fifth grade we’ve seen some of the toughest stuff- chattel slavery, colonialism, conquests, concentration camps,” Manning said.

“As soon as kids can start forming thoughts and sentences and recognizing the differences around them is a really good time to start having that conversation [about race],” Assistant Director of Clinical Services with Youth Villages Dr. Justin Dodson said.

Dodson, who is not connected to this complaint or this district in any way, but did write a book about his own experiences with racism, said the conversation should start at home.

“Parents have to understand it’s okay to talk about race. It’s not a bad thing,” Dodson said.

Perry has withdrawn her son from Journey Community Schools. Manning said he believes the schools are open to all viewpoints.

“I don’t think it’s right the school chooses to teach that without informing the parents,” Perry said.

“I think they should start as babies and go on up to learn right from wrong,” Williams said.

Perry also questioned the lesson taking place during an ELA class. Manning explained this lesson was a brief segment before the class started reading poems by Kwame Alexander, the award-winning children’s poet.

For more ways on how to talk to your children about race and current events click here.

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