Are teachers discussing Charlottesville, Confederate monuments in class? Should they be?

Stone Mountain, which is adorned with a huge carving depicting Confederate heroes, is classified as a Confederate memorial by state statute. KENT D. JOHNSON/AJC
Caption
Stone Mountain, which is adorned with a huge carving depicting Confederate heroes, is classified as a Confederate memorial by state statute. KENT D. JOHNSON/AJC

Credit: Maureen Downey

Credit: Maureen Downey

I've been talking to high school students about the violence and turmoil in Charlottesville and its aftermath, including the rising call in Georgia to take down monuments that celebrate the Confederacy and its leaders.

For the most part, the teens said these issues aren't coming up in their classes. The kids weren't sure why the topics would be off-limits, although a few said anything around race seems taboo. A teacher suggested to me that classrooms are now tethered to daily lesson plans and there isn't a lot of flexibility to break away and dig into the news.

Are any teachers in Georgia throwing out their planned lessons to discuss Charlottesville and its ramifications?

Are you?

If so, how are you approaching it? I have found schools to be very careful – sometimes too much so – about controversial news. And these events have particular relevance to the South where Civil War monuments abound.

 A view of the historic courthouse in downtown Decatur and the Confederate memorial now under fire.
Caption
A view of the historic courthouse in downtown Decatur and the Confederate memorial now under fire.

Credit: Maureen Downey

Credit: Maureen Downey

For example, I live in Decatur, which maintains one of the most liberal voting records in Georgia. Yet, outside the old DeKalb courthouse on the Decatur Square is the Lost Cause Confederate Memorial.

A new petition to remove the statue garnered more than 1,200 signatures in less than 24 hours. (Current count Thursday: 1,875.)

The authors of the petition wrote:

These responses are not acceptable. The monument can and must be removed. Why should we remove the Confederate monument?

The Confederate monument opposes the values of Decatur and DeKalb citizens. We are a diverse and inclusive community, but this monument reveres white supremacy and the enslavement of African-Americans. Children of color look up at this monument daily, seeing a symbol of an ideology that stripped their rights as citizens and dignity as humans. The monument was erected 42 years after the Civil War in order to celebrate the atrocities of the Jim Crow South. It has no place in our square today.

Among the inscriptions on the Decatur monument: "Erected by the men and women and children of DeKalb County, to the memory of the soldiers and sailors of the Confederacy, of whose virtues in peace and in war we are witnesses, to the end that justice may be done and that the truth perish not."

There is ample news this week to spur Georgia-based classroom discussions around Civil War tributes and whether they should go. Andrew Young, former Atlanta mayor and United Nations ambassador, said the fights over symbols, including the 2001 campaign that eliminated the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag, waste time and political capital better directed to matters that change lives.

"I think it's too costly to refight the Civil War. We have paid too great a price in trying to bring people together," said Young.

But Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said the massive carving on Stone Mountain of three Confederate war leaders “remains a blight on our state and should be removed...We must never celebrate those who defended slavery and tried to destroy the union,” she said in a series of tweets.

Writing in Education Week, blogger and English teacher  Christina Torres  said:

As many of us prepare to return to our classrooms, we don't just need to buy flowers and make bulletin boards. We need to prepare and read resources (like #CharlottesvilleCurriculum from Melinda Anderson) that help us make space in our classrooms to discuss these events. We need to ensure that we treat our students' stories and the stories happening right now as a very real, living thing that our kids have the ability to change. They deserve that knowledge. They deserve that power.

Do you agree the issue, despite its volatility, ought to be addressed in classrooms? If so, how?

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