#TeachTruth: Working on a (Former) Plantation

During the weekend of June 11-12, teachers across the country hosted events as part of the Teach Truth Days of Action. These events serve to contradict the slate of bills proposed by the GOP that prevent the teaching of real history. For the record, I believe I DO teach CRT (critical race theory) conceptually in my middle school classes. My students do learn that systemic racism is real: that there are laws and policies, both present and historical, based on race and embedded in most American systems, which affect the outcomes of different racialized groups of people. Do not underestimate the middle school mind. They get it. They really get it. At our selective and elite independent schools, they live it.

I appreciate the efforts by Teaching for Change and The Zinn Education Project to coordinate, connect, and empower educators who are committed to teaching our students what is real in the world and in the past. If you haven’t already signed the Pledge to Teach the Truth, I encourage you to do so here.

My contribution has been to help document and commemorate the enslaved people of African descent who lived and worked on the land our independent school, The Maret School in Washington D.C., currently occupies. I recently wrote an article for the community magazine about research done by our teachers and students to document the life of Lucy Berry, who was enslaved at Woodley, the historic home and plantation where our school now resides. We know quite a bit about Lucy Berry because she was freed from Woodley and her owner, Union General Lorenzo Thomas, through the passing of the D.C. Compensated Emancipation Act in 1862. The archival record shows that General Thomas was paid a sum of money for her and one of her sons upon freeing them. Afterwards, Lucy Berry reunited with her husband and other children whom she had been torn away from. They eventually settled in the formerly Black neighborhoods of Georgetown. Many of our students know the story of Lucy Berry and many more will once the intended plaque about her experience is placed on our campus.

Oddly, this is not the first plantation I have worked on. Sidwell Friends School, where I was employed for eight years, also sits on a historic property where people were enslaved. They, too, are embarking on a remembrance and reconciliation process. These efforts to teach the truth on our campuses are not abstract. They are very real, current, and relevant. We must remain committed to embracing the complicated histories that touch all of us and to ensuring young people have accurate the information, context, and skills to process them. Our students deserve this and, with more frequency, they demand it. We must respond with the truth. Only when we tell the truth is freedom really ringing.

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