Refuse to be Silent About Things That Matter

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor

This past week, I joined many in my outrage over a controversial remarks by Iowa Congressman Steve King (R-4th) in a New York Times interview where he pondered, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?” The statement was just the latest in a history of racially charged comments and divisive actions by the Iowa politician.

The comment drew outrage from both the right and left of the spectrum, and resulted in King being stripped of his committee assignments in the U.S. House of Representatives. The House also passed a resolution rejecting white supremacy and white nationalism by a vote of 424 to 1. Congressman Bobby Rush of Illinois (D-1) was the one member who voted against the resolution, saying it did not go far enough. Rush has introduced his own censure resolution, which represents a stronger condemnation focused on the Iowa Republican.

As I reflected on these events, I also pondered on how well I have done as an educator in helping my students understand what was wrong with King’s statement. According to Congressman King, it was in history class that he learned that white supremacy and white nationalism was okay. As we near a holiday celebrating of a very different man named King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, I wonder how we can use the proven practices of civic education to honor his legacy and continue his work for, in Dr. King’s words, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

While it can be uncomfortable, it is incumbent upon classrooms to address essential questions related to race, equity, justice and related themes that permeate social issues of both the past and present. This week, Teaching Tolerance published an article, Steve King Shows Why We Need Black History Month, citing, “King’s comments indicate not only a shocking willingness to express his personal racism but also how far we have to go when it comes to sharing the truths about the founding of the United States and the history of civilizations around the world.”

For classrooms looking for resources to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and counter the narrative proposed by Congressman Steve King-here are some places to start:
How are you addressing essential questions relating to Congressman King’s comments? How are you honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Black History Month? Please comment below. Together, we can equip all student for college, career and civic life.

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