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Celebrating Alan Keyes — a tale from black history month

I am against Black History Month because, as argued here, it presents impressionable young students with a distorted, negative view of American History. The following tale is “illustrative” (as Chuck Hagel might say) of that effect and how I once tried, in a very limited way, to counter it.

By the time my older daughter Laura reached Sixth Grade, she was on at least her sixth Black History Month. The school had run out of old-time African-Americans to celebrate, so it focused on contemporary African-Americans of some note.

The students drew from a list of names. My daughter drew as her suggested Black History Month subject, Mary Frances Berry, an odious Communist sympathizer who then headed the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

This news caused me to substitute the parenting style of Robert, Earl of Grantham, for my normal approach. The first question was whether Laura was required to write about Berry. A negative answer — Berry was only a suggested subject; Laura could pick any semi-prominent contemporary African American — meant that I wouldn’t need to take up the matter with the school.

I then strongly suggested that Laura should pick someone else. That was fine with her; she had no vested interest in a figure of whom she had never heard. But whom should she study?

It happened that Alan Keyes was running for the Republican presidential nomination at the time, and one of his speeches was being shown on CSPAN that night. So I popped a tape into the VCR and recorded the spectacle.

Laura loved Keyes’ speaking style and nothing in his substance shocked her conscience. So Keyes became her Black History Month subject.

When it came time for her in-class presentation, Laura spoke a little bit about Keyes and played highlights from his speech.

The big question, of course, was always how the teacher would react. No problem. Laura got an “A” (like most of the other students, I imagine). She also reported that her teacher had smiled with genuine amusement during the playing of the Keyes tape.

I never found out whether the teacher smiled because she found Keyes funny or because she appreciated the injection of true diversity into Black History Month and/or the mini act of rebellion we had pulled off.

I guess it doesn’t matter. Nor did it really matter that one less student celebrated Mary Frances Berry that year and that one student celebrated Alan Keyes. The corrosive effect of Black History Month cannot be overcome by isolated acts of parental pushback.

JOHN adds: My most distinct memory of Black History Month was when one of my daughters came home from elementary school, having gained the impression that Martin Luther King was responsible for the abolition of slavery. That prompted a crash lesson in American history.

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