Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I'll take Social Justice for $800. Alex

I saw an interesting video clip this morning with regard to Black History Month.  It was a version of the college edition of the TV game show Jeopardy.  I've always enjoyed this type of program because I learn something even though it's just based on quick recall of specific fact.  All in the form of a question, right?
So here we have three of the nation's best and brightest representing Texas A&M, the University of Chicago, and the University of Oklahoma.  In the Final Jeopardy round, where the cash values are doubled and the questions are supposed to be more difficult, the game came down to the last category selected.  That is to say, every question had been chosen in every category except the entire last category: African American History.  Hmmm.   OK, three white kids as contestants might explain this.  So they start to attack the last five questions and the good news is that three were answered correctly.  No surprise because they were rather easy questions about who delivered an "I have a dream" speech and a famous theater in Harlem (Apollo)  That the three college students didn't get Rhode Island as the site of the first all black regiment is excusable but the real shocker came with the silence that followed when asked about the famous Alabama "boys" in Alabama who were convicted of rape in a controversial trial in he early 1930s.  Not one of them had heard of the Scottsboro Boys.

Alex Trebek, feeling the discomfort of this glaring silence offered,"Well, I guess it was before your time."  Just like the Civil War, George Washington, and about a thousand other well known people and events that are crucial to an understanding of the history of this country.
Was I shocked?  Not really.  With the current emphasis on cramming lots of measurable data into social science curriculum, it's no surprise that an event of this magnitude gets overlooked.  When you choose to include something, something else gets overlooked.  Every time.
I created a good deal of curriculum on this case when I taught ethnic studies classes.  It is often included in U.S. History classes as well.  Since my time teaching about the case, PBS has produced and aired an excellent documentary including teacher's guide.  In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, President Obama pardoned one of the last of the original "boys" to be imprisoned.  This post is not about the tragedy of the Scottsboro case.  It's about the tragedy of such a significant event not being included in the study of our history.  I'm sure many high school and college students are familiar with the history of this watershed denial of civil liberties.  They may even know that one of the women who originally brought the rape charges against these  nine Depression era rail riders actually marched in Washington D.C. with the boy's mothers in an attempt to get their release.  I hope so.  but what I do know is that for one uncomfortable minute three scholars had no clue.

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