Teachers Guide on Klan Divides Rights Groups

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An instructional guide on the Ku Klux Klan developed for high-school teachers by the National Education Association (nea) has divided civil-rights groups over the proper way to depict the history and recent growth of the Klan.

The 72-page guide, entitled "Violence, the Ku Klux Klan and the Struggle for Equality," provides historical information on the Klan and suggests 11 lesson plans, complete with background source material and possible approaches to the subject. The project was begun last year in conjunction with the Council on Interracial Books for Children and the Connecticut chapter of the nea after a Klan rally in that state.

nea officials, who say they are surprised and disappointed by the negative reactions to their work, describe the guide as an attempt "to counter the Klan in a non-violent, educational way."

The guide has been distributed to every school district in Connecticut and is being made available to schools, human-rights, and community organizations across the country. It is designed to be used as part of high-school courses in American history, social studies, and civics.

'Entrenched Racism'

The Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith has attacked the nea's contention in sections of the guide that "entrenched racism" in American society has allowed the Klan to exist. League officials also say the guide downplays gains made by blacks and other minorities in the past 25 years.

At the same time, the Connecticut chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (naacp) fears that the lessons could be counter-productive if the personal prejudices of some teachers affect the6way the subject is presented to students.

nea officials counter that American history is filled with instances of legal racism and that a growing number of Klan-related incidents in the past few years demonstrates the persistence of racial bigotry in American society.

Controversy Acknowledged

A special section in the guide entitled "The Emotional Climate of the Classroom" acknowledges the controversial nature of the subject, the officials point out, and suggests that teachers follow closely the suggested lesson plans.

Several civil-rights organizations were asked to comment this summer on drafts of the instructional guide, which was released Sept. 26. And despite their criticism, the organizations praise the nea for attempting such a project.

"The nea is to be commended for coming out with this," said Frances M. Sonnenschein, national education director of the anti-defamation group. But she added that the group does not believe children should be taught "that we live in a totally racist society."

"We believe that there is racism in the society, but that the Klan is an aberration," she said. "By de-emphasizing the civil-rights era and the gains blacks have made, they leave students with the idea that blacks have little to look forward to."

'Antithetical' to American Ideals

Mrs. Sonnenschein said the league is working on its own curriculum guide, begun before it learned about the nea's efforts, and expects to have it completed by the end of the year. "Our basic thrust will be that the Klan can exist and grow precisely because of the democratic nature of our society, but that it is antithetical to everything America stands for."

The nea guide's treatment of racism in American society is not a major issue for the naacp, said Ben F. Andrews Jr., president of the organization's Connecticut chapter. But Mr. Andrews said he is worried about the teachers who will be presenting the material.

"Racism exists in America like apple pie and baseball," he said. "But it's the current environment--a bad economy, a lack of compassion among people, a backlash against affirmative action--that has allowed the Klan to grow in recent years.

"We are concerned about the naivete, the lack of concern for social issues, and the personal racial attitudes of some teachers who might be presenting the material. We endorse the concept, but it's certainly not a cure-all for the existence of the Klan in America," Mr. Andrews commented.

Guide Provides Needed Information

Dr. Robbins Barstow, director of professional development for the Connecticut Education Association, said teachers have told him the guide "is exactly what we have needed" to hold a thorough, well-informed discussion about the Klan. In addition to the guide's wide distribution in the state, Mr. Barstow said the association has received more than 100 requests for the kit from community and civil-rights groups in other states.

"Whenever anyone has raised questions6about providing information about the Klan in the classroom," Mr. Barstow said, "we ask them to look at the book and see how the material is treated. Once they do that, they're usually satisfied."

Copies of the guide are available from the Council on Interracial Books for Children, 1841 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10023. The cost is $4.95 each for orders of one to nine copies and $3.95 each for orders of 10 or more. The council requests that payment be sent with the order and that checks be made out to the cibc Resource Center.

Vol. 01, Issue 09

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