This is a tale of two books. One book tells “The Story of Ruby Bridges”, who, as a first grader, integrated the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans in 1960. This children’s book describes how Ruby had to negotiate her way – with the help of Federal agents – through a gauntlet of angry adults on her way to and from school.
For months, she was the only child in Mrs. Henry’s classroom. A deadly illness like COVID might not keep those on the right from sending their children to school, but in those days, one African American child could.
“’Sometimes I’d look at her and wonder how she did it,’ said Mrs. Henry. ‘How she went by all those mobs and sat here all by herself and yet seemed so relaxed and comfortable.’”
Ruby, with her quiet dignity, eventually wore the white community down. Parents decided that their children would benefit more from learning in a classroom than getting into mischief at home.
“The Story of Ruby Bridges” is a powerful piece of children’s literature – not because African Americans are good, and whites are not, but because this first grader provides a blueprint of how to triumph over the adversity of injustice. It is a message that many of us – Black, white, men, women, LGBTQ2S+ - can relate to in the aftermath of the recent Supreme Court leak about overturning Roe vs. Wade.
We need to wonder, therefore, why this book has been banned in some Pennsylvania school districts. Is it because the book portrays all white people as being evil, or is it because there is a more universal message being broadcast by the book that Republican politicians would like to conceal from the public?
While right-wing school districts are banning such literature, our Republican legislature is fostering the conditions to enable a very different type of book to proliferate around the state. Whereas “The Story of Ruby Bridges” provides us with a strategy for confronting oppression and inequality, “America – Land I Love” is a guidebook on learning to acclimate oneself to those evils.
Below is an illustration, along with several excerpts from the book.
“Although the slaves faced great difficulties, many found faith in Christ and learned to look to God for strength. By 1860, most slaveholders provided Christian instruction on their plantations.”
“To help His children endure the difficulties of slavery, God gave the Christian slaves the ability to spiritually combine the African heritage of song with the dignity and power of Christian praise. Through the Negro spiritual, the slaves developed the patience to wait on the Lord and discovered that the truest freedom is freedom from the bondage of sin.”
“Only 6000 families in the entire South had over 50 slaves in 1850.”
It is no significant leap to categorize the ideas presented in “America – Land I Love” as Critical Grace Theory: Suffer within your mortal coil in order to attain salvation in the world to come. The question, however, is: Why are taxpayers shelling out the money for schools to use this book in the classroom?
Through the Educational Improvement Tax Credits (EITC) and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credits (OSTC), the state is funding religious schools that use – not only this book, but many others like it. EITC and OSTC are simply money laundering operations. The state does not directly fund these schools, but businesses and individuals who do get tax write offs do. Since revenues have to come from somewhere, that means that the rest of us foot the bill.
Here is the problem: Every year, Democrats pat ourselves on each other’s backs when a bill like the current SB 527 - which would increase these tax credits - are not enacted. Yet Republicans have managed to sneak additional millions of dollars of these credits into the state budget every year, so that a program that originally contained $30 million in credits now allows $280 million.
Here is what you can do. Request that your state legislator resist putting extra money into the education tax credit programs this year. You can also help to elect a proponent of these credits out of office. On May 14, from 10:30 AM to 1:30 PM, there will be a canvass for Melissa Cerrato, who is running against Todd Stephens, who generally votes to increase these tax credits. You can sign up here.