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On Thursday night we told you about an instructor at the University of Iowa College of Education called Eric McKinley Thompson. We highlighted how, in his own words, it is “always about race” to him. And we highlighted his social media postings.

We finished by asking if he takes a similar approach in his classroom. And it appears we have an answer.

During a class at the University of Iowa College of Education on Tuesday, students were given a lesson on recapping white privilege, the power of “normal,” Critical Race Theory and culturally responsive teaching.

It was part of a class called “Foundations of Education” taught by Thompson. The class is a requirement for most of the education licensure programs.

“It’s one of the core classes that we require our students to take to become a licensed teacher,” a woman with the College of Education told The Iowa Standard on Wednesday.

Thompson said some people may think white privilege is something that started after the summer of 2020. He said it may not be overt and it may be something people don’t understand they are exercising.

“It is also something that, although you may not be overtly predisposed to feeling negative about certain things, and if the skin tone that you have happens to be white — although in the video it was alluded to the fact that you may be inadvertently a beneficiary of white privilege and you may be a part of it, you may be implementing it without knowing it — I don’t necessarily go that far,” he said. “I don’t assume that that’s being implemented or you benefit from it, but you may tacitly benefit from it if you happen to be white or if you happen to pass for.”

This is relevant to education because education is not “pluralistic, holistic and the normal way to do it is to teach every kid.”

“That simply isn’t the case,” he said. “That does not happen. And if you fight against that you’re only fighting against reality. This isn’t to demean or degrade, it’s just the fact.”

Thompson then made the class define what “normal” is. One student answered normal is what the dominant culture considers acceptable. 

Thompson asked if the student would have said that before taking the class. The student said it would’ve taken him a while to get to that answer.

“But without having this class, would you have a different definition of the word normal,” Thompson asked.

“Maybe slightly, a little bit,” the student said. 

Thompson asked the students what they were told was “normal” growing up and what they’re told “normal” is now.

One student said heterosexual relationships and identifying as the gender you were born as.

“The phrase Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, right,” Thompson said. “First one is normal, second one isn’t. Right? I mean come on. We all live in the real world. Can’t be offended now. Too late.”

He then attacked policing.

“Dark-skinned human beings driving a Benz versus light-skinned human beings driving a Benz,” Thompson said. “The chances of a light-skinned — unless they’re speeding — getting pulled over? Low. The chances of DWB? High. Who doesn’t know what DWB means? Driving While Black. Long Island is a habitual offender of that. They’ll pull you over for no reason.”

He correlated it to the classroom.

“White kid is frustrated — just have to go outside and play. Work it out. Right? Just punch each other for a little bit and then come back inside,” he said. “Black kid? Special ed. Right? After school. Kicked out. Sent to alternative school. School to prison, right? The black girl, she’s got an attitude problem. Suspended for five days. The white girl? She just needs to calm down. She’s having a day.”

Thompson said the class discussed at length how white privilege manifests itself in schools. The class discussed what the “power of normal” looks like in curriculum. He asked what a normal history class is.

“Europe and then eventually white America,” a student answered. 

He asked what the power of the benefit of the doubt looks like relating to discipline.

“Sending students of color to the principal’s often more often than white,” one student said. “Specifically you talked about I think Cedar Rapids having that issue for a while.”

“Yeah,” Thompson said. “This is not something that’s a personal diatribe. No. I’m literally not. There’s factual evidence to support this. The benefit of the doubt is given to those with a lighter hue. If I were in high school, freshly shaven with this skin tone, because I do now, I literally would pass. And I could be lighting kids up in the stairwell when I was in high school. And I’d go to class.”

He said the “power of accumulated power” looks like AP and honors classes. 

“Am I against those classes or should you be? No,” he said. “All humans have the ability to do that — in theory.”

Thompson said there is a financial obstruction to holistic education because some families can’t afford to take a test. 

He told the students he respects students more who are honest and just confess they didn’t do an assignment instead of telling a story about why they didn’t get it done. 

“Just be straight up, honest,” he said. “If you’re ashamed, get over it. ‘I didn’t do it.’ Cool. I have no problem with that. And I would argue that public educators should develop that aspect of their personality. It’s not necessarily about submission, although there is a lesson in turning things in on time.”

The class discussed why “color blindness” is harmful. This led to Thompson discussing “sundown towns.”

He talked about how “young black boys” have to be told not to wear a hoodie, especially when the sun goes down.

“If you are not white, generally, and the sun goes down, you better get out of that town,” Thompson said. “Those warnings were sent out in the summer of 2020 in Des Moines.”

He then said his boss will not travel through Solon after 4:30 p.m. during daylight savings time.

“He’s almost 80 and black,” Thompson said. “He will not travel that way. I wouldn’t drive there if I was any darker. I’m scared and I’m not that dark.”

Thompson recommended the students add five books to their academic libraries:

*An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy
*An American Dilemma Revisited: Race Relations in a Changing World
*Silent Covenants: Brown v. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform
*The Resegregation of Suburban Schools
*Why Busing Failed

Silent Covenants was written by Derrick Bell, who Thompson called the “godfather” of Critical Race Theory. 

“The tenants of suppression in American society are embedded in the very foundation of the country,” Thompson said. “Derrick Bell never says everything is bad because of white people…If you know what Critical Race Theory is, which you’re going to know the drive-by version today, that is never ever said. Neither you nor I created the past, we just have to live with its remnants.”

Critical Race Theory, according to Thompson, is a framework for legal analysis in the late 1970s and early 1980s created by legal scholars Derrick Bell, Kimberle Crenshaw and Richard Delgado. 

Examples he provided were redlining, refusing mortgages to non-white families and the federal government having to financially threaten local school districts with the removal of funds if schools weren’t integrating. 

He cited this interview with Marc Lamont Hill and Jelani Cobb. He said CRT emerged out of “postmodernist thought, which tends to be skeptical of the idea of universal values, objective knowledge, individual merit, enlightenment rationalism and liberalism. Items that we have unpacked in one way or another.”

The class discussed where CRT is “under attack.” Iowa was cited due to House File 802 being passed and signed into law. 

“When you enter the classroom, regardless of level, you’re going to need to know what the current government in Iowa says related to the board of education and how you can disseminate this information,” Thompson said. 

He said the bill is an example of government creating a solution in search of a problem.

“It has literally affected what I do professionally because I had to talk to, for example, the Iowa City School District and walk them through this,” he said. “Elementary teachers specifically are concerned about using words related to race for example because they don’t want to get fired for saying certain things.”

The class also discussed “culturally responsive teaching” and “culturally sustaining pedagogy.” That term means maintaining heritage, values, cultural and linguistic pluralism.

“You are a proponent of multi-linguist, multiculturalism,” Thompson said. 

There is a debate raging among academics about “ebonics,” he added. He asked if in an English class someone could tell black students something is incorrect the way they wrote it because it isn’t proper English. 

A student asked if it is wrong to teach kids of any skin color to speak and write proper English for the sake of getting jobs in the future.

“I don’t know,” Thompson said. “Personally I think one needs to be amenable to multiple ways of communication.”

The student asked at what point he would say someone is ignorant of the English language that they might actually affect the workplace.

“That’s a great question,” Thompson said. “One that we can’t answer.”

According to the assistant vice president for external relations in the office of strategic communication, a person called Jeneane Beck who prefers the pronoun she/her/hers according to her email signature, Thompson is a PhD student at the University of Iowa serving as a teaching assistant.

The course is a required upper-level undergraduate course that provides an overview of the American education system, she said, including school curriculum, organization and current political and social issues.

We asked if the University of Iowa is aware of the lessons on “white privilege” and if it believes the lessons are in line with state law. Beck said the law specifically exempts “academic instruction” from the ban.

“As an educational and research institution, the University of Iowa is fully committed to free inquiry and vigorous debate,” she said. “Free expression, academic freedom and diversity of perspectives are all crucial to the fulfillment of our core mission. The robust exchange of diverse ideas is the essence of a public research university.”

She added that faculty are “entitled to academic freedom in the classroom,” but they may not introduce controversial matters that have no relation to the subject. She finished by saying that students are entitled the same intellectual freedom as faculty members and faculty members are expected to respect that freedom.

We emailed Thompson on Thursday afternoon and asked a few questions. If he responds we will publish his answers.

Author: Jacob Hall


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