A history club at Collinsville High School in Collinsville, Alabama, has found itself in the middle of a small controversy as Martin Luther King Day approaches, according to local news station WAFF. It seems the DeKalb County Schools superintendent, Hugh Taylor, has barred the high school’s history club from taking a school trip to view the new and timely Hollywood civil rights movie, “Selma,” citing obscene and racial language as the apprehension with students seeing the film. You can see a preview for the film below:
One parent of a student in the history club questioned the superintendent’s motivation for cancelling the viewing of the Oscar-nominated film. Rev. James Stanton stated:
It raises my curiosity as to whether it’s something that they are not wanting exposed or the children to know about. I don’t believe it is just about the profanity.
Stanton, himself, was 20 years old in 1965. He lived through the civil rights movement and recollected how he’d been warned to stay away from the demonstrations as a young man. He stated:
They did not want me to come down and visit because of the violence and the racial problems that they were having at the time.
Considering the known and documented violence that took place during the Civil Rights Movement, one does have to wonder whether some in Alabama would rather leave the dust settled in the past, but everyone knows what they say about those who do not study history – they are condemned to repeat it. With the recent demonstrations sweeping across the country in the wake of police violence killing unarmed black men, one has to wonder if it might already be too late, but all the more reason for folks to embrace history in all its warts and ugliness rather than run away from it because of some obscene language. If not the history club, then who?
And what is more obscene, repeating the violence of the past due to prude sensibilities around language set in a historical context, or sitting through some uncomfortable cinematic moments in order to learn, in order not to forget so that we may move forward with the lessons we have learned as a nation?
Superintendent Taylor, however, claims he is simply concerned for what might happen should a child feel the film is too much to bear and wishes to leave. According to Taylor, he does not want teachers to fill in the role of a parent in such an instance, for such a sensitive topic.
In Taylor’s defense, momentarily, it is good to consider that “Selma” is a Hollywood film. There are far better ways to learn accurately about history. However, Hollywood is good at sensationalism, and that sensationalism may just inspire enough emotion to move students to learning more about the Civil Rights Movement, so what is the ultimate harm?
Taylor has been superintendent of DeKalb County schools since being elected in 2013. Many in the community, however, find it problematic that Taylor sends his own four children to a private Christian academy, rather than to the public schools he oversees. Could it have anything to do with the fact that Collinsville High School is largely a school where whites are in the minority? Who knows? Only Taylor could tell you that, and only if he is being honest.
When you compound that question hanging in the community, however, by that same white superintendent barring students from seeing a film on the Civil Rights Movement, you can begin to see where the controversy begins to creep in.
And doesn’t it seem simple enough to compromise and simply send out a permission slip for parents to sign warning them of the nature of the film, thereby removing the onus of responsibility from the school? Couldn’t parents even accompany their children, as well, in order to make the call Superintendent Taylor is seeking to avoid teachers from having to make?
Surely there are alternatives to simply barring the Collinsville High School history club students from seeing the film on a school trip altogether. Perhaps that is where some of Rev. Stanton’s skepticism comes in, as well.
History is often ugly. After all, much of it is made up of wars and social movements that involved violence, and you can bet a lot of the language around such events was not suitable for children. However, we do not flinch from showing children the violence in history in order for them to learn from it, so why should we shudder under the shadow of harsh language? No, Rev. Stanton is right – the pros outweigh the cons for allowing students to see the film.
Stanton closed his statements to WAFF by saying:
I believe that it would make a difference in the lives of students, both black and white, as well. To know of these things and what has taken place in the – in past years.