Stop the death march of education

A Liberal Dose


This weekend, I spoke with Matthew Hawn (for reasons I will explain below). When comparing notes, we realized we both graduated from Tennessee Tech 20 years ago next month, and that we had many of the same professors and were even in some of the same classes, so we must have crossed paths. I was a History and English major, and he was an Education major, so we may not have traveled the same social orbits… but we are aware of each other now, and the fact we have so much in common makes that even more noteworthy.

Matthew spent 16 years teaching at Sullivan County High School, including a class he taught for over 10 years called “Contemporary Topics.” He was beloved by his students and had never given anyone cause for complaint. Until the Tennessee General Assembly passed the so-called “critical race theory” and “divisive concepts” laws, and he actually discussed race (and assigned a reading by noted African-American author Ta-Nehisi Coates) to his high school students. He became the first Tennessee educator to be fired under those laws (making national news - as is usual for Tennessee lately, not in a good way).

Tennessee is not the only state with such laws (but all the ones who do can accurately be described as red states). There are several. Other legislation has been put forward all around the country seeking to muzzle public educators, both in K-12 and higher ed, and control what they teach and how they teach it where race, gender, or really almost any kind of minority status are concerned.

Several concerned individuals and groups in Tennessee - including the Tennessee Conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the Tennessee chapter of the American Indian Movement-Indian Territory - have come together in recent months to create an informal organization called the Tennessee Coalition for Truth in Education (TCTE), with the goal of educating Tennesseans about these laws and their consequences. One of their first actions was a webinar (which was recorded and can be found on YouTube by searching the organization’s name) featuring a couple of legal experts.

A larger, nationwide group has also formed recently - with members including AAUP chapters, higher ed unions, and student organizations from across the country - with the goal of organizing a “National Day of Action for Higher Ed for the Public Good,” on April 17. Campuses in multiple states will be involved, directing interested parties to view a national live “teach-in” at 4pm Central that day, and/or other events geared toward local needs.

That’s where Matthew Hawn comes in.

The TCTE (check above if you get your acronyms confused, I’m slinging around a lot of them!) is sponsoring, at 6 p.m. CST, on April 17, a live educational webinar that will be promoted by participating organizations across Tennessee. The webinar will feature Hawn, telling his story, giving context, and answering a couple of questions. Really interested parties could watch both the 4 p.m. national event and (or) the 6 p.m. state one. You can learn more about the national teach-in at and about the Matthew Hawn presentation at .

Here is a quote from the Day of Action group: “Institutions of higher education serve to educate the public and to help generate the reliable information, broad-ranging knowledge, and reasoned analysis that a democratic society requires. Colleges and universities are spaces where research and ideas - including challenging ones - are subject to rigorous study and critical evaluation. In the interest of democracy, our educational institutions must be allowed to function free from interference by politicians, CEOs, and lobbyists seeking to repress inquiry.”

The folks who cry the loudest about so-called “cancel culture” want to cancel any educational, intellectual, or philosophical discourse that makes them uncomfortable - when making people uncomfortable is what education is FOR. If all it does is make you comfortable, it is not education, it is indoctrination.

I’ll close with a quote from the TCTE: “We are the only people who can stop the death march of education in this state.”

Get involved. Ask questions. Pressure your politicians. Be prepared to CHANGE your politicians if they continue to hamstring the education of our young people.

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech and serves on the executive committee of the Tennessee Democratic Party. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.         


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