If you’re not familiar with the education website BrainPop, then I’m guessing you don’t have any school age children. BrainPop is a website with a collection of short educational videos. It’s pretty popular in middle schools, and its had a fairly solid reputation among educators. So when my daughter said she was concerned about a BrainPop video she watched, I was a bit surprised.
So I watched the video on Jim Crow, and for the most part, it was pretty good. It discussed Plessy vs Ferguson, Truman’s desegregation of the military, the NAACP lawsuits and the events that lead up to Brown vs Board of Education. It handles the events pretty well, not sugar coating details over what is a difficult subject to discuss.
Sadly, the video fell apart for me right at the beginning and at the end. The video opens with the protagonists stuck in traffic due to a protest. But that is OK, we’re told, because the protestors are protesting for a good cause. Never mind that impeding traffic is a violation of the law, and the protestors could have easily protested without blocking traffic. But hey, its a good cause, whatever that means, and I say that because we don’t ever really know what the protestors stand for. Rather, its presented as a “protesting for more rights” sort of thing. Remember that point, its important later.
At the end of the video, we get a taste of progressive BrainPop. We’re told that all sorts of groups are protesting for their rights. What do these groups look like, you may ask?
My, that’s a pretty diverse set of protestors! Seems to be mostly from one side of a political aisle. But I have some questions. Why not include protestors from the pro-life movement? Why no reference to other discrimination, such as the rampant discrimination against Irish Catholics? And what exactly are immigrant rights? I thought rights belonged to citizens, or maybe I read that part of the Constitution wrong.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. There were indications BrainPop would get a bit more, progressive, dating back to 2016. It looks like I’m not the only one to notice this either. What’s sad is that you can already see this won’t end well. Once you pick sides, or appear to do so, you immediately turn a situation into “us vs them.” When I search for LGBT on BrainPop, I get 4 results, including one for Harvey Milk, but no results for abortion, pro-life or other related terms. Is BrainPop choosing sides? It sure appears so.
I wrote the following email to my daughters teacher. My hope is that he can perhaps put some of this material into more context, and given his past record, I think there’s a chance for that. I also think many teachers aren’t aware of the creeping progressive themes in BrainPop and other educational materials that used to just focus on delivering good content instead of pushing an agenda. If your kids use BrainPop, and had to watch the Jim Crow episode, I’d encourage you to send an email like mine below.
Dear Mr. (name),From my email to our daughters teacher
I’m a fan of open discussion about American History, both the good and the bad. My daughter Cecilia recently watched a BrainPop video on Jim Crow, and for the most part, the video was pretty accurate. I especially liked the reference to Plessy vs Ferguson, which is important to establish the proper way that the Supreme Court can correct past wrong decisions.
However, there are two disturbing points in the video I feel must be addressed. The video opens with the two protagonists stopped in traffic due to a protest. The one protagonist, a non-speaking robot, gets visibly angry at the disturbance, but the other protagonist, a young white male, tells him to calm down because the protestors have a “good reason to protest.”
This portion of the video is absurd because it overlooks key portions of the Constitution and settled law. The First Amendment of the Constitution allows the “right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This right, like all rights, is subject to restrictions such as noise ordinances and safety concerns. While the Supreme Court has struck down attempts at vague restrictions, such as the attempt to shut down “annoying” protests in Coates vs City of Cincinnati, it has upheld arrests of people who engage in violent behavior and who block traffic.
To use a close to home example, there was a scheduled protest down (nearby road) in the summer of 2020. The protestors obtained a permit and had police protection during their protest. Traffic was restricted to one side of (road), which allowed for proper flow of normal and emergency vehicles during this time. This is a great example of what is supposed to happen.
The video, however, is OK with an illegal blocking of traffic, which begs many questions. Are the protagonists OK with workers losing pay because they arrived to work late? What would they say to the loved ones of someone who died because their ambulance was stuck in unexpected traffic interruptions? What about someone who inadvertently injured a protestor because they weren’t aware of the protests because it wasn’t scheduled? These aren’t hypothetical questions, as each has happened in real life, yet the video glazes over these points like they don’t matter.
The other disturbing section was near the end, which implied that groups of different Americans needed to have “their rights” secured. It’s disturbing because it presents rights as something unequally distributed based on color, gender, sexual orientation, or a variety of other ways we can divide people into different blocks.
Rights exist for all Americans. Abolishing Jim Crow laws was done to allow black Americans to exercise their American rights. Rights aren’t given based on people’s beliefs or how active their melanocytes happen to be in their skin. Rights are given because we are people. That’s the part about “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence, or in the Fourteenth Amendment, which declares “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” It’s pretty heady and exciting stuff when you think about it, and something we should be proud of, because it’s not present in many parts of the world, even today.
When we separate rights into blocks based on arbitrary divisions of human beings, we put ourselves into an “us vs them” scenario. This implies there are winners and losers, and encourages people to fight those that don’t look like them. I can’t imagine a more cynical and cunning way you could destroy unity than this. The ending of the video encourages people to lump themselves into categories and fight for rights for “their side,” rather than fighting to ensure all Americans have the same exercise of American rights.
I apologize for the length of this email, but I think it’s important to point out where misinformation is hurting our education. We should be encouraging students to study US History, including the parts that aren’t the most flattering. But that study doesn’t mean we overlook laws, and it certainly doesn’t demand dividing us into different, competing blocks of people. We’re better than that. I hope you can provide a counter to this messaging that encourages our children to both learn from the past and create a better future for America.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.