Regina Washington directs Denise Lee and Ebony Marshall Oliver (l to r) in a rehearsal of Homeschooled at the African-American Repertory Theatre. All photos by Jerome Weeks.
Should schools teach American history – even its uglier aspects, like racial violence? Or should young children be taught about lynching and segregation at home? And when? As part of KERA’s American Graduate initiative, Jerome Weeks reports the African-American Repertory Theatre is premiering a new play by a Dallas writer that finds no easy answers.
Playwright Jonathan Norton remembers his first-grade teacher in Dallas splitting the class into two groups. The teacher announced that two hundred years ago, this group – she pointed to the white students — would have owned this group – and she pointed to the black students.
“It was how she began to explain to us about the history of slavery,” Norton says. “And I know, looking back on it, it sounds, like, really? That’s … questionable. But then, even at that early age, I remember being angry at my parents, wondering why they had never told me any of this.”
Regina Washington is the director of African-American Repertory Theatre, which is premiering Norton’s new play, called Homeschooled (it’s one of the new plays supported by the Donna Wilhelm Family New Works Fund). Washington says her childhood introduction to the history of racial violence was almost the exact opposite of Norton’s. Her parents were very involved in her and her sisters’ education. She learned about lynching from them, she says. She certainly didn’t get it in school.
“Part of our history,” she says, “didn’t make it into the history books in the schools that I went to. It’s something that they’re not getting in the traditional schools, so homeschooling allows you to broach that subject.”
Initially, Norton (below) heard about African-American homeschoolers from an NPR story several years ago — and he was attracted to the topic solely because of the opportunities it provided for creating a variety of female roles. He actually knew very little about the subject.
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