Former Efland-Cheeks Elementary School teacher Omar Currie stood before a full audience of adults at the Chapel Hill Public Library and read a children’s book: King and King, a story about two princes who fall in love and get married.
Hear Currie’s full reading of King and King by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland at the Chapel Hill Public Library below:
While Wednesday night’s reading ended in applause, Currie received a much different response after he read the book in his third-grade classroom in May. Several parents complained to Currie and the school about his decision to read the fairy tale in class.
Currie eventually resigned, he says, because he didn’t get the support he needed from his principal or the school district during the controversy.
“After my reading of King and King, the first thing that was said to me was, ‘We could have dealt with this as a disciplinary issue,'” Currie said. “So my career was put out there, as if to threaten me and to say, ‘Oh, well you need to back off and not move forward with anything.’”
Wednesday night at the library, Currie’s reading kicked off a panel discussion about teaching diversity in the classroom. Kathleen Gallagher, researcher at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, was on the panel. She says Currie made the right decision in reading a book that included gay characters.
“It’s our responsibility to educate children for this anti-bias perspective—for cultural competence,” Gallagher said. “We can’t prepare children for all the diversity that they’re going to encounter, but we can prepare them to have that open space—that third space—to think about it and reflect on it and be open to accepting.”
But panel members acknowledged there are many barriers to teaching diversity effectively. UNC Library Science Professor Brian Sturm says it can be difficult to find books like King and King that depict diverse characters.
“In the publishing arena in North America, particularly in the United States, you find that it is still predominately white; it is still predominately male.”
Currie says in his case, he needed support from his principal to shield him from angry parents. Gallagher says Currie’s principal needed support as well—from the school district.
“Every level needs to create this safety for conversations about diversity,” Gallagher said. “And when one falls apart, the whole thing falls apart.”
Currie won’t be teaching in Orange County, or North Carolina. He says he’s taken position at an elementary school in Alexandria, Virginia.