A National Education Association-sponsored instructional kit aimed at countering the Ku Klux Klan has been under attack by a Jewish group and a rival teachers' union because it describes American society as racist.
John Leeke, NEA staff coordinator for the project, said the 72-page booklet was developed early this year after Connecticut teachers asked how they could counter Klan attempts to recruit children there. He said NEA plans no changes in the book.
The criticism by Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, might have been prompted by the groups' opposition to affirmative-action quotas and delays in completing their anti-Klan material, Leeke added.
The flap is the latest in a series of sensitive confrontations, in which black and Jewish groups have clashed over issues touching on quotas. Marilyn Braveman, education director for the American Jewish Committee, said her group found the debate "destructive. We're concerned it plays into the hands of the Klan by making this a black-Jewish issue."
The recent criticism is aimed mainly at a section of the booklet on "reasons for current Klan growth" that makes several statements about racism in American society. At one point, the book, entitled "Violence, the Ku Klux Klan and the Struggle for Equality," says: "It is important to remember that the Klan is only the tip of the iceberg, the most visible and obvious manifestation of the entrenched racism in our society."
It also refers to "lifelong white supremacists in Congress" trying to repeal the Voting Rights Act, and states that several economic and social indicators demonstrate the gap between blacks and whites is getting larger, not smaller.
When the Klan seeks to protect white rights, "it is seeking to maintain the special privileges and benefits available to whites in a society structured around white supremacy," the booklet said.
ADL, which has monitored the Klan for years, issued a statement from San Francisco in October criticizing the booklet as "innately racist." Kenneth Bialkin, chairman of ADL's national executive committee, said his group opposes the premise that the nation is "institutionally racist."
Frances Sonnenschein, ADL's national education director, said that the difference of opinion between her group and the NEA booklet "isn't just semantics. We do admit there is racism within the society. We don't say it's a racist society. We also think there's anti-semitism in society, but we're not going to say there's an anti-semitic society."
The NAACP criticized ADL, in turn. Its education director, Beverly Cole, said that opposing the view that America is institutionally racist is "either incredibly insensitive or incredibly naive."
Rival union head Shanker joined the fray in a regular Sunday column he runs as an ad in The New York Times. He said the NEA booklet "will bring the public schools under attack" because it is propaganda "for one particular ideology."
Shanker said in a telephone interview that statements about a racist society are "one of the big lies" being taught about the United States. He said there are elements of teachers in the schools from the "counterculture, New Left" of the 1960s who have a "crude Marxist interpretation of American society."
Robert B. Moore of the Council on Interracial Books for Children, the booklet's main writer, said Shanker and the ADL critics were taking statements out of context. The booklet notes the lack of progress by blacks in countering Klan propaganda that claims whites are suffering because of favors given to minorities, he said.