In August 2021, conservative politicians in several states began pushing for legislation that restricted what educators could teach their students, namely when it comes to lessons related to race and inherent bias. Editors of the Fall 2021 issue of Rethinking Schools reported that those who choose to continue teaching supposedly “divisive topics” are being harassed by parents and community members and even criminalized. State lawmakers believe that the teaching of critical race theory (CRT), a framework used by scholars to study how policies and laws uphold institutional racism, will lead to a firm division between students. Eleven states, including Florida, Idaho and Texas, have already passed bills or authorized rules effectively censoring history in the classroom and the teaching of real-world social issues.
Some laws are ridiculously broad, making it impossible for teachers to develop a well-rounded curriculum. For instance, in Tennessee, lawmakers enacted a ban forbidding any classroom material which demonstrates “division between, or resentment of, a race, sex, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, social class, or class of people.” Penalties for recorded slip-ups may include fines against individual educators or revocation of their teaching licenses. Schools may even face losing state funds or their school district’s accreditation.
In the Spring 2021 issue of City Journal magazine, author Christopher Rufo, a leader in the burgeoning anti-CRT movement, wrote an article criticizing Portland public school teachers for encouraging 100 days of Black Lives Matter protests in the city that summer. In the article, Rufo included the full names of several teachers who attended protests, which spurred vicious online hate. Then in June 2021, after several educators showed their support for the Zinn Education Project’s “pledge to teach the truth,” The Daily Wire published each one of the 5000 names signed on the petition, carefully organized by state and community. Following The Daily Wire’s article, teachers on the list faced countless complaints demanding their immediate dismissal.
Editors of Rethinking Schools maintain a teacher’s purpose is to inspire questions and curiosity, to foster growth and intellectual freedom, not hide information from young minds. Massive labor unions like National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have stood in staunch opposition to the sweeping anti-CRT bills and bans.
“Mark my words: Our union will defend any member who gets in trouble for teaching honest history,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten in July 2021.
In May 2021, the Washington Post published an article which gave an overview of critical race theory and described the coordinated GOP effort to ban its teaching in public schools. However, the article did not consider the impact these severe and inflexible bans may have on teachers’ livelihoods. Similar 2021 articles by the New York Times and ABC News approached the issue from a political perspective but neglected labor rights and teachers unions entirely. To this day, no corporate coverage has centered teachers and their students in this long-winded battle for the truth.
Source: Rethinking Schools Editors, “Confronting the Right-Wing Attacks on Racial Justice Teaching,” Rethinking Schools, Fall 2021.
Student Researcher: Magret Nunes and Kenyon Kremin (Diablo Valley College)
Faculty Evaluator: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)