Some of the country’s most prominent education organizations are pushing back against efforts to restrict teaching students about racism and oppression.
Amidst a flurry of state actions to ban discussions of “divisive concepts” and months of charged debates at school board meetings over critical race theory, a new coalition formed this week to help educators respond to community critique of curricula or anti-racism initiatives. The Learn From History coalition, put together by the Stand for Children Leadership Center, a nonprofit advocacy group, plans to publicize “first-person accounts of the harm and costs of efforts to restrict what is taught in classrooms across the country.”
“[F]or students to create a better society, schools need to provide a thorough, accurate, and fact-based history education and teach students to reject racism and respect the equal value of every person,” the site reads.
“Unfortunately, rampant misinformation about what is taught in schools is forcing teachers to omit difficult parts of our history and not teach students that racism is wrong and is adding yet another stressor for teachers at the worst possible time.”
The group identifies as bipartisan and names a wide range of partners, including AASA, the School Superintendents Association; the American Federation of Teachers; the American Historical Association; the Education Trust; the National Council for the Social Studies; the National School Boards Association; and Teach for America.
Its website provides separate toolkits for school board members, school system leaders, teachers, and parents that outline how to combat accusations that schools are teaching critical race theory and sowing division among students.
More than 2,500 people attended the coalition’s virtual launch Sept. 8.
‘The opposition’s narrative has been unanswered for much too long’
Over the past school year, as more schools took up diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, conservative politicians and some communities started to push back against what they viewed as too much discussion of racism and injustice in the classroom.
Opponents of these programs and lessons claimed that schools were using them to teach “critical race theory,” an approach to legal studies which holds that racism is systemic, and that even laws and policies that are race-neutral on their face can have racist outcomes. In public discourse, critics of DEI initiatives have misinterpreted and misappropriated the term, using it to refer to a host of educational priorities, from history lessons on the Civil Rights Movement to diverse classroom libraries to culturally responsive teaching.
As of this month, 27 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory in K-12 schools or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism. Twelve states have enacted these bans, either through legislation or other avenues.
In these states and others, some parents and community members have also accused teachers of promoting critical race theory, singling out lessons and materials at heated school board meetings. Some newly formed national groups, like Parents Defending Education, have provided talking points and step-by-step guides to help parents challenge anti-racism efforts, instructing them on how to write op-eds, what to ask school board members, and how to talk to the media.
The Learn from History coalition also offers guidance on messaging in its new resources.
“We believe that the opposition’s narrative has been unanswered for much too long,” said Cesar Cardenas, the coalition’s national communications lead. “Consistency of message is important.”
Guides for school boards and school system leaders suggest releasing statements to the community, declaring that their schools don’t teach critical race theory, but that they do teach “a thorough, accurate, and fact-based history education” aligned to state standards, and that racism is wrong. Guides for teachers and parents include sample talking points for responding to frequently asked questions.
Publicly committing to teaching about racism has brought some teachers under fire: In June, several teachers who had signed a pledge to “teach truth” in the face of laws restricting lessons on racism saw censure from their communities after the Daily Wire, a right-wing news website, published their names. The pledge was organized by the Zinn Education Project, a social studies resource for teachers coordinated by the nonprofit organizations Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change.
But Cardenas hopes that the backing of the coalition by a range of organizations might encourage more educators to speak out. The partners, he said, provide “that safety in numbers.”