Vowing to defend educators it says are teaching the “honest truth,” the American Federation of Teachers — one of the nation’s largest teachers’ unions — announced on Tuesday, July 6th, that it was now committed to supporting in court any of its members who are charged or punished by their district, city or state for teaching critical race theory or otherwise engaging in truthful classroom discussions on race or discrimination.
Collin Binkley of the Associated Press reported that the measure is intended to counter the wave of conservative state and local governments attempting to limit or stop the discussion of systemic racism in America’s schools altogether.
In a virtual address, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten told members that her group was “preparing litigation and has a legal defense fund ‘ready to go,’” Binkley reported. Weingarten also “promised to fight ‘culture warriors’ who attempt to limit lessons on racism and discrimination by labeling it as critical race theory.”
According to Binkley, “at least six states have [already] passed new laws limiting how race can be taught in the classroom, and similar proposals are being considered in more than a dozen others.”
In the majority of all these states, the laws target the idea of critical race theory and are intended to censor it wherever possible, saying that it “sows division and makes children feel guilty for being white.” A favorite concept for Republicans to attack of late, critical race theory attempts to examine history through the lens of racism.
“It centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society,” Binkley reported.
Despite Republicans’ penchant for attacking it, many educators are quick to point out that the idea is a relatively obscure academic theory and is primarily taught in college and rarely at the elementary- or secondary-school level.
Last month, Texas became the most recent state to limit curriculum on race and racism when Gov. Greg Abbott signed new legislature banning schools from teaching anything that might make people “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress” due to their race or sex. According to Binkley, the Texas law also says that instruction on slavery or racism “can only be taught as a deviation from the nation’s ‘authentic founding principles’ of liberty and equality.”
Texas and other states banning the discussion of race and racism in the classroom have also set up a stiff system of fines and other penalties for educators not adhering to the newly established laws. In the worst cases, those penalties can include reduced state funding for the school as a whole.
In her address, Weingarten told members: “Mark my words: Our union will defend any member who gets in trouble for teaching honest history. Teaching the truth is not radical or wrong. Distorting history and threatening educators for teaching the truth is what is truly radical and wrong.”
Following her address, Weingarten told the AP that the union is adding $2.5 million to an already existing legal defense fund in anticipation of what could be numerous local fights over the teaching of race.
“The funding will be used to defend teachers who are disciplined for teaching about slavery and racism,” Binkley reported. “The union is also considering filing lawsuits to get clarification about new state laws limiting how racism can be discussed in schools.”
“We’re looking at these laws to see if courts will give some clarification in advance,” Weingarten said. “It just looks like it’s an attempt to erase so much of the history of the United States.”
“Teaching America’s history requires considering all the facts available to us — including those that are uncomfortable — like the history of enslavement and discrimination toward people of color and people perceived as different,” she added. “Years ago, the country unified against Holocaust deniers. We must unite again to address racism and its long-term effects.”
Weingarten and the American Federation of Teachers aren’t the only ones working to defend teachers’ rights to educate honestly and fairly. The National Education Association also issued its own support for accurate and unbiased teaching of the nation’s racial histories. During a national meeting held last week, the association’s president, Becky Pringle, told teachers they needed to lay the academic groundwork for students to survive in a society that “has wrestled with the sins of its past” and grown from them as a result.
“If this grand experiment in democracy is to succeed, if the inhabitants of our nation are to prosper, we must continuously do the work to challenge ourselves and others to dismantle the racist interconnected systems and the economic injustices that have perpetuated systemic inequities,” Pringle said.