On Tuesday, the country’s second-largest teachers’ union announced its commitment to offer legal protection to teachers who face repercussions for how they teach the history of race and racism in the United States.
The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, said during a virtual union conference, “Mark my words: Our union will defend any member who gets in trouble for teaching honest history.”
The address comes at a time of national debate surrounding the teaching of critical race theory in schools. Critical race theory, or CRT, is a university-level concept that examines how racism has influenced American laws and institutions. Conservative activists and lawmakers, however, claim that CRT is divisive and indoctrinates schoolchildren into viewing everything in terms of race.
Weingarten noted in her remarks that critical race theory is only taught in universities, not at the primary school level.
Five states have already passed anti-CRT laws regulating how public-school educators can teach subjects like the U.S.’s history of slavery, racism, and white supremacy, and several more states have introduced similar bills into their legislatures. A recently passed Texas law will ban any curriculum that teaches that “slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States.”
The AFT has a legal defense fund intended for challenging these laws, Weingarten said on Tuesday.
“Culture warriors are labeling any discussion of race, racism or discrimination as CRT to try to make it toxic. They are bullying teachers and trying to stop us from teaching students accurate history,” Weingarten said.
The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teacher’s union, has also expressed its support for teachers in the debate over critical race theory.
Last week at the NEA’s virtual representative assembly, the union’s board of directors passed a number of resolutions that will support anti-racist curriculum. One resolution says the NEA will create campaigns that “result in increasing the implementation of culturally responsive education, critical race theory, and ethnic…studies curriculum in pre-K-12 and higher education,” with the end goal being to “eradicate institutional racism” from public schools.
The NEA also approved an allocation of $127,600 to combat misinformation on critical race theory and issue materials explaining “what it is and what it is not,” while also releasing a study that “critiques empire, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society.”
Becky Pringle, the president of the NEA, said at the assembly last week that teachers “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.”
“This is a fight for justice,” Pringle said. “This is a fight for honesty in education.”
Sources: CNN 7/7/21; Washington Post 7/6/21; EducationWeek 7/6/21; Politico 7/6/21