Educators plan to rally Saturday against race theory legislation

Recent legislative pushes on critical race theory prompt those in K-12 to take Pledge to Teach the Truth.
By: | June 11, 2021
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Educators across the United States are planning to gather and rally this weekend over state bills that seek to erase history by banning discussions about racism, sexism and oppression in K-12 schools.

More than 3,000 individuals have taken the Pledge to Teach the Truth from the Zinn Education Project and Black Lives Matter at School, which asks educators to sign a decree that says they will not “lie to young people about current events, regardless of the law.” Many of those who teach and instruct schoolchildren are planning to take part in Pledge Day events happening Saturday at 20 historic sites and cities across the country.

“Most of us got into teaching in part to help make the world a better place,” said Jesse Hagopian, a high school teacher in Washington and co-editor of Black Lives Matter at School. “But we can’t do that if we’re banned from teaching the truth. And the truth is that structural racism has been foundational to our country and continues to harm our students and communities today.”

In the past month, leaders in conservative-led states have moved to try to pass legislation that bars the teaching of critical race theory, which examines the existence of structural racism across U.S. history. Florida on Thursday became one of a handful of states to halt the practice in a unanimous vote.

“Critical Race Theory teaches kids to hate our country and to hate each other,” Gov. Ron DeSantis wrote on Twitter. “It is state-sanctioned racism and has no place in Florida schools.”

Florida joins a coalition of states to ban teaching CRT, including Oklahoma, Tennessee and Idaho, which will withhold funding for schools that teach it. Republican leaders also have introduced legislation in Arkansas, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin, hoping for bans.

“When young people see the inequalities that persist today — in income, or education, or justice — they ask, ‘Why?’” said Deborah Menkart, co-director of the Zinn Education Project and executive director of Teaching for Change. “Under these current laws or proposals, teachers would be banned from answering these important questions. That’s not teaching history. That’s hiding it. Knowledge is why we’re here, and knowledge is what students in our country deserve.”

Those states are targeting, among other things, teachings from several sources that use CRT, including the New York Times’ 1619 Project and information from the Southern Poverty Law Center and Black Lives Matter at School, which educators say are critical to tell the truth about historical events. Because of those bans and proposals, many are ready to protest.

“The laws that are being passed around the country make it difficult to teach the truth about the establishment of this country,” said Keziah Ridgeway, a high school AP Anthropology and African American studies teacher in Philadelphia. “As a result, teachers will be forced to either lie about historical events or risk getting fired in order to avoid topics about race and racism. We cannot allow this to happen. Children deserve to know the truth because, though it is uncomfortable, it can lead to invaluable discussions that can transform our future.”

Events are slated to take place in the following locations, with tours of historic sites and speakers discussing those bills and the importance why they believe those discussions should not be silenced:

  • Arkansas: Springdale
  • California: Berkeley, Suisun City
  • Iowa: (virtually statewide)
  • Kentucky: Louisville, Russell Springs
  • Maine: Yarmouth
  • New Hampshire: Concord, Dover, Portsmouth
  • New York: New York City
  • North Carolina: Greenville
  • Ohio: Youngstown
  • Oregon: Portland
  • Pennsylvania: Philadelphia
  • Tennessee: Memphis
  • Texas: Belton
  • West Virginia: Morgantown
  • Wisconsin: Milwaukee
  • Washington: Seattle, Silverdale
  • Washington, D.C.
  • West Virginia (virtually statewide)