In a June 2021 USA Today op-ed, Becky Pringle, a middle school science teacher and president of the National Education Association (NEA), condemned State legislature and Education Department efforts to restrict teaching about race and racism in American classrooms as “dangerous attempts to stoke fears and rewrite history.” Pringle argued that these attempts “not only diminish the injustices experienced by generations of Americans, they prevent educators from challenging our students to achieve a more equitable future.” She called them “government overreach that interferes with teachers’ ability to do their jobs and students’ ability to learn and grow.”
Pringle and the NEA, a union representing about 3 million educators, are committed to social justice education. The teachers’ union recently published a Racial Justice in Education Resource Guide that includes material on how teachers can expressly address issues like as white supremacy, implicit bias, and the influence race has on their work. The NEA also launched Honesty in Education, a campaign that champions “truthful and age-appropriate accountings of unpleasant aspects of American history.
“The NEA Racial Justice in Education Resource Guide offers teachers 10 Principles for Talking About Race in School; a list of 7 Harmful Racial Discourse Practices to Avoid; and Recommendations and Conclusions for Talking About and Centering Race. According to the Resource Guide overview, “Racial dynamics, disparities and divisions permeate our society, communities, schools and classrooms. Systemic racism is so deeply rooted in our history, culture and institutions that there’s no escaping it. Visible or not, its impacts are ever-present. Yet, discussions of racism are typically not part of our curriculum — unless we’re teaching social sciences or literature, or highlighting a particular holiday or hero. And even then, the race content may often be lacking or lackluster.” The NEA acknowledges, “Because racism is complex and contentious, many of us are afraid to even broach the subject,” but warns teachers, “Silence and inaction reinforce the status quo.” It stresses “Modeling values and vision means practice equity, inclusion, empathy and respect in your classroom; actions, more than words, have the greatest impact on students.”
The NEA Honesty in Education website includes a pledge to Teach the Truth.
“No matter our color, background, or zip code, we want our kids to have an education that imparts honesty about who we are, integrity in how we treat others, and courage to do what’s right. But some politicians are using the dog whistle strategy of distraction and division –trying to dictate what teachers say and block kids from learning our shared stories of confronting injustice to build a more perfect union. We demand that our schools have the resources to meet every child’s needs with well-trained and supported teachers and a curriculum that helps them reckon with the past and shape our future.”
The NEA 10 Principles for Talking About Race in School includes:
1. Create A Welcoming Classroom And School
2. Root Out Biases And Barriers
3. Encourage Self-Expression
4. Be Open Yourself
5. Engage, Don’t Avoid
6. Create Opportunities For Discussion
7. Talk About Racism And Racial Equity
8. Establish And Enforce Group Norms
9. Process Is As Important As Content
10. Model Your Values And Vision
The NEA 7 Harmful Racial Discourse Practices to Avoid includes:
1. Individualizing racism – concentrating attention exclusively on thoughts or acts of personal prejudice.
2. Falsely equating incomparable acts; drawing a parallel between an act or expression of racial bias from privileged whites and one from that of comparatively disadvantaged people of color, without taking into account any power differentials between the two.
3. Diverting from race – the practice of asserting that other social identities besides race — such as class, gender, or sexual orientation — are the predominant determining factors behind a given social inequity.
4. Portraying government as overreaching, depicting government efforts to promote racial equity and inclusion as misguided, unnecessary and/or improper.
5. Priotizing intent over impact, focusing more on the intention of a policy or practice and far less, if at all, on its daily impact on people and communities of color.
6. Coded language – substituting terms describing racial identity with seemingly race-neutral terms that disguise explicit and/or implicit racial animus.
7. Silencing history, omitting, dismissing, or deliberately re-writing history.
The NEA Recommendations and Conclusions for Talking About and Centering Race includes:
1. Expand our definition of racism beyond personal prejudice and hate to systemic racism.
2. Focus on actions and impacts rather than attitudes and intentions.
3. Add a racial lens to our conversations on class, gender, sexuality, etc.
4. Cultivate discourse that centers the humanity and leadership of people of color.
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