- A group of award-winning teachers is countering opposition to instruction about racism and diverse identities, with a report to be released Monday afternoon that advocates for "honest" education that affirms students' different attributes, backgrounds and experiences.
- The paper, which is the inaugural work of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year's Voices for Honest Education Fellowship, emphasizes that when educators draw on students’ background knowledge and connect learning to students’ lives, students show greater motivation and engagement. That, in turn, can lead to better school attendance, test results and graduation rates, according to Voices for Honest Education.
- The recent rise in state and local policies that limit student voices, punish educators, ban books and shrink opportunities for honest discourse will have detrimental impacts on education, including barriers for the recruitment and retention of teachers, according to the paper. "These educational gag orders were proposed as cynical tactics calculated for political gain, ignoring the harm to our children, our communities, and our nation," the report said.
Monica Washington, the 2014 Texas Teacher of the Year and co-author of the paper, said the fellows are also developing trainings to help educators navigate teaching under restrictive laws that limit what is taught in the classroom.
"We as a group — as all teachers are seeing, I'm sure, all over the country — are seeing the attacks on what teachers can do, what teachers can teach and what content students can engage in," said Washington, who is currently a full-time fellow and teaching consultant. The National Network of State Teachers of the Year is composed of previous state teachers of the year and finalists.
Primarily, there's been a shrinking of historical content that adds different perspectives, she said. For example, as an American literature teacher, she was able to supplement studies of the 1920s and the reading of The Great Gatsby, a novel about rich, White New Yorkers, with articles and short readings about the Harlem Renaissance.
According to the report, since January 2021, 42 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching about race, gender or other “divisive concepts.” Teaching on topics such as systemic racism, implicit bias, nonbinary pronouns, and race or sex stereotyping were prohibited in a number of bills and school district resolutions.
Proponents of these policies say they are needed to prevent the indoctrination of students and to give parents greater say in what their children learn in schools.
But the report's authors say lessons that feature diverse perspectives benefit all students, especially because the student population is growing more racially diverse. The design of curricula and materials should consider the needs and identities of students, but curriculum tends to focus on the stories and history of White Americans. Diverse stories are often left out completely or reduced to only a few historical figures, the report said.
This is a disservice to all students who benefit from an education that respects and welcomes students as their authentic selves, Washington said. Teaching students to reflect, think and ask questions about experiences not familiar to them helps prepare them to navigate the workplace, college, or other situations in society, she said.
"If we are taking away content that we think may make someone upset and not using those as teachable moments, then how are we really preparing them?" Washington asked.
The report also points out that prior to 2020, student-affirming practices such as teaching inclusion and multicultural awareness were gaining significant momentum in schools. "A tense political landscape created conditions where some choose to place politics over the wellbeing of children," the report said.