National Teach Truth Day of Action Press Call Highlights

On June 4, the Zinn Education Project hosted a Press Call about the 4th Annual National Teach Truth Day of Action. The Day of Action is cosponsored by more than 65 prominent racial and social justice organizations.

For the past three summers, educators, students, parents, and allies have joined across the country to speak out against politicians attempting to restrict the freedoms of educators and students. There were over 4,000 instances of book bans in the first half of this school year, according to PEN America’s April 2024 report, Banned in the USA: Narrating the Crisis. Eleven individuals are driving the overwhelming majority of book challenges according to a Washington Post analysis. The majority of targeted books are by authors of color, Indigenous, or LGBTQ+.

This year, from Seattle, Washington, to Miami, Florida, and many towns and cities in between, educators will host more than 170 grassroots events on Saturday, June 8 and throughout the month. The goal is to raise awareness about how anti-history education laws and book bans — and their chilling effect — threaten any chance of an informed and engaged democracy.

Here are highlights from the remarks.

Jesse Hagopian, Rethinking Schools editor, co-editor of Teaching for Black Lives, and Zinn Education Project leadership team member

Astoundingly, today, almost half of all children in the public schools are in a jurisdiction that has passed a law or policy that bans honest education, about race, about gender, about sexuality. This 4th annual day of action is a grassroots effort to fight these laws and advocate for honest education that empowers students to create a more just society.

Rocio Inclan, senior director, National Education Association Center for Racial and Social Justice

It’s an honor to join you, and to speak on behalf of the National Education Association’s three million members. We are the nation’s educators, and our members share one important goal: ensuring every student, every student, Black, white, brown, Indigenous, or AAPI, students from underserved neighborhoods, LGBTQ+ students, and students who are differently abled have the joy, justice, and excellence that they need, and that they deserve.

So we’re joining together with all of our partners on this 4th Teach Truth Day of Action to continue our work to ensure that our students have access and opportunity to honest, accurate, and fully funded education. With no exceptions.

The Teach Truth Day of Action is part of a campaign to reclaim public education as a common good. And then transform it into something that it really was never designed to be, and that is a racially and socially just and equitable system that prepares all the students, every single one of us, to succeed in a diverse and interdependent world.

Michael Rady, senior education programs manager, GLSEN

We’re seeing record numbers of bills being introduced — 500 so far in 2024 — targeting LGBTQ+ people. Bills censoring LGBTQ+ stories and history from classrooms, bills banning Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives, and bills banning trans people from using the right bathroom at school.

At the same time, we know that brave actions — by educators, leaders, and community members — show LGBTQ+ youth that they are safe, they belong, and they matter. That includes making inclusive books available to students and teaching affirming lessons. We know this from over twenty years of research, which you can read about in our newly released Inclusive Learning Research Brief.

In many places, it takes immense courage for an educator to participate in our program. These past few months I have been working with educators whose Rainbow Library books have been seized by administrators. These educators have been standing up for their students, asserting students’ right to read, and largely, getting books back in the hands of kids. This is why the Teach Truth Day of Action is so important.

Courtland Cox, board chair, SNCC Legacy Project

I’ve been involved in the movement for over 60 years [see Freedom Summer 60] and I’ve seen what the policy of destroying education for people has done, particularly in the South. When I was in Mississippi, Alabama, and Southwest Georgia, most Black students did not get past the 4th grade. When it was time to pick cotton, they were told they couldn’t go to school. In fact, the number of Black people who are now my age told me when they were coming up, it was very dangerous for them to let white people know that they could read or write. Because reading and writing were considered a danger in that environment where suppression was. [It is important to understand] the concept of how you suppress people to exploit them economically.

I thank the Zinn Education Project, the National Education Association, and others who are carrying on this battle so that we can have citizenry who can participate politically.  

Julie Womack, head of organizing, Red, Wine, & Blue

We at Red, Wine, & Blue support the Teach Truth Day of Action because we know that we create welcoming and inclusive schools, and we ensure accurate education, by standing up to extremists. You know, these are people who are trying to divide our communities and undermine public education as part of a political agenda, and the Teach Truth Day of Action is, you know, how we educate and spread the word to people so they can become informed. We teach them the power of their voice and the importance of upcoming elections. So many people don’t even know who’s running for School Board or their State legislature which has such a huge impact on our public education system.

So we’re really thrilled to work with you all, and we are the majority. And we’re not being quiet. We’re standing up for all families and making sure that all kids feel welcomed and included in school, and that they come ready to learn and ready to thrive.

Jocelyn Walker, vice president of communications, African American Policy Forum

I’m here to talk about the domino effect of what’s to come if we don’t protect the freedom to learn The attacks on education started with anti critical race theory and stop woke laws. But it doesn’t end there. Billionaire dark money funded the conservative infrastructure that initiated attacks on critical race theory and DEI at all levels of education led by the Heritage Foundation. These same funders of over a hundred partners are behind Project 2025, a 900-page, conservative extremist mandate to roll back civil rights at all levels of Federal government. Why should we all be alarmed? These are the same people looking to end all DEI efforts, target LGBTQ+ plus communities, overturn decades of civil rights laws and create obstacles to voting that disproportionately impacts Black and brown folks.

Project 2025, seeks to eliminate all DEI programs and to criminalize conversations about race, and it weaponizes civil rights laws against the very people they were created to protect. If teaching the truth about our history is criminalized, then teachers, students, administrators, DEI professionals, librarians, and others who work in the education system can be criminalized too.

The roots have already been planted for this to grow, as many teachers and professors have either resigned or been fired for teaching about historic racism in classrooms. 

The freedom to learn is the freedom to live and the fight for our schools is the fight for our lives.

Terry Anne Scott, executive director, Institute for Common Power

We at the Institute for Common Power support and encourage participation in the Zinn Education Project Teach Truth Day of Action, because, as I speak to you today, state and local leaders across this country have banded together with so-called concerned citizens, to promote and implement archaic and discriminatory policies designed to eliminate truth and education, to intimidate and stoke fear among educators, to target certain children and make them feel unimportant, uninvited, irrelevant. These actions we see as in direct contradiction to a fair, open, honest, and democratic America.

These policies and ideologies seek to cement white supremacy and keep us veiled in ignorance to force us to never learn from the lessons of the past and carry them into a better future.

We support the Zinn Education Project Teach Truth Day of Action because politicians, school officials, and others seek to . . . suppress truth and tightly control a historical narrative that eliminates our ability to understand, teach, and by extension eliminates structural inequalities.

But we know, the large majority of Americans know, that these antiquated ideas and discriminatory laws shall be defeated by righteousness, and all who value truth over lies justice over fear.

Gregory Wickenkamp, educator and Iowa City event host

A few years ago I was pushed out of K-12 teaching when politicians scapegoated my teaching practice. I was teaching for critical thinking. They accused me of indoctrinating students. Administrators didn’t stand up to them.

This was 2021, and Iowa had just passed its history censorship law. In some ways this law is purposefully vague. It says that lessons are illegal if they make students feel discomfort on the count of race or gender but discomfort is often a part of learning and growing. In other ways the law is very clear. It criminalizes teaching about systemic racism and oppression.

I want educators and students in Iowa to know that the public has their back. So friends and I responded to the call from the Zinn Education project to participate in the Teach Truth Day of Action. And last year we were so impressed with the cathartic outpouring from young people, from parents, from community members — it’s clear that Iowans love our students and teachers. . . . Together we can stand and organize and say to students and educators: We’re in your corner. We have your back.

Megan Madison, author of children’s books, including Our Skin

I come to this work as an author and also as an early childhood educator and scholar. I draw on these particular skills to help me make intentional choices about how to meet their current moment with action and in community. In the wake of COVID-19, a traumatic event in which more than 200,000 children lost a caregiver, young people are now watching genocide live streamed on social media as we speak, thousands more children are starved, injured, and murdered with weapons purchased with our United States tax dollars. We are a beautifully resilient species, and we are not okay right now.

. .  . I’m learning that attempts to ban books are a part of a larger multi-issue policy agenda that’s being advanced by anti-democratic groups across the country. They don’t just want to ban books. They want to hurt trans kids. They want to silence Black progressive leadership, and they are preying on the trauma of Jewish people, weaponizing our community’s fear and grief to beef up police budgets while cutting funding for public institutions, like libraries and parks and schools. It’s all connected.

And that makes sense. Audre Lorde taught us that there are no single issue struggles because we do not live single issue lives. Our liberation is collective, always has been and always will be.

Nikki Grimes, award-winning author of many children’s/YA books, including Ordinary Hazards

Soft-censorship* has become commonplace, thanks to fear-inducing pro-censorship legislation. Author book sales are slipping, but the biggest losers here are children. They are being intellectually and emotionally crippled while losing access to books in which they can see themselves, learn the full spectrum of our history and learn about the lives of others through story.

If pro-censorship groups have their way, no young readers will have access to transformative diverse literature, and that would be a travesty. The freedom to read diversely is not only vital to the children represented in diverse stories, but to all young readers who stand to learn that [as a young reader wrote to Ms. Grimes after reading one of her books], while we may look different on the outside, we are all pretty much the same on the inside. That’s a perspective, our diverse and democratic nation cannot afford to lose.

*Grimes added: Soft-censorship is about teachers being so afraid of censure that they are now removing books from shelves without being asked to, not purchasing books at all for fear of censure, and in some cases, completely emptying their classroom shelves to avoid possible legal entanglements, or threats to their livelihoods. Soft censorship is a killer. In some ways, it’s harder to fight than censorship from without.

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