Teaching in Dangerous Times

Photo: Baltimore teachers at #TeachTruth day of action.

Although the coronavirus’s threat to the safety of our schools is dire, there is another threat that should not be ignored. Right wing politicians and media outlets are attacking educators’ most basic responsibility — to teach young people accurately and truthfully. Officials in at least 27 states have sought — and in many cases succeeded — to enact restrictions on what teachers can say about history and current events.

Educators and allies have decried these laws and pledge to teach the truth about our past and present with lessons like the ones from the #TeachTruth syllabus.

But they face steep consequences for doing so. Multiple right wing websites have listed the names of those who signed the Zinn Education Project’s “pledge to teach the truth,” along with the communities in which they work. Their goals are clear: to incite harassment and spread fear.

These hit pieces (like the one below) are having an impact.

In the last weeks, we have heard dozens of stories from teachers across the country. From personal attacks on social media to calls for their investigation and removal at school board meetings, from smears in local media to in-person harassment at back-to-school nights, teachers are under attack.

As one teacher wrote, “This is modern-day McCarthyism.”

And yet teachers and students are showing up, for each other, and for education.

Right now, in classrooms across to the country, during the first weeks of school, they are learning each other’s names and stories; they are becoming experts at identifying smiles (and stifled yawns) behind masks and at how to convene a small group safely; they are arguing over the morality of pineapple on pizza and classifying songs as bops or flops; they are writing and sharing poems to make sense of the tumult of the last year; they are drawing self-portraits to adorn classroom walls.

All of this to lay the foundation for the year’s inquiry into history, literature, storytelling, science, mathematics, dance, music, and more. It is this energizing space of community, collaboration, and learning that the Right seeks to attack, with authoritarian legislation and a campaign of harassment.

We must not let them.

If you are a teacher, let us know if you receive any repercussions for signing the pledge. And also contact your local teachers’ union. Both the AFT and NEA have committed to defend teachers who pledge to #TeachTruth.

If you are not a teacher, please speak out in defense of those who are.

The right wing attacks are well-funded and getting an out-sized amount of media attention. Write an op-ed or letter to the editor, express your support on social media, and/or go to your local school board meeting.

Don’t let today’s McCarthyism go unchecked.

 

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One comment on “Teaching in Dangerous Times

  1. JIMMIE BOOZE on

    I’m a sixty-five-year-old black man in America. I have served my country in the U.S. Army, served my congregation as a Pastor, served my community as a Bank Manager, and I have served, and I’m still serving my family through life’s ups and downs.

    As I read your article on “Defend People’s History Teachers,” I can’t but reflect on the kind of history I was taught growing up. I think, had I been taught the truth about African American’s contribution to the greatness of this country of ours, I might not have dropped out of school at 16. Also, it may have not been until I was in my fifties, before I ever heard of the riots in Tulsa, Oklahoma, aka, Black Wall Street.

    But in the immortal words of Maya Angelou, “I Rise.” I have risen to become a Pastor, Bank Manager, General Insurance Agent, and Investment Representative, all without having a college degree. But most importantly, I have answered the call to teach. To teach my children and grandchildren, that they can achieve what they can believe. To teach my community, the black community, they can go as far as their dreams will take them. I only wish I had more time.

    Nevertheless, with the time I have left I want to use it to infuse those around me with the truth, as I know it. And there is the rub. As I have known the truth about my domestic ancestral heritage, let alone African, has left me a bit empty. Projects like the “Zinn Education Project” is like water to my soul. I intend to continue to drink from this fountain, and others, like the 1619 Project, to quench my thirst for our place in history’s past, as well as, the projected future that awaits not just African Americans, but humans of all hues.

    I will definitely join the fight and use your tools offered to speak out!

    Thank you for the work you do.

    Please accept this donation of $50.00, for now.

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