As award-winning elementary and secondary school educators, we seek to ensure that our students receive an excellent education, to advance our students’ skills, knowledge, and motivation to succeed in their chosen life path. An excellent education is built on a foundation of honesty and truth. Unfortunately, that foundation is being undermined right now by extremist legislators in several states, who would put a gag on us as teachers, and prevent us from doing our job: teaching accurate lessons on our nation’s history, political system, literature, and arts, as well as world history, political systems, literature, and arts. Accurate, fact-based lessons are what we strive to deliver every day, in an age-appropriate way, as part of a holistic 21st Century curriculum.
One example of this gag order legislation is HB 3979 in Texas, which the legislature sent to the Governor on June 1 for signature or veto; the bill would prohibit any teacher from sharing a lesson that “slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States”. However, the Constitution of 1787—the primary embodiment of the authentic founding principles of the U.S.—established in Article I, Section 2 the rates of Congressional representation and taxation among the states based on slaves constituting three-fifths of a free person. It appears, in Texas, that part of the Constitution will be erased from history?
Over 100 historians in Texas opposed the bill. Other examples of gag order legislation include:
- Idaho HB 377, enacted April 28.
- AR SB 627, enacted May 3.
- Oklahoma HB 1775, enacted May 7.
- Tennessee SB 623, enacted May 25.
- Iowa HF 802, enacted June 8.
These extremist state policymakers are stoking fears about our schools, trying to dictate what teachers say, and hide the truth. If doctors were told to ignore information advances related to treatments, they would be guilty of malpractice. Yet, the extremist lawmakers are seeking to restrict information teachers provide to students, to reflect outdated, incomplete and inaccurate views of our nation’s past and present—forcing us, as educators, to commit educational malpractice.
How could we effectively teach our students about our nation’s history—including President Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and the Civil War—without discussing slavery, and hence race and racism?
How could we accurately teach our students about the Civil Rights landmark court decisions and laws of the 1950s and 1960s, without discussing race and racism?
How could we have a classroom conversation about race and racism, and prohibit mentions of current events related to George Floyd or the Black Lives Matter movement?
Many state standards, AP course requirements, textbooks and tests already require covering many of these topics. Will we as educators be compelled to harm our students’ chances of meeting those standards and requirements by omitting key facts?
As educators, we hope that these standards, requirements and materials continue to advance, to encompass greater completeness and accuracy, not less, and to enable more of our students—of all races, ethnicities, and other identities—to see themselves in the curricula and materials, as a part of the fabric of this nation. We must ensure that we, as a nation, never block our kids from learning our shared stories of confronting injustice to build a more perfect union.
Signed, the ECRA’s award-winning Leading Educator Ambassadors for Equity,
Brett Bigham (2014 Oregon Teacher of the Year)
Sydney Chafee (2017 National Teacher of the Year)
Dr. Jemelleh Coes (2014 Georgia Teacher of the Year)
Dr. Melissa Collins (Global Teacher Prize Finalist (Top 50), 2018)
Dr. Megan Olivia Hall (2013 Minnesota Teacher of the Year)
Kareem Neal (2019 Arizona Teacher of the Year)
Estella Owoimaha-Church (Global Teacher Prize Finalist (Top 50), 2017)
Tom Rademacher (2014 Minnesota Teacher of the Year)
Rodney Robinson (2019 National Teacher of the Year)
Monica Washington (2014 Texas Teacher of the Year)
Kelisa Wing (2017 DoDEA Teacher of the Year)
Dr. Maryann Woods-Murphy (2010 New Jersey Teacher of the Year)