Politico – Weekly Education | By Juan Perez, Jr. | July 6, 2021
‘A FIGHT FOR HONESTY IN EDUCATION’ — The political fracas over how students learn about racism throughout U.S. history has the nation’s teachers unions squaring off against conservative media — and preparing for court fights against laws that ban concepts Republicans say are at best divisive and at worst discriminatory.
— National Education Association representatives have approved spending tens of thousands of dollars to fight back against conservative groups that portray teachers as spreading racist indoctrination under the guise of critical race theory — a term born from legal scholarship decades ago, though its meaning today has been distorted. And Ibram X. Kendi, author and director of Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research, is scheduled to speak during the American Federation of Teachers’ TEACH Conference this week, alongside politicians and public figures (including Education Secretary Miguel Cardona).
— But this moment leaves union leaders confronting a tough challenge: encouraging their members to teach the truth of American history and building students’ civic participation, all while maintaining public trust and avoiding rhetoric that could mire the entire teaching profession in a messy dispute.
— “It is about them understanding that this is a fight for our students,” NEA President Becky Pringle said of her union’s members, speaking to Morning Education. “This is a fight for justice. This is a fight for honesty in education.”
— “We don’t teach CRT in elementary, middle or high schools,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said. “It’s a law school theory that analyzes the presence of systemic racism in institutions. What we teach children is to respect each other, honor each other and honor our history. And my members want to know that we’re going to defend them in their moral and professional responsibilities to do that.”
IT’S TUESDAY, JULY 6. WELCOME TO MORNING EDUCATION. ICYMI: President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden addressed the NEA’s annual assembly on Friday. “You deserve a raise, not just praise,” the president told educators as he talked up his school spending plans.
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING NOW? “Critical race theory has become a new boogie man for people unwilling to acknowledge our country’s racist history and how it impacts the present,” University of Maryland sociology professor and Brookings Institution fellow Rashawn Ray argued with Brooking’s Alexandra Gibbons this past week.
— Idaho, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Iowa and New Hampshire have passed anti-critical race theory legislation, according to a tally by Ray and Gibbons. Roughly 20 states have introduced or planned similar bills. But only Idaho’s law mentions critical race theory by name.
— As part of her first official address as the NEA’s president last week, Pringle urged members to consider their power to prepare students to lead “a just society,” adding that teachers “must continuously do the work to challenge ourselves and others to dismantle the racist interconnected systems, and the economic injustices that have perpetuated systemic inequities.”
— To that end, NEA union representatives approved a $127,600 spending measure to publicize information on critical race theory — “what it is and what it is not” — and issue a study that “critiques empire, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society.”
— The NEA also approved a $56,500 measure that plans to “research the organizations attacking educators doing anti-racist work” so that teachers are better prepared to respond. That includes the conservative Heritage Foundation, which responded to the NEA by describing critical race theory as a “radical academic discipline that compels students to act on the Marxist idea that the world is divided between victimizers and their victims.”
— “We absolutely will be there to support our educators in (their) training, in understanding how to speak from their heart, and tell their stories,” Pringle told your host. “And certainly if they are attacked, we will defend them. We will do anything and everything to ensure that, as they do the job they love, they are not being censored as professionals and that their activism on behalf of their students and democracy is protected.”
— What would a legal challenge entail? “We’re taking a look at all the possibilities that are on the table,” Pringle said, adding that the NEA is assessing similarities and differences between state laws, and how they could affect the scope and nature of any potential court action. “We’re trying to do it holistically and trying to ensure that any actions that we take can have the greatest impact.”
PREPARING FOR LITIGATION— At a scheduled address to AFT members this afternoon, Weingarten mostly plans to discuss safe school reopening as the coronavirus pandemic begins to ebb — but the critical race theory debate will consume some of her time too.
— “Our union will defend any member who gets in trouble for teaching honest history,” Weingarten told your host, though she suspects most efforts to discipline educators for violating anti-CRT rules will resemble the infamous Scopes “monkey trial” of 1925. Butshe said AFT’s put additional resources into its legal defense fund and is “preparing for litigation as we speak.”
— “We know that these laws are intended to chill any kind of discussion over that which is uncomfortable in America,” Weingarten said. “We have an obligation to move through that which is uncomfortable. That’s part of what learning is.”
LETTER FROM FLORIDA
FLORIDA DEMOCRATS WERE PERPLEXED by a recent move from Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto a civics education bill that flew through the state Legislature this year with unanimous and bipartisan support, POLITICO’s Andrew Atterbury writes.
— DeSantis gave only a brief explanation of the rationale behind his decision to strike the legislation, but his decision appears to be rooted in a larger attempt to rid Florida of critical race theory. It’s been a frequent target of DeSantis and his education commissioner, Richard Corcoran, who have pushed for new rules in K-12 schools and colleges to bar CRT concepts.
— The state Board of Education, for instance, earlier this month explicitly banned critical race theory — and The New York Times Magazine’s “1619 Project” — from Florida classrooms. State officials sent a warning to teachers that they aren’t allowed to “indoctrinate” students with messages that are outside the state’s approved lessons.
— Groups like the Florida Education Association, a large teachers union, argue that grade schools across the state weren’t teaching critical race theory anyway. But that hasn’t stopped lawmakers and residents from alleging that schools are indoctrinating students with coded language like “equity.”
— In vetoing the civics bill, DeSantis claimed that the measure “risks promoting the preferred orthodoxy of two particular institutions.” That statement takes a shot at the University of South Florida and the YMCA, the latter of which has “has jumped on the CRT bandwagon,” according to a National Review article calling for a DeSantis veto.
— But DeSantis’ explanation did little to quell the concerns of Democrats, who were rocked by the civics proposal’s defeat.
— “This is just another unjustified Republican attack on higher education with no connection to facts or to reality,’’ said state Rep. Ben Diamond, a St. Petersburg Democrat who sponsored the legislation.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR ATHLETES’ NAME, IMAGE, AND LIKENESS RIGHTS— In case you missed it: NCAA President Mark Emmert offered some insight on the road ahead for college athletics late Friday evening, following sweeping changes to how players can profit from paid endorsements and lucrative social media campaigns.
— The NCAA will be left to figure out its own rules on player publicity rights if Congress doesn’t act fast enough, Emmert said. “If that looks like that’s going to take too long, or maybe not occur at all, then we’re going to have to go in and craft our own permanent rules using the ones that are in place right now as the skeletal framework,” he said.
— “The goal right now is trying to get something through the Senate side, and then move it over to the House,” Emmert added. “I’m very hopeful and optimistic that’ll occur. But it’s not going to happen in the next week, or two, or three, and we all know that.”