American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten established her union’s mission in a speech last week.
During the first day of the AFTS’s biennial TEACH (Together Educating America’s Children) professional development conference, Weingarten addressed the difficulties union members faced in 2020 and 2021 and told those in attendance that the 2021-22 school year could be more difficult.
“Educators have just been through the second-most challenging year of your professional lives,” stated Weingarten. “What’s the most challenging year? The one that starts this fall. It won’t be easy, and some people will try to make it harder, like those who have disparaged educators, scapegoated our unions and blamed us for things outside our control, like school closures caused by a pandemic.”
The most recent ire of Republicans and those on the right side of the political spectrum is “Critical Race Theory.” Conservatives have deemed the concept––devoted to telling the complete story of America’s racist past and continued racist reckoning––“divisive” and have gone about legislatively rejecting and banning its teachings from state-to-state.
Several states have pushed and passed laws addressing CRT as well. Most notably, Texas, whose GOP-dominated state government passed legislation prescribing how teachers should teach in schools and banned student getting extra credit for engaging in civic activities that involve political activism or lobbying legislators on particular issues.
Weingarten felt that the GOP were stoking fears in the public and said the current culture campaign by politicians was aimed at “distorting history.”
“Culture warriors are labeling any discussion of race, racism or discrimination as critical race theory, to try to make it toxic,” said Weingarten. “They are bullying teachers and trying to stop us from teaching students accurate history. This harms students. These culture warriors want to deprive students of a robust understanding of our common history. This will put students at a disadvantage in life by knocking a big hole in their understanding of this country and the world.”
The five-day conference involved 60 professional development sessions where educators could recover from and respond working during the COVID-19 pandemic. The conference also allowed educators and academic leaders to work on solutions to solidifying students’ emotional and social wellness along with teachers and encourage collaboration. It also featured a plethora of speakers including first lady Dr. Jill Biden. Also on board were Fair Fight founder Stacy Abrams, Harvard University professor Danielle Allen, author Ibram X. Kendi, LiberalED founder Dena Simmons and U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten.
All addressed the groups’ goals to establish anti-racist communities and the post-pandemic academic rebuild.
As part of that rebuild, Weingarten called for an expansion of 25,000 embedded community schools stating that they “not only help meet students’ and families’ basic needs, they have positive effects on attendance, grade advancement and graduation, and reducing disciplinary incidents.”
She also pledged to defend all teachers’ rights to teach accurate history.
“Mark my words: Our union will defend any member who gets in trouble for teaching honest history,” Weingarten proclaimed. “We have a legal defense fund ready to go. Teaching the truth is not radical or wrong. Distorting history and threatening educators for teaching the truth is what is truly radical and wrong.”