As some states move toward banning critical race theory from public schools, the president of the second-largest teachers’ union in the country has vowed to defend teachers against any backlash.
“Mark my words: Our union will defend any member who gets in trouble for teaching honest history,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers told members Tuesday in a virtual address at the union’s TEACH conference.
“Teaching the truth is not radical or wrong,” Weingarten added.
The union’s president said the organization has “a legal defense fund” and was preparing for litigation.
Her remarks come as the debate over critical race theory and schools has intensified in recent months. Republican lawmakers argue the area of study is based on Marxism and is a threat to the American way of life. But critical race theory, according to scholars who study it, explores the ways in which the history of inequality and racism in the United States has continued to impact American society today.
Legislators in more than a dozen states have proposed bills to ban critical race theory and some states already have banned educators from teaching it.
Oklahoma teachers were banned in May from teaching that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.” Meanwhile in Texas, a law going into effect on September 1 is set to ban educators from teaching 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.”
Weingarten says CRT is not actually taught in K-12 schools, only in law school and college.
“But culture warriors are labeling any discussion of race, racism or discrimination as CRT to try to make it toxic. They are bullying teachers and trying to stop us from teaching students accurate history,” the union president said.
“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 our country and the world,” she added.
A recent survey conducted by the Association of American Educators indicates that the majority of teachers across the US have not incorporated critical race theory in their curriculum or are not planning to do so in the upcoming school year.
A total of 1,136 educators were surveyed last month and only 4.1% of respondents said they were mandated or required to teach CRT at this time, according to the survey.
Nearly 44% of respondents said they were in favor of having the option to add it to their lesson plans while 11% said they believe it should be required or mandated, the survey indicates.
Colin Sharkey, the association’s executive director, said the national debate over CRT should be discussed in “real terms about what is actually being permitted or required by our districts, expected by our parents, taught by our educators, and experienced by our students.”
“That means transparency, educator and parent engagement, and responsible reporting about a topic as important as addressing racism,” Sharkey said in a statement.
Last month, a coalition of dozens of scholarly and educational groups released a joint statement opposing the legislative efforts against discussions of racism in schools and colleges, saying people of all ages deserve a “a free and open exchange about history.”
“To ban the tools that enable those discussions is to deprive us all of the tools necessary for citizenship in the twenty-first century,” the group said. “A white-washed view of history cannot change what happened in the past.”