WASHINGTON — As educators in 15 states face restrictive, dangerous legislation aimed at censoring educators from speaking about race and racism in the classroom, NEA President Becky Pringle shares her intimate and personal thoughts on these efforts to deny students the right to a truthful and honest education.
In an opinion piece published by USA Today on Tuesday, Pringle — a middle school science teacher and the first Black woman in more than two decades to lead the nation's largest teacher's union — takes direct aim at lawmakers for waging divisive culture wars in America’s classrooms while ignoring the pressing needs of students and educators. She goes on to declare that NEA will support educators’ freedom of speech, even if that leads to the courtroom.
Pringle’s full op-ed can be found here and below.
USA TODAY: Our children deserve to know the truth. Honest education can't leave out race and racism.
My father was a proud and accomplished history teacher. He not only took seriously his responsibility to teach his students in school, but he also was dedicated to teaching his “students at home.” When we were children, my Dad took my sisters and me on trips to learn the truth about our family roots, teaching my sisters and me the story of us. He wanted to unearth our family’s past, but mostly he wanted his daughters to feel the soil beneath our feet. He wanted us to feel the tears and the triumph of our ancestors — those who survived and those who didn’t. He never wanted us to forget our painful but proud history.
A descendant of enslaved Africans, who settled in Charlottesville, Virginia, he had a passion for sharing the rich and diverse history of the nation he loved. I can’t imagine the thoughts and feelings evoked watching those white nationalists with Tikki torches marching down the streets of his beloved town where my ancestors were enslaved over one hundred years ago.
If my father had lived to see the year 2021, he would be heartbroken to bear witness to the war on truth and history raging today in U.S. classrooms. As a history teacher in the School District of Philadelphia, my dad knew it was his professional and moral responsibility to teach his students about the contributions of his ancestors and all of those whose stories were left out of textbooks.
At the end of the school year, his students not only had a better understanding of why they should be proud of the accomplishments of their country, but they were determined to take their place in the continuous struggle to demand it live up to its ideals.
My father instilled in me the importance of the truth. As a middle school science teacher for 30 years myself, I have always been committed to bringing honesty and truth to students in my classroom.
Today, 15 states have introduced or passed laws to censor teachers from speaking about race and racism and deny students the right to a truthful and honest education.
These dangerous attempts to stoke fears and rewrite history not only diminish the injustices experienced by generations of Americans, they prevent educators from challenging our students to achieve a more equitable future. These antics are government overreach that interferes with teachers’ ability to do their jobs and students’ ability to learn and grow.
What’s worse, this revisionist history is being pushed by the very same politicians who time and again have denied our classrooms vital resources while demanding more and more from educators.
After more than a year of unimaginable challenges for educators and students, lawmakers are now more interested in waging culture wars instead of addressing the real needs of our students, schools and communities.
This senseless fear mongering should be seen for what it is: a desperate attempt by some politicians to distract from their own failures to address crumbling school infrastructure, embarrassingly low educator salaries, drastic racial inequities, and the very real problems facing students in our public schools, especially our students of color.
America, we must do better than this. Teaching all of our children — regardless of their race or ZIP code, whether Native or newcomer — means teaching them the truth. It means finding age-appropriate ways to have difficult conversations in the classroom. Educators are far stronger and more resilient than these misguided politicians give us credit for.
We can teach about the horrors of slavery, internment, and forced resettlement. We can have honest discussions about today’s injustices and the threats to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that still exist for many. We can objectively present to students the good, bad and ugly of our past so that they can build a better, brighter future. Our students need to learn about the times when this country has lived up to its promise, and when it has not. Honesty. That’s what they need from us. Truth. That’s what they expect.
It was my father’s life’s work to have his students and his children understand and embrace our complete and compelling history and never stop the long and hard march toward freedom. Right now in America, that same righteous pursuit of justice my dad so valued can be seen and felt in classrooms in every corner of the country. From rural communities to inner cities, parents and educators want to give our students an education that imparts honesty about who we are as a nation, integrity in how we treat others, and courage to do what’s right — and the nation’s largest teacher’s union has their back, even if that leads us to the courtroom.
As professionals, we — not politicians — know how best to teach our students. For the sake of our children, we have to stop playing politics with the truth. Our children deserve nothing less. Onward!
Becky Pringle is a middle school science teacher and president of the National Education Association.
Follow on Twitter at @NEAMedia and @BeckyPringle
Keep up with the conversation on social media at #TeachTruth #NEARA21
The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators, students preparing to become teachers, healthcare workers, and public employees. Learn more at www.nea.org