New Hampshire lawmakers are debating a bill that would prevent educators from teaching about systemic racism and sexism in public schools and state-funded programs. This was the first line of an article in the Concord Monitor, published February 18, 2021.
Read it again and note the century it was published.
This is happening where we live right now and the bill’s sponsors are people our friends and neighbors voted for.
Also from the Monitor; “HB 544, titled an act “relative to the propagation of divisive topics,” seeks to limit public schools, organizations or state contractors from discussing topics related to racism and sexism, and would specifically ban teaching that the state of New Hampshire or the U.S. is racist or sexist.
HB 544 is based on a federal executive order issued by former-President Trump in November 2020 that restricted federal institutions from using curriculum about systemic racism, white privilege and other race and gender bias issues. President Joe Biden rescinded the order on January 20 – the first day of his presidency.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Representative Keith Ammon of New Boston, said during a hearing for the bill that “he does not believe in systemic racism,” and likened people who conduct diversity and inclusion trainings to “snake oil salesmen.”
“This bill is quite simply repugnant,” said Megan Tuttle, NEA-New Hampshire President. “The pandemic is laying bare systemic inequalities in education and in our most vulnerable communities. Stifling and penalizing conversation and education on those inequalities and their sources is ignorant and does nothing to move us forward.”
“Public schools power our communities, but their strength depends on us addressing the systemic inequities that our students and communities face,” said Rocío Inclán, Senior Director, NEA Center for Social Justice.
You cannot ignore the fact that an education is a civil right, and any child who does not feel safe coming to school is being denied their civil right. As educators, we are working tirelessly to dismantle systems of oppression that prevent children from accessing a great public education because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, culture, or nationality.
Racism is complex and contentious. Many of us are afraid to even broach the subject. It often feels easier and safer to avoid the topic altogether.
But silence and inaction, as required by HB 544, reinforce the status quo. And avoidance speaks volumes — it communicates to students of color that racism doesn’t matter enough to warrant attention and, by omission, invalidates their experiences, perspectives, identities and lives. White students, on the other hand, often see racism being accepted and normalized, without acknowledgement or accountability.
To advance real solutions, we need to address real problems. As teachers, we have “teachable moments,” or opportunities to constructively and productively address race. But these opportunities need to be thoughtfully created, seized, planned and managed. Not muzzled and criminalized.
“We need to make sure student, educator, and family voices are centered to create welcoming and affirming schools regardless of race, gender, background, or zip code,” said Tuttle “Challenging and dismantling systemic bias requires us to examine and confront the structures in which we operate, including our own biases, and that means we have to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations. Making those conversations illegal is counter-productive, unconstitutional, and disgraceful.”
House Bill 544 is “antithetical to the pursuit of free inquiry, to authentic exploration of history and current events, to freedom of speech, and to local control,” according to a New Hampshire Charitable Foundation statement.
Safe and affirming schools are a core element of student success. When students feel that they are not welcome, their ability to learn and thrive is diminished. We can create schools where every student can learn, regardless of their skin color, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or ability.
But how can we work toward greater equity and justice if we cannot engage in honest discussion, education, and reflection about the roots of inequity and injustice and their possible remedies as mandated by HB 544?
NEA has a vision for a Great Public School for Every Student. We know that institutional and structural racism are barriers to achieving our vision. Our work together promotes a vision for public education that advances inclusion, equity, and racial and social justice in our schools, Association and society.
Our collective work must dismantle white supremacy, and ensure that bigotry and discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, disability or national origin are not part of our Association, classrooms, educational curricula, classroom management, school policies, and discipline practices.
Our schools must be safe for all students, and free from state-sanctioned, racialized, and gender-based violence – the kind that HB 544 will help promote through inaction and ignorance of the root causes of systematic injustice.
Throughout our history, the NEA has joined in partnership to move policies that would address inequities in education, but we understand now that racial justice in education requires movement beyond racial equity which is where we find ourselves; at the precipice of doing a lot with limited ability to sustain it.
That movement will require that we have a deep understanding of racial history and the trauma caused and are able to acknowledge its presence throughout systems, cultural norms, practices and policies.
In every corner of New Hampshire, we’re with you, fighting for our students. Fighting for our future. We need to dismantle unjust systems. We need to fully-fund public schools. We need to hold our elected leaders accountable to our communities.
Please visit our Take Action today to let your Representative know that HB 544 has no place in this state or century.
Our students’ job is to learn. Ours is to make sure they can. Our democracy will flourish only when we ensure every school is fully-funded, every child is treated with dignity, and every learner can pursue their passion – in every classroom and in every school.