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There has been concerted effort across some U.S. states to ban the teaching of critical race theory. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

American Federation of Teachers to stand with members that teach critical race theory

One of the U.S.’s largest teacher unions announced its intent to take legal action for teachers providing lessons on the topic despite legislation.

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On Tuesday, July 6, one of the nation’s largest teachers unions promised to stand by members that are punished for implementing an “honest history” of the United States into their curriculums. The move is intended to combat the wave of states attempting to limit classroom discussions on race and discrimination.

In a virtual address to members of the American Federation of Teachers, president Randi Weingarten announced that the union is preparing to take legal action, and put together a legal defense fund that is “ready to go.”

She pledged to fight back against “culture warriors,” who attempt to limit or eliminate lessons on racism and discrimination by labeling it as critical race theory.

At least six states, including Florida, Texas, and Iowa, have passed new laws that place limits on how race can be taught in classrooms, and similar measures are being considered in more than a dozen others. 

Many of the bills seek to ban the teaching of critical race theory, an academic framework that scrutinizes history through the lens of racism. It focuses on the concept of systemic racial oppression within the nation’s institutions and how they function to maintain white supremacy. 

Last month, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law prohibiting schools from teaching any lessons that make students “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress,” due to their race or sex. The law also states that slavery and racism can only be taught as a deviation from the country’s “authentic founding principles” of liberty and equality. 

In some states, bills contain threats of fining individual teachers who violate the rules, as well as a possible reduction in state funding for their schools. 

“Mark my words: Our union will defend any member who gets in trouble for teaching honest history. Teaching the truth is not radical or wrong. Distorting history and threatening educators for teaching the truth is what is truly radical and wrong,” Weingarten said in her address. 

In an interview with the Associated Press, Weingarten said that the union is adding $2.5 million dollars to an existing legal defense fund in anticipation of local fights over critical race theory lessons. 

The union is also considering filing lawsuits to get clarification about new state laws limiting how racism can be discussed in classrooms.

“We’re looking at these laws to see if courts will give some clarification in advance,” Weingarten said. “It just looks like it’s an attempt to erase so much of the history of the United States.”

Critical race theory was once an obscure academic idea, but has morphed into a political rallying cry for Republicans who insist that it creates unnecessary division and makes children feel guilty for being white. Weingarten said that the concept has mostly been taught within higher education institutions, and not in elementary, middle and high schools. 

She says conservatives are invoking the theory to “bully” teachers and prevent any open and critical discussions on the nation’s history. According to Weingarten, some states’ laws are so expansive they appear to prevent any accurate lessons on the Civil War, slavery or its abolition. 

“Teaching America’s history requires considering all the facts available to us — including those that are uncomfortable — like the history of enslavement and discrimination toward people of color and people perceived as different,” she said. 

The nation’s other major teachers union, the National Education Association, recently issued its own call for an honest teaching of the country’s racial histories. At its national meeting last week, president Becky Pringle spoke on the work that must be done within and outside of classroom settings. 

“If this grand experiment in democracy is to succeed, if the inhabitants of our nation are to prosper, we 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,” Pringle said.

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