We are witnessing a tumultuous moment in the nation’s public education system. Education as a vehicle for social change—shaped by years of thoughtful scholarship on equity and bold practices of inclusion—is under assault in the United States with an array of regressive mandates designed to uphold a culture of white supremacy. Teaching an honest history counters a prevailing narrative that denies the real origins of this country and maintains an unjust society.
In his 1963 speech to educators in New York, “A Talk to Teachers,” author and activist James Baldwin acknowledged that teaching honestly about the history of the U.S. was not without consequence. “You must understand,” he explained, “that in the attempt to correct so many generations of bad faith and cruelty, when it is operating not only in the classroom but in society, you will meet the most fantastic, the most brutal, and the most determined resistance.”
Today, as many of you meet the responsibility to nurture and support students who are affirmed, curious and innovative, you are met in return with this “most determined resistance” in the form of threatening state legislation, ambiguous school board policies and a deputized base of supporters fueled by fear. If we let this resistance prevail, then our society, as Baldwin warned, is in “intolerable trouble.”
Education is at the nexus of our nation’s current identity crisis and is key in the realization of a truly diverse democracy. Children of color represent the majority of children in the U.S. and will bear the brunt of increasing bans against lessons and texts that offer an inclusive and honest history that connects our nation’s past to our present and can provide a liberatory path forward for everyone.
In this issue of Learning for Justice we are expanding the scope of teaching honest history through various perspectives and experiences. As you engage with these stories, I invite you to mobilize around three core strategies aimed at protecting the future of ethical and responsible education.
“We have a powerful potential in our youth, and we must have the courage to change old ideas and practices so that we may direct their power toward good ends.”
—Mary McLeod Bethune
Organize with like-minded educators. In this current climate you must support each other and band together as a community of educator advocates. LFJ’s Senior Writer Coshandra Dillard highlights groups of educators who unite to make bold, public statements by teaching the truth about U.S. history in “Teaching the Past to Improve the Future.” And organizer and strategist Dorothee Benz, Ph.D., writes in “A Textbook Case” about the ways many educators correct for flawed textbooks to teach this nation’s whole, hard history.
Mobilize the larger community. As Danielle Neves, deputy chief of academics at Tulsa Public Schools shares in “Teaching Local History in Tulsa,” families can aid in educating students honestly by engaging constantly with their children and by making use of community resources. To that end, LFJ Program Manager for School Partnerships Jey Ehrenhalt outlines the value of forging partnerships between museums and educators in “Partners in Honest Teaching.” And an Alabama teen shares her journey with her family to develop a more accurate picture of U.S. history and culture in “My History: More Than Two Sugar-coated Paragraphs.”
Support the next generation of leaders and educators. Activist and scholar Debbie Reese, Ph.D., addresses the surge in book bans across the U.S. and what that type of censorship means for Indigenous students and others in “Our Children Are Native Every Day,” an interview with Dillard and LFJ Associate Editor Crystal L. Keels. In “The Promise of Rural Schools,” former LFJ Senior Writer Cory Collins shares how rural communities of color refuse erasure and seek revitalization. And in “From Slavery to School Discipline,” journalist Anoa Changa outlines the nation’s racist “pathology of punishment and control” originating from the “peculiar institution” of slavery and continuing today in school discipline practices.
This issue is a reminder of our collective responsibility to counter untruths, uplift suppressed narratives and engage available educational resources to meet resistance with righteous resiliency—in service of all our nation’s children.