Educators Nationwide Pledge to Teach Truth in Schools

On the #TeachTruth National Day of Action, teachers, parents, and students said they won’t back down from the fight against anti-history bills.

by Aziah Siid for Word in Black

As efforts to suppress and eliminate the teaching about America’s history of racism and oppression ramp up, it’s easy to forget that a group of stalwart advocates has been on the frontline of this fight for decades, lobbying for an accurate and comprehensive student curriculum: teachers.

For the last two summers, educators have rallied together — along with students, parents, and community members — to speak out against the anti-CRT movement. They kept the same energy this year as they pledged to #TeachTruth and defend LGBTQ+ rights

On Saturday, June 10, 2023, people came together at roughly 100 locations nationwide for the #TeachTruth National Day of Action. 

From Ruben F. Salazar Park in Los Angeles and abolitionist bookstore 1977 Books in Montgomery, Alabama, to the Stonewall Inn in New York City and the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C, attendees rallied against the anti-history education bills proliferating across the United States. 

Together, they pledged to “refuse to lie to young people about U.S. history and current events.”

The Zinn Education Project, the African American Policy Forum, and Black Lives Matter at Schools coordinated the day of action, which had more than 50 co-sponsors, including the SNCC Legacy Project.

As SNCC veteran Judy Richardson told the crowd at the Washington D.C. event, “White supremacists say they want to protect their children from feeling bad about racism. What about the pain Black children have felt for decades as we were consistently fed lies and distortions about this country’s history?”

Michele Coles, author of the award-winning novel “Black Was the Ink” knows what Richardson is talking about.  Coles wrote the coming-of-age novel about the Reconstruction Era due to her not learning much about that period of history in school. After one complaint from a parent, the book, told through the eyes of a Black teenage boy, was recently pulled from classrooms. 

“I support the campaign to teach truth and the freedom to learn. Any society that begins banning books is headed in the wrong direction,” Coles said. “We can’t be afraid of knowledge or empathy.”

Educator, author, and Teach Truth organizer Jesse Hagopian also laid out what’s at stake. 

“Lawmakers in at least 44 states have introduced legislation or pursued other measures that attempt to require educators to lie to students about the role of racism, sexism, heterosexism, transphobia, and other forms of oppression throughout U.S. history,” Hagopian wrote on Instagram. “These laws and restrictions have been imposed in at least 18 states. The Right has declared war on teaching the truth about structural racism and sexism and on LGBTQ+ youth.”

Richardson explained at the event in D.C. that supporters of these bills are afraid “that if young people — children of color and white children — see themselves in this history — in Ruby Doris Smith Robinson and Julian Bond and Anne Braden and Betty Garman Robinson and Maria Varela — then they’ll know that they can change things, too — just like the youth leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.”

New Jersey educator Thuraya Zeidan said that on Teach Truth Day, she’s championing the need to teach students from a global perspective rather than the Eurocentric lens. 

“The reason that I’m here is because it’s foundational to my education philosophy that students are able to learn about themselves. We should be teaching students from a lens that is global as opposed to a lens that is Eurocentric,” she told Ande Richards, managing producer for Diversity Voices. 

Organizations and bookstores like Bookworks ABQ in New Mexico that work to give access to banned or challenged books also showed up for the day of solidarity. With a table set up in the shop — and a colorful sign to jot down the name of your favorite banned book — supporters came through to take a pic with a banned book and sign the Teach Truth Pledge, while educators were offered 10% off. 

Ahead of the official Teach Truth Day, national speakers, educators, and other supporters also gathered on a call before the event to share their commitments against the war on teaching the truth about structural racism, sexism, and on LGBTQ+ youth.

“We are disgusted, and we are outraged, but we’re not just angry because we can’t just be angry,” Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, said on the conference call. “We are organizing, and we are united. We are channeling our anger into multilayered comprehensive actions to beat back these oppressive and offensive laws — dangerous laws.” 

Indeed, educators, community members, and parents are making it clear they will not back down from the fight to teach all students the full scope of what it means to be a student in America. 

Whether it’s speaking out against the  “Stop Woke” laws that seek to prohibit teaching about how systematic racism impacts every system in the United States or opposing the “Don’t Say Gay” bills that have students afraid to be themselves — and educators frightened to support them — supporters of the Teach Truth movement are ready to take action.

As Hagopian said, “Our movement is creating a new vision for education where history is a human right!”

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