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NIOT Virtual Conversation Series - Standing up to Racism & Bias in our Schools and Communities: Countering the Backlash

Standing up to Racism & Bias in our Schools and Communities: Countering the Backlash

Since January 2021, 37 U.S. states "have introduced bills or taken other steps that would limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism in the classroom," according to an Education Week analysis. "Fourteen states have imposed these bans and restrictions either through legislation or other avenues."

Teachers and students need the basic freedom to discuss the history and present day manifestations of racism in our country, our world and communities. Age appropriate learning about U.S. history and the legacy of racism is fundamental. Creating a safe environment for all students to learn about our history and our diverse identities is critically important. So how do we pivot the conversation to a substantive discussion about how to give our children the context and knowledge they need to navigate our world? How do we continue to discuss and address issues of racism in an era of pushback?

Watch the video above and you'll learn:

  • How these laws have evolved over time 
  • How teachers, school boards, school leaders and parents are responding to concerns
  • How to talk about systemic racism and anti-racist education in a way that doesn't exclude anyone
  • How to pivot the conversation to a productive one that honors shared values, creates shared goals and positive outcomes

The conflict over teaching about racism in schools is fueled by misinformation and misunderstanding. But the debate also offers an opportunity for parents, students, educators and other members of communities to have real, productive conversations about how we want to teach the next generation about the history of racism in America, the legacy of those truths and the state of racism today. NIOT's Patrice O'Neill and Pardeep Kaleka of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee moderated the event.

Panelists include:


Actions You Can Take

  • Use your voice and encourage people you know to speak up as well. Remember, we are in the broad majority here. For the sake of students, teachers, and the future, we cannot remain silent. Write an op-ed for your local newspaper. Attend a school board meeting and speak up for our students. 
  • Start a NIOT group in your community. 
  • Organize a conversation in your community with teachers, parents and students to talk about the core values of inclusion and belonging for all students, the need to understand history, and the education you want to see for your children. Address concerns and encourage meaningful discussions.
  • Download toolkits from Learn From History for parents, school system leaders, teachers and school board members
  • Organize a panel discussion. Learn about the bills being considered in your state and talk about the intended and unintended consequences. Think about partnering with nonpartisan organizations in your community such as the League of Women Voters, as NIOT Bowling Green did in their community, with an "Honesty in Education" event. (described in the video)
  • Speak up on social media. Follow Learn From History on Twitter or Facebook and amplify the videos and quote cards they are posting that advocate for teaching the truth and the importance of a well-rounded, comprehensive education for our youth. 


Links for Further Reading, Resources and Action

Learn From History is a broad-based coalition of organizations of parents, students, teachers, school system leaders, community leaders, and other concerned Americans, facilitated by Stand for Children Leadership Center offering toolkits, resources, and news about this issue. Follow LFH on Twitter or Facebook and amplify their message.

Read and circulate a recent national survey of teachers from Stand for Children that finds that 3 in 10 teachers are considering leaving the profession at the end of this school year, and more than a third of the 2,000 K–12 educators surveyed cited as a reason new state laws restricting classroom discussions on race, gender, and sexuality.

Join Learn From History and you'll receive alerts when new resources currently being developed become available — including a guide to preparing effective testimony for hearings, short social videos presenting uplifting stories of solidarity and appreciation, and a one-pager on effective parent engagement.

PEN America Free Expression and Education Project
Educational institutions play an essential role in sustaining democracy. But amid rising polarization in the United States and around the world, educational institutions have become a site of conflict and challenge. PEN America’s free expression and education program works to reconcile these tensions by working with schools, colleges, and universities to ensure robust protections for academic freedom and freedom of speech are balanced with advancements in diversity and inclusion, as well efforts to redress legacies of discrimination and inequity.

Read Jeremy Young's recent blog post about education gag orders across the country. This post is part of a blog series from PEN America tracking the progress of educational gag orders and censorious legislative efforts against educational institutions nationwide. These bills are tracked in its Index, which is updated monthly. 


This NIOT Virtual Conversation is produced in partnership with Learn From History



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