Education is different from any other institution in our country. Out of the need to educate children-this need is greater than any individual, family or community can provide-our current system provides more than just a service. It provides a way of being and thinking in society.
But because of its unique power to completely change our society, public education is extremely vulnerable to political influence and interference, which I know very well as a former history teacher.
I personally interpret politics as any activity that promotes specific status or authority interests. Often, these interests conflict with public education. For example, during the Cold War, the federal government and local governments encouraged the increase in science, technology, and patriotic education that served the country.
Many people will disagree with this explanation.
Some educators like to view their classrooms and schools as isolated islands from the world. In my opinion, this is the privilege and defect of some public education teachers. The fact is that most public school students of color do not have this privilege. They are affected by political information every day, making them invisible, inaudible and unacceptable.
Other teachers understand this, and every day progressive, anti-racist and abolitionist educators like me work tirelessly and strategically to reject and change this type of school experience. We do this because we love public education, and we recognize that to make this transition requires an understanding of politics.
Tell the truth about power
The debate about public education exists between those who want to make it more inclusive and those who seek to preserve the traditional model of support for short-sighted, hierarchical society. This is political.
I have a different view on public education. I see a system where students and educators share and acquire knowledge in a learning space, where critical thinking, exploration, respect and community are the keys.
In my state of North Carolina, the new legislation proposed by the General Assembly is called HB324 “Ensure the Dignity and Non-discrimination of Schools.” It reads as a series of statements aimed at preventing this vision. In particular, HB324 will prohibit classroom propaganda suggesting that the United States is a racist and that people are born with racism or sexism, consciously or unconsciously. In a statement, our state’s director of public education believes that the purpose of the bill is to “Provide reasonable expectations“Citizen discourse in class discussions.
On paper, unless you understand it in context, the bill may seem harmless. In 2020, North Carolina revised the state’s K-12 social studies curriculum standards, which now require a behavioral and social science perspective to examine history. They provide guidance to educators and help students understand the lasting impact of systemic racism on black Americans, natives, and people of color, and their resistance. This language has aroused strong opposition from conservatives and accused the new social studies curriculum of promoting an anti-American agenda. These arguments are based on the fear of seeing public education become more inclusive.
Education is different from school education. School education is training, guidance or discipline gained from learning experience, usually related to social roles and responsibilities. In the United States, school education often puts the voices and values of the majority group above others. Therefore, when politicians target public schools, such as HB324, it is usually based on perceived school education practices rather than education.
This is why educators like me are seeking to become transformative leaders in our country’s political system. Legislation such as HB324 in North Carolina and other similar bills hinder the full academic, social, and emotional needs of our students in public education.
If politicians are using their platforms to make decisions, then educators must respond. Of course, I cannot represent all educators, but those in my community and coalition hope that public education will be a space to impart all the truth and reject all forms of prejudice and hatred to whitewash history. We refuse to lie to our students because we know that learning history and truth is not always comfortable, but it is necessary to create a lasting impact.
We also don’t want our students to feel comfortable with the trauma of others. We want our curriculum, teaching, resources, and professional development to include the voices, experiences, and perspectives of all Americans, especially those from marginalized groups. We believe that informed voters are the key to maintaining true democracy. Finally, we hope to build communities and relationships through collaboration, problem solving and learning. When I read bills such as HB324, I only have three questions left: Who will these laws hurt? Who will be protected by these laws? Why spend legislative funds on these laws?
Dealing with and answering these questions honestly should be enough to let all educators understand that our education system is indeed political. Now the question becomes: what are you going to do? I don’t know you, but I am ready to tell the truth to political power.