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Truth-Telling in Today’s Education System with Teaching for Change

For Truth-Telling in Today’s Education System

Written by Keesha Ceran, Teaching for Change

An orange banner with Teaching for Change's logo and a one-liner in white text below that reads, "building social justice starting in the classroom."

Teachers around the United States face the challenge of how to teach in the midst of a white supremacist backlash that is manifesting itself everywhere, from local police departments to state legislatures to the halls of Congress.

That is why we are teaching for change — Change in our systems. Change in our communities. Change for the lives of the whole person. Change in our world. At Teaching for Change, we play a central role in grassroots education reform in the DC region and nationally. We provide a carefully curated selection of multicultural and social justice books for children, young adults, and educators. We coordinate campaigns to fill gaps in the curriculum.

Many teachers themselves are just learning about the history of institutionalized racism. Textbooks and the traditional curriculum are of no help. For example, despite large numbers of immigrants from Central America, there is little in the school curriculum about the region, even during Latinx Heritage Month. Therefore, Teaching for Change has a campaign to Teach Central America with lessons, books, and film recommendations, and a growing network of teachers!

In collaboration with Rethinking Schools, we co-direct the Zinn Education Project to bring the history of working people, people of color, and organized social movements into the classroom. Curricular innovation, powerful professional development for teachers, and meaningful parent engagement are now even more critical as racial bias and injustice have emerged as urgent national issues.

We believe that education should help students, parents, teachers, and administrators understand and relate to the histories, cultures, and languages of people different from themselves. But education must also be much more than that. It must be transformative. It must encourage academic excellence that embraces critical skills for progressive social change.

Teachers confronting the realities of their students’ lives and the disparities within their schools or districts are now also being made the scapegoats in political culture wars that put their lives and wellbeing at stake. In spite of legislation in many states and decisions in school boards cultivating an anti-history movement, we continue to see educators committed to teaching truth, teaching outside of the textbook, and refusing to lie to students. Teachers who have signed a pledge to teach the truth are being harassed and, in some cases, threatened with firing. They are accused of being in violation of new state laws against teaching about institutionalized racism or “divisive concepts.” (Read more: Teaching in Dangerous Times)

One devastating result of these attacks is that teachers are leaving the profession. Educators aren’t resigning because they want to. They are resigning because they are forced to — Forced to resign by a system that underappreciates and undervalues them. Forced to resign in the midst of extreme political scapegoating.

We are seeing a continued backlash and censoring of educators and a censoring of future generations’ understanding of the truths of this history and current reality. Educators aren’t being celebrated; instead, their jobs are on the line. Teachers are “first-responders,” as critical to our community as firepersons, police, doctors, and other medical responders. They are the ones who pick up the pieces; they are the ones who notice the experiences that a child is facing — abuse, malnourishment, etc. Being a teacher is a choice to serve others. Often, teachers come from a family of teachers where this tradition of service has been instilled for generations.

As an organization, we will continue our commitment to develop critical thinking that supports students to better understand problems in our society and to develop collective solutions to those problems. We are for truth-telling and uplifting the power of organizing and solidarity that move us toward a more just society.

We invite others to come alongside us to support teachers, students, and families until our work has met its goal and a more just community is actualized.

Keesha Ceran serves as the associate director of Teaching for Change, a pre-K-12 nonprofit organization located in Washington, D.C.

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