The former president of the nation’s largest association devoted to social studies education set the stage two years ago for America’s K-12 social studies teachers to educate students in the tenets of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and reward those who engaged in leftist activism for Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights, and illegal immigration advocacy.
In an address titled “Agency, Advocacy, Activism: Action for Social Studies,” and delivered at the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) 2019 conference, former NCSS president Tina Lane Heafner told her audience, “The ecology of social studies is changing in an era of activist voters.”
“We must recognize the critical role that social studies educators need to embrace in humanizing the curriculum, educating for empathy and action, and empowering children and youth agency, advocacy and activism,” Heafner stated, as reported Thursday by Newsweek’s Lee Habeeb, who contrasted Heafner’s message with a story about his father, a high school history and social studies teacher and, ultimately, his school district’s superintendent.
His motto was simple: present all sides of an issue, then let the students discuss and debate the merits and come to their own conclusions. Indoctrinating students wasn’t the goal. Teaching them to think for themselves was … and when he retired he was worried about the sharp turn to the left of the nation’s K-12 history, social studies and English teachers. And their increasing willingness to use their taxpayer-funded jobs—and the public trust those jobs represent—to shape the worldviews of their captive young audiences.
But Heafner’s address, which she transformed into a longer article, clearly intended to steer NCSS to become a leader “in defining a new vision for social studies in American schooling.”
Educators must pay more attention to the ways colonization, racism and power matter in educational settings and work towards more effective and longer-term pre-service and in-service training that helps educators understand and strategize about their role as agents for social change and greater educational equity.
“Social studies, more than any other subject area, has the capacity to reveal structural racism, inequality and exclusion that endures in U.S. society and is deeply rooted in our nation’s history and perpetuated through policies, practices, attitudes and cultural messages,” Heafner added. “Critical inquiry in the social studies can initiate transformative understandings that are foundational to shifting the mindsets of students and promoting the culture of equity and inclusion.”
Yet, at its website, NCSS addresses the firestorm over the teaching of the tenets of CRT by denying it is being taught in K-12 schools, and criticizing states that have passed legislation prohibiting the teaching of CRT’s tenets:
Social studies education is a topic of debate for national and state legislatures and local school boards this year. This debate has resulted in a number of bills being introduced in state legislatures concerning what should or should not be taught in the PK-12 social studies classroom. We are pleased to see citizens engaging in discussions surrounding citizenship, race, gender, equity, and other social studies topics. Yet we have become aware of the need to address misconceptions that have arisen surrounding what others have labeled as “divisive concepts” such as critical race theory (CRT).
Continuing the narrative of many in the field of public education today, including, most recently, the National School Boards Association (NSBA), NCSS asserts CRT is not taught in K-12 schools:
CRT does not appear explicitly as a term in any state and district PK-12 social studies standards; and is not a foundation of the NCSS College, Career, and Civic Life (“C3”) Framework for Social Studies State Standards.
“Since critical race theory challenges the dominant narrative of America’s founding and history, it has been considered a ‘divisive concept’ in these legislations,” NCSS states. “We encourage administrators at all levels, from Pre-Kindergarten through higher education, to support the academic freedom of their educators and researchers and to actively correct misinformation surrounding divisive concepts and CRT.”
The NSBA complained in its recent letter to President Joe Biden that parents are objecting to the teaching of concepts of CRT.
“This propaganda continues despite the fact that critical race theory is not taught in public schools and remains a complex law school and graduate school subject well beyond the scope of a K-12 class,” NSBA asserted.
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Last month, however, the United States Conference of Mayors adopted a resolution during its annual convention in which its members pledged to support the teaching of CRT in K-12 schools.
“NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the nation’s mayors support the implementation of CRT in the public education curriculum to help engage our youth in programming that reflects an accurate, complete account of BIPOC history,” the mayors stated.
And in July, the National Education Association (NEA) also moved to openly promote the teaching of Critical Race Theory in K-12 schools and to oppose any bans on instruction in both the Marxist ideology and the widely discredited New York Times’ “1619 Project.”
The union agreed to “research the organizations attacking educators,” doing what it referred to as “anti-racist work,” as well as to “use the research already done and put together a list of resources and recommendations for state affiliates, locals, and individual educators to utilize when they are attacked.”
NEA dismissed the outrage of grassroots parents, claiming the main critics of CRT are “well-funded” conservative groups.
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The nation’s largest teachers’ union also adopted a measure that vows to “share and publicize, through existing channels, information already available on critical race theory (CRT) – what it is and what it is not.”
The union’s resolution plans to have “a team of staffers for members who want to learn more and fight back against anti-CRT rhetoric.”
NEA also said it would “join with Black Lives Matter at School and the Zinn Education Project for a rally on October 14 – George Floyd’s birthday – as a national day of action to teach lessons about structural racism and oppression.”
The union added:
The Association will further convey that in teaching these topics, it is reasonable and appropriate for curriculum to be informed by academic frameworks for understanding and interpreting the impact of the past on current society, including critical race theory.
Remember that CRT is only in law schools. Couldn’t exist anywhere else. Remember when they told you that? https://t.co/DMUyI52Sgc
— Andrew Sullivan (@sullydish) September 9, 2021
As Fox News reported in July, the NEA’s resolutions have undercut the left’s narrative that CRT is not being taught in K-12 schools, and committed Becky Pringle, the union’s president, “to make public statements across all lines of media that support racial honesty in education including but not limited to critical race theory.”
In her address two years ago, Heafner went on to blast what she referred to as social studies’ stance of teaching from the perspective of “neutrality in the racism struggle.”
“The reluctance to acknowledge our racialized identities, to confront injustice and to dismantle racism in social studies, suggests neutrality,” she said. “Yet there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. One either endorses the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist or racial equality as an antiracist.”
Heafner criticized social studies teachers who show “unwillingness to risk the reproach of communities,” asserting they have “silenced curricular topics such as racial injustice and Black Lives Matter, LGBT+ history, immigration, human rights and sovereignty.”
The former NCSS president urged social studies teachers to encourage “youth activism” in their students:
The rise of youth activism and the power of youth voice has been formally recognized by the decision of Fairfax County, Virginia, one of the largest school districts in the nation, to offer students a civic engagement day as an excused absence from school. This recognizes the right of students to participate in activities such as marches; advocacy and protest in support of issues; volunteerism and youth leadership; meetings with local delegates, senators or congressmen; and other types of involvement in civil society.
“Youth activism is booming post-Parkland, but many schools have struggled to connect it to formal civics preparation,” she lamented at the time.
Speakers at the upcoming NCSS conference, to be held November 15-21 and titled “Solidarity in Social Studies,” include Valerie Jarrett, who served as senior advisor to former President Barack Obama; former NFL star and retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page; musician and activist Stevie Van Zandt; and Yohuru Williams, founding director of the racial justice initiative at the University of St. Thomas.