Let’s Talk: Our Shared Future Through Education
Dr. Monique Chism:
Welcome back to the 2022 Smithsonian National Education Summit.
For those of you who may be joining for the first time, my name is Dr. Monique Chism and I am the Under Secretary for Education here
at the Smithsonian. I'm coming to you today from my home office in the DC Capital Region and I am an African-American woman with
short curly hair in a natural style. Today I'm wearing a purple dress, and in my environment I have pictures behind me on my wall from
my favorite artist Jacob Lawrence and you might be able to see that picture over my shoulder
of my mother and my grandmother. Welcome, everyone. As we start I would like to offer a land acknowledgement.
Our presenters are coming to you today from across the nation so with that, I'd like to say that we gratefully acknowledge the native people
on whose ancestral homeland we gather, as well as the diverse and vibrant
native communities who make their home here today. Thank you. I mentioned earlier that here at the
Smithsonian we are centering our mission for the increase in diffusion of knowledge, to work with our stakeholders to find
solutions to collective challenges in this rapidly changing world.
In this new era we have set our sights on the ambitious goal
of a better shared future for all. Last year, when we hosted the 2021
National Teachers of the Year, they talked to us about the stress,
anxiety, and difficulties they were having in their classrooms, and in their schools and districts.
As a result of legislation that is passing across the nation, this legislation is in some cases prohibiting discussions around race and
racism, gender and sexism, and identity, and they, quite frankly, asked us for help.
This panel, and a number of other things that we are doing here at the Smithsonian, is a response to that call for help.
According to Education Week, since January 2021, 43 states, I want you to think about that for a second, 43 states have introduced
bills, or taken other steps, that would prohibit the teaching of this content, and 17 states today have passed that
legislation. Teachers and educators and parents and students across the nation are actively voicing concern, noting that
these restrictions are having a chilling effect on what is actually being taught in the classroom. To help us explore this matter today, I
am really excited that we have Anna King from the National Parent Teacher Association joining us. She will offer a couple remarks, and then,
following that a panel led by Soledad O'Brien will explore this topic in further detail. But first, let me introduce Anna.
She has over 20 years of leadership experience and has led at all levels of the PTA, including in Oklahoma as the PTA
President and the National PTA Vice President for Membership.
She is the 57th President of the National PTA and she loves volunteering in high school in her community
and working right beside students as they use their voice to create change and make an impact. Please join me in welcoming Anna.
Hello, everyone. I appreciate the opportunity to be with you today. Thank you to the Smithsonian for
inviting me to speak and thank you for conveying this important conversation. Thank you for everything that you do to support
our teachers and our families to ensure that our students are successful inside the classroom and outside. PTA is the nation's oldest and largest child
advocacy association. Our mission is pretty simple; it's to make every child's potential a reality by engaging and empowering
families and communities to advocate for all children. Our mission has guided us as an association for 125 years
as we advocate for lasting solutions to the challenges facing our children, our families, and our school communities. We also provide our families with the
critical resources, tools, and information they need to make sure that every child is safe, healthy, and has what they need to thrive.
We do this work at PTA because we know as parents, guardians, and grandparents, we want to make sure that our children and grandchildren can reach their fullest potential, no matter who they are, or where they come from. We
advocate for all children and youth. My PTA journey started like most, as a young wife and mother of three children. As parents, my husband and I wanted to make sure that our children would do
better than us and education was always important in our home. When my oldest my daughter Janae was in the third grade, she brought home this
red PTA flyer asking me to join PTA. I saw her class could win a PTA party so of course I did. Who could say no to that
cute face, and I didn't know at that moment that all of the work that PTA did, not just for my child, beyond the fundraising,
and the many voices beside my own, but they could influence and shape all children's futures. But that all changed when my youngest
son, Glenn, whom we call "G," was in the first grade. His teacher sent home a sticky note home with him every day on his shirt
saying that he was disrupting the class. He was labeled a troublemaker and we couldn't understand why, because he was a fun-loving
young boy. Every day for a week, when I would come to the school, I would walk in and see my son in the principal's office facing the
wall. And advocating for our son, just a little bit loudly, we found out that he was finishing his
class work early in the classroom and helping other students. And that he needed more challenging work because he was advanced.
That is when I found my voice as a parent, and making a difference.
Later when my daughter Janae was a freshman in high school, this is when I started my PTA journey as a leader.
We noticed that she never brought home a book for her English class. She told us that there weren't enough
books in her class for every student to bring home. And to me that kind of sounded pretty crazy, because we know that our children need assets, and
resources, and opportunities, and experiences to help them dream and to hope for a better future. My husband calls it my Rosa Parks
moment. For me, it started out getting the books that all of our students needed in the classroom, and in the entire school at
Frederick Douglass High School in Oklahoma City. But soon it was purchasing school supplies, establishing a food pantry, a clothing
closet, and so much more. When we help our own children, we're raising a bar for their classmates, our teachers, our schools, our districts our
states, and most importantly our students across the country. You see, parents are essential ingredients to a
child's education, and the secret sauce is when parents partner with teachers,
administrators, school boards, and even community organizations like the Smithsonian, to create a better future for our
children. I now have 11 beautiful grandchildren. I'm just as passionate about empowering parents and helping our school community
support every child's path to success when I first started in PTA
when my daughter was a freshman. But my story isn't unique. PTA was founded to create the conditions and connections that enable us to
overcome challenges. And families, and educators, business and community leaders, will all work together to make a positive impact on the lives
of students in this country. And that's so important. The past two years have been pretty tough. With the Covid 19 pandemic ,the gun
and school safety epidemic, and social injustice. And we've seen so much division in our country, including over what is taught in
our schools. At PTA, we encourage curriculum that includes all kids and young people, because how can we represent every child
when we leave kids out? Culturally responsive teaching and learning, in having an inclusive curriculum, are imperative in building
socially competent and aware children and youth, enhancing their intellectual capability, and psychosocial well-being.
This includes recognizing racism, classism, sexism, and other issues in the world, and developing a student's awareness to openly address
these situations. It will prepare our entrepreneurs, our engineers, scientists, artists, and even political leaders, who will ensure that
our nation will flourish in an increasingly competitive global and economic.
National PTA supports and advocates for inclusive curricula and multicultural resources and materials to empower students and families of all backgrounds
to understand themselves more effectively in relation to others. Our association believes classrooms that acknowledge diverse histories and
cultures break down existing barriers and create supportive, inclusive
schools that encourage our students to grow and learn in the safest and most empowering spaces possible.
We also believe that providing students with age-appropriate and accurate history lessons in our nation's public schools will help them become
critical thinkers and thinking about the future that we need to make this as an equitable country.
We recently released the results of a national survey we commissioned that included more than 2,500 parents and guardians with children in grades K through 12 in public schools,
While over sixty thousand of parents, sixty percent, not sixty thousand, of parents surveyed say that they follow debates over the curriculum of what
topics should be taught in the schools, only one in four indicated that they are doing so very closely. Also, 88% of these parents surveyed are
comfortable with children learning social skills like respect, cooperation, perseverance, and empathy in our schools.
76% of the parents in their survey said that they support schools teaching social and emotional learning and about two-thirds of our parents believe racial
issues should be taught and discussed a lot or some at schools.
There's a Swahili proverb that says
"Unity is strength and division is weakness." When we may not agree on every issue, we must always agree on doing what's best
for our children. Every decision that we make must be for their benefit and we must commit ourselves to creating more supportive
schools communities. All students have the right to quality, equitable education and a safe supportive, and inclusive school.
We know that every student, regardless of their race, religion, ability, and socioeconomic status can reach their fullest potential when the school
environment is one where they feel very valued. While it may seem that parents and schools are at odds across the country,
we have witnessed and heard so many stories and great partnerships nationwide between families and schools that are truly making a difference for
all of our students success. And as these partnerships are more important than ever National PTA is in the process of updating our national
standards for family school partnerships to provide better support for schools and their communities as they continue to address changes in educational and
family engagement trends, as well as the shifts in our community demographics. Over the last two decades, four state PTAs are using grant funding
to activate this work on a local level. They have hosted listening sessions to better understand the family engagement needs of diverse and multicultural
communities. This input will help drive actions in our local units a nationwide effort to support an update of our standards.
We believe that we will be releasing these updates on our standards this Fall. Please be on the lookout
as we continue to tackle tough issues on the upcoming school year. I want to encourage you to be steadfast in your work.
Our children are depending on all of us parents, teachers, community leaders,
principals, school districts, school board members everybody. If you aren't a PTA member yet, I'm going
to urge all of you to join us. We want everyone to join PTA because our voice
is strong and we know when we are stronger together, we can do everything together. Thank you, Smithsonian, and
every person attending this conference today, thank you so much for all that you do to support our
nation's students and our families across this country.
Dr. Monique Chism:
Thank you so much, Anna, and thank you for helping us understand the survey results and for really highlighting some of those exemplar
cases across the nation where they're taking thoughtful steps to make sure that they can collaborate listen to one another and work together.
So, thank you so much for joining us. Thank you for having me. I now would like to welcome Soledad O'Brien to the stage.
Soledad is an award-winning documentarian, journalist, speaker, author,
and philanthropist. She is the founder of Soledad O'Brien Productions, a multi-platform media production
company dedicated to telling empowering and authentic stories on a range of social issues.
She is a well-respected thought leader who has a national impact through her
speeches, documentaries, and her presence on op-ed pages like the New York times and Huffington Post.
It's my honor to welcome Soledad to the stage.
Hi, Dr. Chism. Thank you, so much. I appreciate that introduction. Hi everybody, my name, as Dr Chism said, is Soledad O'Brien. I'm a light brown skinned,
middle-aged lady wearing a ridiculously pink jacket today. I'm in the Hearst TV Studios in midtown Manhattan, which means the view behind me
of New York City is pretty amazing. I am really thrilled to be part of this
conversation today, so a big thank you to the Smithsonian for hosting this conversation. And I want to welcome everybody, I'm very excited to
introduce you to our panelists, and then of course, we're just going to get right into our conversation. So our first panelist is Emily Kirkpatrick. She is the
Executive Director of the now National Council of Teachers of English.
She is known for creating humanistic innovations that merge research,
policy, and practice to address persistent social inequities. A transformative leader, Ms. Kirkpatrick has dedicated her
career to public service and civic engagement, increasing national literacy, and social mobility,
furthering educational justice and equity, and advancing the inclusion and
empowerment of women. So, Ms. Kirkpatrick, it's so nice to have you joining my panel.
Emily Kirkpatrick: Appreciate it, Nice to be here. You bet.
Up next is Ken Krehbiel. He is the Executive Director of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. It is the world's largest organization
representing mathematics education, with some 30,000 members and more than 200
affiliates in the United States and Canada. He's also an ex officio member of
the NCTM Board of Directors. Ken, it's very nice to have you join our panel.
Thank you, it's an honor. Appreciate it.
Lawrence Paska is Executive Director of the National Council for the Social Studies. He served in that position
since October of 2016. He began his career as a middle school Social Studies
teacher in New York public school districts and later served in multiple roles in the New York State Education Department,
based in Albany, New York. Within the NCSS community, he served as the
2015-2016 president of the New York State Council for the Social Studies and
received the NYSCSS's distinguished Social Studies Service Award, that's easy
to say, back in 2017. He's also served as a House of Delegates Chair of the
Resolutions Committee. Dr. Paska is experienced as a manager, and a facilitator, and a presenter, whose professional vision is really
anchored in distributed leadership and constructivist teaching, so it's nice to have you joining us. Thank you, Dr. Paska.
Thank you very much. It's an honor to be here.
You bet. It's my pleasure. Erika Shugart is the Executive Director of the National Science Teaching Association. She was the CEO of
the American Society for Cell Biology between 2016 and 2021. She was a Director
of Communications and Marketing Strategy at the American Society for Microbiology from 2013 to 2016. Between 2003 and 2013, she oversaw the development of new
digital media exhibitions, online experiences, and programs as the Deputy
Director of the Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National academy of Sciences. It's so nice to have you joining us. Really appreciate it.
Erika Shugart: It is pleasure to be here.
So let's hop right into our conversation and I really... I think in a lot of ways this is a very emotional conversation
and a difficult conversation, so i'll start by thanking you for all the insights that I know you're going to provide in this conversation. I'd love
for each of you, I mean, I've given your very brief bios, but but give us who are
listening a sense of what your organizations do and who you represent in membership across the country. Why don't we begin with you,
Erika, if i can call everybody by their first name, if i can take that privilege. Erika why don't you kick us off?
Sure, I'd be delighted. I am a white woman with short brown hair, wearing a
blue suit in a room that has a colorful picture behind me. So the National Science teaching Association, or NSTA's, mission is to
transform science education to benefit all. We have a vision of the future where science literacy and education are recognized as vital to the future of our
society, enabling us to make informed decisions about the collective challenges we face, which I think aligns very well with what Dr. Chism was
saying earlier in her introduction. Three, do this mission and accomplish this, and attempt to accomplish this vision, through programs that are aimed
for educators. Our members are over 35,000 strong and represent not only
K–12 teachers, but preschool teachers, people that are educators in the informal sector, and homeschoolers as
well, so we really have the breadth of the science education community. We produce journals where our members can exchange information. I just got back
from one of our large national conferences in Chicago where we had thousands of teachers gathered, networking, connecting, learning together.
It was an absolute delight. We also produce curricular materials and a lot of professional learning for our teachers.
We have a new strategic plan and one of the central tenets of that is to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in our profession. This is not only to
increase the diversity of the teacher workforce but also to ensure that all classrooms are inclusive for all learners, no matter where they come from
and what their background may be. I'm really excited to be here, talk about these important issues, and i'm looking forward to the conversation.
Soledad O'Brien: Thank you, appreciate that. Lawrence, how about you going next?
Certainly, thank you. I will say that, first, I'm a white male with a blue suit
on, I have a map of the Smithsonian National Mall on my tie, and behind me is one of my
favorite expressions, that was given to me my first year of teaching, which is. "In everything I teach, I find something to learn."
So, I will first share that, similar to what Erika has shared, we are a professional membership association. We represent K–12 classroom teachers, school
district and state level administrators, college and university faculty, educators
from about 35 countries around the world, all focused on Social Studies education.
The Social Studies, I'd like to think of as, almost, the original STEM subject areas. We represent the coordination of history, geography,
economics, civics, political science, law related education, religious studies,
anthropology, archaeology, psychology, sociology, philosophy... I always leave one
out, I never mean to but you get it. That we are we are a subject area in schools that is all about the human-made world. We study humanity, what makes us tick,
what makes us buy what we buy, live where we live, vote the way we vote, and engage in civic life. The way we do that is the purpose of social studies education.
We'll talk a lot about that "heart of inquiry" about the human-made world that we are all about, and what I would also like to share,
as you learn from all of us today, is that we are all about helping educators help their students. That is what a professional membership association for
teachers is all about, but increasingly, increasingly we do more work with kids.
So at NCSS, for example, we have a National Honor Society for students at the middle and high school levels, to honor their academic achievement in
Social Studies and get them ready for active civic life beyond high school. And as you learn from all of us today, we all work with students in different ways,
through different programs or perhaps webinars or special events, that we offer. And I'll just conclude by saying that one of the... We turned 100 years young
in 2020 and so part of our Centennial was not looking back, but looking forward at what social studies looks like in our next century. And so to us, it is a space
where inquiry thrives, where students reach their full potential by studying the world around them, and especially, most importantly to us, where our
educating workforce, wherever they are. And just as Erika mentioned, we're in home schools, we're in charter schools, we're in
private schools, wherever we are, that we have the tools we need to help both ourselves as professionals and our kids be the most successful they can be.
Thank you. Ken, I'm going to ask you to go next. I will echo a lot of what Erika and Larry said; we are an organization of
teachers from PreK through higher education, about 30,000 as you said in
the introduction. We're the world's largest organization of teachers of mathematics and we, like the other organizations
represented on this panel, are an organization that provides supports for teachers. We do that through programs and services,
peer-reviewed journals, large conferences, and other materials that support teachers in the classroom.
One other thing that I'll say is, just as reading is fundamental to all learning, we like to make the point that
mathematics is fundamental to all of the STEM disciplines,
something that should be pointed out and emphasized, that sometimes is overlooked.
And last, but certainly not least, Emily, if I may ask you to do the same.
Sure, glad to be with you today. I'm joining you as a Caucasian woman, red-headed, left-handed, one might say.
I see the world through interesting prisms because of some of those qualities. At NCTE, we lead the teaching of language
literacy, which is certainly inclusive of reading, of writing and the applied qualities of such skills. We represent teachers
ranging from PreK all the way through graduate studies, and our
mission speaks to so much about why we care about the issues we're talking about. On the panel today, we promote the development of literacy,
the use of language, to construct personal and public worlds
to achieve full participation in society. And of course we do that through the
learning and the teaching of English Language Arts. Our members are the teachers of reading in elementary school,
of the early components of inquiry and writing, all the way through the love of reading and adolescent
stages through young adult literature, through the quintessential English teacher that so many writers talk about in the forwards of their book.
We also have a very active teacher preparation community, working to serve and equip the next generation of
teachers to be prepared to address and to work with all students
that they will meet throughout their career. Similar to our colleagues that have gone before,
we produce 10 quarterly journals about 18 books a year,
and have the world's largest annual literacy gathering every November in the
form of an annual convention. In parting, I will also add that in such
troubling times, one of the silver linings has been the colleagues on this panel coming together in service of teachers and of
students in new ways.
Thank you. Thank you. And one of those ways of folks coming together in service of teachers
was a statement. And that statement was called "Freedom to Teach," and maybe, Lawrence, I'll have you address this. Talk to me a little bit about that coming
together, and what was behind this statement, and what were the goals, and why at this moment?
Certainly. So right around the end of last year, we started to see increasingly
negative attention, almost overnight, it felt like, on teachers. In the
media, everywhere we're looking, it felt like it was affecting all subject areas, in rapid time, and it wasn't isolated to K–12 teachers either. As
you're hearing, all of us also represent college and university faculty. We were aware of potential threats to even tenured faculties livelihoods,
the academic freedoms that they've had on campuses, developing curricula. So really a K–16 issue. We also think felt like we were
starting to just simply react to every issue out there, I think it's fair to say, that as Emily mentioned, we talk a lot together. We have each other's
phone numbers we'll text each other. We'll get on zoom calls like this sometimes at lunch sometimes, all hours of the day. So we know each other well,
and we would constantly be checking each other. "Did this happen to you? How is your membership reacting? How is your board reacting to this issue? How are your
teachers fielding this question?" So it was feeling like we needed to come together and elevate the voices of those whom we represent,
our educators, and we had to celebrate and raise their voices, but before we did that, we had to remind the world of what teachers do. What educators, what
education is about. It is not about indoctrination. It is not about... And this is the part that
made us all cringe the most, is this notion that students are somehow sent home every day made to feel less than themselves and
worthless or devalued, or their culture group is not appropriate or has done badly. There is no licensed professional we
could think of that willingly walks into a classroom every day and creates a space where kids are made to feel less
than, that is against our principles as educators. So we wanted this statement to briefly, but powerfully say that what you are hearing is not real,
that what your what you experience in your own school community is the experience of kids nationwide, that teachers are dedicated licensed
professionals whose job is simply to create a space for learning where kids can reach their full potential. That's it. Full stop. End of story.
So, we worked with our partners at the National Coalition Against Censorship, which some of us belong to, to help us with the language. And again,
we just felt that this was a critical moment where, despite collective years now of talking together behind the scenes, and discussing issues,
and figuring out, "How's your conference work going," "How's your membership doing?" "What happened in your new journal?" This was a time to just say,
okay, we have to come out together with a powerful statement that supports educators and helps to push back against this noise, and as Ms. King shared
earlier when she was describing the PTA's mission statement, all of our mission statements are some variation of that. We exist to provide
service support to educators. We exist to uplift voices, so that our students have what they need to be successful, and what they need,
first and foremost, besides resources are teachers that are there for them, that have their back, and that have the support they need. So,
all this is to say that we felt this was the moment to come together, but it's also not the first, right? I mean today is one example of that and we do project
that they're going to be future needs for us as associations to come together. What I think the four of us are most proud of is that we had our Boards
approve this statement within days of it being finished, and so, as you know, many times with organizations it can be a hard process, and you want to make sure
you get the language right, and you're not offending any communities, and that you're actually contributing to a conversation in a meaningful way. So I
think I speak on behalf of all of us in saying we're just very proud of the fact that our associations were able to come together this quickly
in support of educators.
Certainly anybody who's watched national news, or local news, or cable news is well aware of some of the the chaos and some of the
issues that are, and the conflicts, frankly, that are are playing out but I would love... and maybe Emily and Larry, the two of you can walk us through this. Just
give us a 101. What conflicts are we seeing? What's playing out? What's behind
it? Whether we're talking about people freaking out at school board meetings, or we're talking about people challenging what's happening
in a classroom, or board rooms, or specifically what's happening in certain states. Emily, do you mind starting us off and then, Larry, maybe you
can jump in?
Sure, I'm happy to. Soledad, you use the the word "chaos" and that is so true.
And while there there is so much chaos externally, let's start with the students. Students today have endured, and continue
to endure, a pandemic and all of the isolation that has transpired, the trauma. And the consequence is that the teachers
teaching our students are filled with external realities that distract,
take away their passion, or at least threaten to, and get in the way of engaging the student and developing a love of
learning. I think it's really important that we're all real about the consequences of this. We are saying at the school board level,
teachers named and identified with claims attached to it, in
ways that make teachers really question why they're in the profession.
They're caught in culture conversations that they were never intending to be a part of by prioritizing the needs and the interest
of students first. We have had a great
emphasis over the last 10 plus years on teaching high-interest, diverse text
and introducing as many students to as many titles as possible.
That is under attack every single day, and so, in many ways, we're rolling back the clock on tremendous progress that
has taken place over time with great intentionality and commitment from many communities. Teachers feel
challenged to broaden the titles that they're teaching, the books
that they're choosing, because of realistic fear that they'll
be caught into the chaotic environment you mentioned. The same goes true for
writing prompts, or perhaps the theme of the high school literary magazine for the year. So there's this tremendous chilling effect that gets in the way
of student engagement and student-centric approaches.
Soledad O'Brien: Larry?
I would echo everything that Emily just said. I think what I'll add to that is what's not in the conversation.
And that is, what's not in the conversation, is the lack of teaching of social studies that has occurred throughout the country in
the past 20 years. Ironically enough, social studies instructional time has been eliminated, or reduced significantly, at the elementary and
middle school levels throughout the United States. Almost every state can point to significant losses that results in
a lack of ability to assess kids. It results in a lack of curriculum. It results in a lack of books and other resources for teachers.
What we experience, ironically enough, is that all of the discussion at the State House level on divisive concepts bills, and at the school board level about how
Critical Race Theory must be eliminated from our school curriculum. We would push back and say Social Studies itself has been under
attack for a long time. And what we would love to actually see is the conversation be put towards, "how can we ensure that social education is the foundation
of school, every day?" "How can we ensure that when our kids go into school in early childhood centers, kindergarten right on up to grade 12, every day,
they're experiencing Social Studies?" So I think what's hard for us, is that
we're sort of scratching our heads, I guess to say, how is it that students are being indoctrinated? How is it that teachers are taking... doing criminal acts?
How is it that we need to legislate out content that, quite honestly, we're concerned wasn't being taught in the first place? And that's the heart of the
issue. It's not "we're teaching history wrong and let's start to silence teachers," it's "we may not have been teaching Social Studies
sufficiently, equitably," in the first place. And how can we go about doing that? And I want to echo one quick thing Emily mentioned about the pandemic.
We often forget, I worry even just two years later, that almost overnight on the second weekend in March the entire country's school systems, public school
systems, went to a virtual model without any infrastructure, training, or support
and somehow things worked. In some places. In other places, not so much. We know where the inequities are.
But, we did have a massive transformation overnight and during that brief period of time there was a lot of talk about
the support for schools, the resources, the PPE loans, all of these things.
And I think what's a challenge right now for us, and why the statement was so urgent, is that we do want to make sure that the
conversation stays on the resources needed in a school, in a classroom, not on the deficits we think are happening in teaching.
I'd like other folks on the panel to weigh in on this question, because Larry sort of frames that he'd like to see Social Studies as the foundation,
when actually what we're seeing, in reality, is very much the opposite. If you look at an Education Week analysis they found in the last 18
months, since January of 2021, 43 states have introduced bills or taken
other steps that would restrict teaching Critical Race Theory, or limit how teachers can talk about racism or sexism. 17 states have imposed these bans and
restrictions through legislation or other avenues as well, and proponents of these bills say that examination of racism in this country's classrooms
might cause some students discomfort, right? Might make White students uncomfortable. And I'm curious, so it seems like what your goal, is what
your hope, what Larry's goal and hope is, is just kind of swinging literally the other direction. So I guess my first question would be, and this is open to
any of the panels who want to tackle it, one response would be like, okay let's just not teach anything complicated and messy and challenging, which as a
parent of four kids, I think is a terrible idea, but it is is an option. How do you guys deal with and face this very real and
and very political challenge? Who wants to start?
I'll start, and not exactly answering that question, but it partly
relates to something that Larry said, because there were there were Federal
policy changes that were put in place about 20 years ago and one of the results of those, what is tested, is what's taught.
And when mathematics was tested it was at the ground level, at the
classroom level, at the expense of other subjects. And we saw in schools that there was less science being taught,
there was less social studies being taught, and I don't think I represent math teachers; we want
mathematics to be taught, but we don't want to be taught at the expense of a well-rounded education of students, and I think all four of us
here are here to speak on behalf of that.
So that's something I want to make really clear; that we're all for and all speaking on behalf of.
Great. Well, Ericka, maybe you can weigh in, and thank you for that, Ken, for that sort of
umbrella answer. But I'm curious about the strategy of how you avoid
talking about things that are complicated, and maybe listen, maybe in the sciences, the hard sciences, it's less of an issue than it is around a
book that's being presented, or how we think about history of America that someone's going to learn in Social Studies, but there is
a strategy of..."Let's not just discuss the challenging stuff."
Yeah, it affects science as well. So I think it affects the science classroom in two ways. The first is in science. We've been dealing with controversial issues since the 80s and 90s with
evolution and the teaching of creationism so that was really our first foray into these kinds of cultural discussions. Science is a way of understanding and a way of understanding the natural world,
that is the limits of science. It doesn't speak to morality, it doesn't speak to
religion and that's what should belong in the science classroom. So we've already been through a lot of this in that sort of evolution debate and
it's ironic; I was at our meeting just a few days ago and we were
looking at amazing images that were coming back from the Webb. Those telescopes are designed to look through time. They show evolution, they show the
evolution of stars. And then I went out and listened to one of the talks and it
was from a teacher in an area that has rules around evolution and he was
talking about how he can introduce it to the classroom by having people sort of learn about the history of people that studied evolution because they can't
talk about it directly. So you know this is a fundamental underpinning of all of the sciences, the concept of evolution, the theory of
evolution, and yet we're still having difficulty having that taught in the classrooms. More recently, of course, climate change is an issue that's very
divisive. When we're talking about environmental sciences, that is just that is, everything. We cannot only look around this country,
this summer, as heatwave after heatwave rolls across our country to know that this is an issue, that of course our students are going to bring into the
classroom, of course they're going to have questions around this, and teachers need to be able to address those questions.
But there's another way that all of these discussions are also impacting science classrooms, and that's around the question of equity, so
maybe I don't know what it was like when you learned science; when I was learning science it was kind of a "weed out" course. It was designed to make sure
people didn't learn science in some ways, you know, kind of weed them out, and now we know a lot about how to teach science. There's been a lot of research, a lot of
knowledge, and what we know is we have to start with where the students are, and put equity at the center of all that we're doing. It really comes in with
teachers focusing on the social and emotional learning of their students, because that's how students can engage and be open to learning. So we start with
phenomena that students explore with their ideas rather than the teachers sort of trying to fill the empty vessel you know, that very old saying,
and now not functional kind of way of teaching. And so when we
have attacks that say that we shouldn't be teaching social emotional learning, that we shouldn't be thinking about ideas of equity, that we shouldn't be
thinking about how we make things culturally relevant to the students in our classroom, we are basically creating classrooms where students are not going
to be able to learn to their full potential and that is not where any educator wants to be.
Well, Emily, I have to imagine, if you're an English teacher, it must be... I know lots of teachers who are
in States where books are being banned, they're anxious, they don't
want to do anything that's going to damage their careers, and at the same time, many of the books that are being banned are
are critically acclaimed books. A whole bunch of them are books that I read when I was a kid, so it is a strategy; "Hey listen, just pick the
non-controversial, easy topics. Slide right through, keep your head down." And that's the way to deal with this
That is not a strategy supported by this organization or its courageous members.
It's really a false notion that our students could be shielded
from something labeled discomfort, or something that's uncomfortable. Students are part of communities already,
we're not isolating them somehow in a false way and preparing them for reality
20 years from now, they're forming communities, and connections, and peers and they're interested
in the stories, the histories, the identities, the relations
among everyone around them, adults and children alike. And so I think it's really a dangerous, false notion that
things about life could be avoided. And certainly, as you're noting the English teacher, the English classroom since inception has been the place where
so often students talk about life. And what we're seeing is a doubling
down of commitment from teachers to make sure that students have access to literature, to media, again that's high
interest, and creates that connection where they want to learn more, where they want to write more. And we are working to support teachers
in a very positive way. Rather than being defensive of what might be on a classroom bookshelf, we're trying to emphasize that
stories matter through a new campaign known as "This Story Matters," and instead of being defensive, let's lead with what we know,
how we know good literature, and again good media, good text are selected, and then focus the conversation, if
there's opposition, on why that story shouldn't matter. And we're seeing a lot of progress and momentum and we hope that this adds to
the support NCT offers year-round.
Ken, can I ask you about math? I mean,
Erika kind of illuminated sciences for me, because I would have said, well those are categories that maybe teachers can worry less or have less anxiety
about, kind of what's swirling around them, how does it play out in math?
It does play out in math, I think, and that's, it needs a little bit more
explaining because I think people who understand this issue at the largest level, you certainly can understand,
a lot of what Emily, and her members, and her organization, have been dealing with. I can make everybody understand what book banning is, and you can't teach this,
and the effects that has on on teachers trying to teach English and reading, and what we hear in mathematics is, "2+2=4," what more is there?
Well, there's a lot more than that. And we heard it mentioned earlier this afternoon, meeting students where they are,
and part of that is culturally responsive teaching, and again teachers are the ones who know
their students best, and they're the ones who know best how to do that, and that shouldn't be something that's decided by policies or policy makers, that are handed down to the
teachers, and that they have to implement in the classroom. Again that goes back to what we were talking about and freedom to
teach. Teachers are professionals, they're highly qualified, they're the ones who know best what
works in classrooms, and they should be permitted to do that and teach that way
Larry, in my original question, I was talking about Critical Race Theory, which I should note, there's no
elementary school students, middle school students, who are learning Critical Race Theory. I've said that five million times, I don't know that that message is
getting through. But I'd love to ask you a little bit about that, because that's under your social studies banner, but also more than that,
what's been the impact of... the long-term impact of this legislation? What do you worry that that impact could be?
Well, I guess, first of all I'll go back to the idea that our discipline's heart is about the
human-made world, what makes us human, what are our shared values and stories,
what are the traditions and histories we have in common, but are also unique to us individually, how do we live on the land, how do we set up economic systems,
how do we set up a government, how do we organize ourselves, how do we organize ourselves in a neighborhood, much less at the voting booth, right? I mean that's at
the heart of what we're in. As all of us are talking about... We do relate to each other, we need each other
for that. I can't study economics without an understanding of mathematical reasoning. I can't study geography without understanding
the physical land and how we work on that. For us, I think the the study of humanity is the study of where we mess up, where
we succeed, where our potential is, where we fall down and pick ourselves up, but
we don't eat when we're not hungry, right? We eat when we're hungry, so asking questions about the world around
us and being prepared that sometimes the answers aren't what we wanted to hear, but that's okay, because now I've got a solution for how to fix that, or solve
that, or devote my life to it, that's what education is all about. So to your your point, that Critical Race Theory is not part of the
curriculum because, first of all, it's an academic theory, and secondly, we don't teach theory to elementary kids. We really don't teach theory to upper
secondary kids either. What we do is we provide a classroom space where kids ask about the world around them. Where we're concerned the long-term impact of these
divisive concepts bills might be is, first and foremost, silencing teachers. Teachers choosing not to enter the profession, because why would I enter a
profession where I might get publicly fired, like in the news by a state leader. I don't want that for myself. I don't want
my name there. I'm searchable on social media and that kind of pressure, we worry about the impact that could have. Or maybe people who
are in the teaching workforce deciding to leave sooner than they were really planning to. For kids though, I think an entire
generation not being taught the inquiry skills that are at the heart of studying what makes us human, and I think the real challenge for us
here, right now, is again we're concerned about who's being taught, what, how are kids walking home? They're being taught to to be ashamed of themselves.
They're taught to hate their history. Well, quite the opposite, we're concerned that kids are going to walk home not knowing their history, not understanding
the relationship they have to larger society, that being an actively civically engaged person is not just the voting booth, it's not just the three branches
of government, it's when you step out of your house and you see trash on the curb, do you pick it up do you tell a neighbor? Do you ignore it? That's also part of
civil society. And for us, the worries and I think I speak for all four of us when I say we're worried about our educator
workforce feeling like this isn't the career for them and now we've lost those licensed professionals, and they are licensed professionals, like a lawyer
like your real estate agent, like a plumber, these are trained professionals whose job is to know how to work with kids in developmentally appropriate ways.
Meaning if I'm a seventh grade teacher or a sixth or a first grade teacher, I know how to provide instruction for the group. We're worried about that for
teachers and for our kids, we're just worried that we will have a workforce not ready for the rigors of active civic life, ready for graduation.
One quick thing to let out, I'll just add to that, is another thing about the legislation that concerns us is the contradiction in the legislation,
often restricting topics that elsewhere in state standards, or state or district curriculum, or even in state assessments, is required. So, for example, if we're
restricting topics on teaching of the institution of slavery, for instance, and yet in a state assessment, we are asked questions about analyzing the impact of
slavery on the economy, for example, that's going to create attention that I think a lot of teachers are also stressed about too, because I'm
supposed to teach it in state law but I'm not supposed to teach it in state law, I give up. And again we don't want to see that for our teachers or kids.
My mom was a teacher for many many years, some of them in my high school, which is a whole other story, which I highly do not recommend for any high school
students, but the teachers that I know who, I think what you're saying, is what I hear from them, right?
That they're nervous, they're frustrated, it just feels like a very challenging time. So maybe Emily, you can weigh in for
me on on what exactly you're hearing from teachers, because it does
feel like there's this crossfire that's happening and teachers are caught in the middle. What are they telling you and how are some responding, in ways that you
think would be worth passing along, and then after Emily, anybody else who's got a story about that, I'd love to hear from you.
What I hear on a daily basis is that this crossfire contradicts what's best for students. That this crossfire
pulls away from the passion, the expertise, that teachers have worked so
diligently to obtain over time, and towards something that has nothing
to do with the matter that they're charged to teach.
Again this moves into then a chilling effect, where one is more pensive or tentative, about their expertise that they hold
or the choices that they make, and we all know, even if we go back to our time as
students, what happens in a classroom between the opening bell and the time
when particular subject matter is ending in a day? The lesson changes tremendously and a teacher must be agile and flexible and
call on so many different funds of knowledge to respond and take the class to the ultimate
learning aim. So again, we are seeing book challenges. We are seeing that writing move, and directions that are
limiting the expression of students, and the sharing of it. All at the same time, when society is
imposing such trauma; the pandemic, the effects of social media, the concerns that have led now
to a national response with the National Suicide Line and now's the time when we need to be so in tune with the communities, and in the case of
teachers, the students, before us, and what we find, looking for the light, looking for the
positive, when students voices are heard, when their interest in particular subject matter,
their choice of text, what they want to write about, are perhaps community action projects that they're interested in pursuing.
When the student voice is centered, then a lot of the crossfire starts to end, and starts to
remove itself. When students go before school boards and cut through the clutter on the censorship conversations and talk about why a story matters to
them, school boards changed their mind. So there's hope there. There's also such hope with
teachers who are staying in the profession, who are centering themselves around why they entered the profession in the first
place and centering themselves, first and foremost, with students and blocking out
what Toni Morrison so importantly talked about in terms of noise.
And it takes great courage to do that in this environment, but we see such
tremendous hope when that takes place. In just 48 hours NCTE will be holding a
national in-person event preparing teachers for what's ahead in the year to come, with censorship
adding new culturally sustaining pedagogical ideas and lessons,
and also creating space to grieve and to be together to grieve, for the loss
that's happened through the pandemic, to grieve the loss of so much opportunity
in the hands of of chaos. But the teachers who are coming together are staying in it. Perhaps they're entering this profession
through, with courage, because of all that's happening. And so we look to the light and to continue supporting teachers in this way.
Was there anyone else on the panel who wanted to jump in and give me a sense of what they're hearing or seeing from
If I may jump in? Yeah. So, I just got back from our
conference in Chicago. It was with thousands of teachers, just a few short days ago. And the teaching shortage crisis in
science is incredibly acute. Last year 40 schools in the District of Columbia had a shortage of science teachers.
We know from studies that lots of teachers are thinking about leaving the profession, and this is particularly true
for teachers of color who are, when surveyed, over 43% of them say that
they're considering leaving the profession within a year. We are losing talent and I think one of the major reasons is we need to recognize that
teachers are professionals. So often in our society we think of teaching... you hear these dismissive statements around, "Oh, if you
can't do it, then you teach." Which there's nothing that could be further. Like many people, you put them in a classroom full of 20 to 30 13 year olds. I'd like
to see them come out alive at the end of the day. I mean, really. So the truth of the matter is that this is a profession. It is highly skilled
individuals who are in those classrooms, and I think that often in the media this
is set up as sort of teachers versus parents, or parents rights. Teachers want the parents involved. All of the teachers I talk about are really
excited when they have parents involved. We run a series of competitions where we brought in lead teachers and the parents
supporting the students, and let me tell you, that was a whole community. That was a village around those students. That was making it possible. It was
the parents being hand in hand with the teachers. And I know because I had two kids, and they did an entire zoom year at the
dining room that all of us parents were sitting around going, "thank goodness" for teachers. Just about a year ago, we cannot wait until they get back in the
classroom. And now, a year after, now we're attacking teachers and what they're bringing.
What is going on here? I think you know, speaking as a parent, not only as the head of an organization, we need to be supporting our teachers and recognizing
the incredible job that they're doing. I know that teachers, what I saw at our meeting, a lot of it is helping the teachers make connections to each other.
They're surrounded by a lot of negativity. They're surrounded a lot by day-to-day, people bringing them down, people feeling like "I don't know if
I can handle that." And what I heard time and time again from the teachers that were at our conference is "I'm so glad to be around people who are like-minded, who
are passionate about reaching students, who care about reaching students."
We had a keynote speaker, and his major message was "we are in it for students. We are here for students." When he ended on that message, there was
not a dry eye in that house. The entire audience was there, really feeling the deep commitment that they have to create the next generation
of critical thinkers, of citizens, and I mean that in the broadest sense, who are in our global
community, who are going to make our world a better place. We are just killing ourselves and our future if we
don't support teachers and their ability to get out and help our students be all that they can be. About three weeks into the
pandemic, everybody I know was like, "My kid's teacher is not getting paid
enough for what they're doing." Like, no, whatever they're paying them it is nowhere near enough for what they are going through each and every day. As this
pandemic unfolded, it was just craziness.
So I'm curious and I'm not sure who wants to answer this, but do you think that
teachers see addressing bias or prejudice or discrimination as as part of their responsibility, or is it not part of what they should be doing?
We all talked about this in preparing for this session, and I'm going to be very brief because I think the others will say the same thing
in a different way, but I think when you started to ask that question you saw four heads nodding. We all acknowledge that the best
teachers, and teachers in general, absolutely consider that part of their responsibility. They want to educate the whole student, and
for a math teacher, that doesn't necessarily mean just teaching arithmetic, or math, they want to educate students in any possible way and this
is part of that.
I'll just add to this really quickly, in our association, we have a Code of Ethics for the social studies profession,
and it outlines this very thing; that teachers as licensed professionals, this is what we do. This is baked into us at our core,
before we even walk into a classroom. I mean, we take that responsibility very seriously, all educators do, so I would happily
share with the audience that resource and the fact that we really live and abide by ethical principles, always, and this is
one of the ethics we stand by.
I would add that you know that concept is also baked into the framework for science
education and the Next Generation Science Standards which underpin 48 states science curricula. It is about making
sure that all students can access this knowledge and participate equally.
NCTE is also in full support and agreement. Building on our decades of
work in this area, we have a "Rights and Responsibilities" document that speaks
exactly to this. So all four organizations are unified. Yeah, clearly.
I want to talk about diversity. It's been shown for a long time, that research shows, the importance of providing
learning experiences that recognize diversity that promote empathy and belonging and collaboration, intellectual curiosity.
Specific strategies that State and District leaders can advance include
diversifying the teacher workforce and promoting culturally responsive practices.
Talk to me a little bit about what your various associations are doing
on this front with these practices. What specifically are you doing?
I can speak to that in the science area. So at the at NSTA, we have
an approach to education that aligns with both the framework and the Next Generation Science Standards, that we call "sense making." It starts with a
phenomenon and then the students bring their ideas. So they might be looking at the growth of a plant, or a worm, and they ask their questions. And this teacher is
really there to facilitate their ideas to help guide them through the practices
of science to get to the science ideas. This means that it doesn't start with a bunch of vocabulary, it doesn't start with a bunch of,
"memorize a set of facts," it's starting with those student questions that makes an equitable classroom, because when you start there, you're starting with where
the students are. And all of the students can come up, and it's amazing what goes on in the classrooms. The students engage, they work
in teams, because learning how to work in teams is so important in society today. And it really is based on where the students are.
Then, the teacher is that facilitator and guider of knowledge.
Anyone else want to jump in with that?
I will. Quickly building on Erika's points of student-centered work, NCTE has a number of commitments to the
educator workforce. We have a program specifically to support early-career educators of color,
primarily, though not exclusively, in K–12 settings. Setting up mentoring opportunities and learning networks, so
that teachers have resources and opportunities for conversation that may be impossible to have in one school
building but entirely possible to have through distance relationships, etc.
We're also 20 years in to working on diversifying the scholarly community through a program known as "Cultivating New Voices
of Scholars of Color." So it's both student-facing work, among the four organizations, as well as workforce-facing work.
My last question, and anybody who wants to weigh in on this, is really critical because I want you guys to lay out what what resources, or what tools,
are available for a teacher who wants to be teaching a complete and holistic content to their students, but might be very concerned
about this legislation that we talked about earlier, or even just the the tone and the environment that's swirling around today. Who wants to start
that off? Just take off for me the best thing that a teacher who's got some worries can use as a resource.
Well I would certainly encourage
teachers to go to our website. Yeah. That's always, we do have statements around both climate change and evolution and guidance around those, but we also
have a lot of information about the approaches that can be taken around this "sense making" approach as well as lessons and professional learning. We really
want to help make teachers more efficacious in their classrooms and so we encourage them to come out and look at those resources.
Joining and belonging to a professional home, any of our groups on this panel, provides an opportunity for support from an independent organization, not bound by changing winds. Each of our
organizations have been around through the the test of many times and eras.
That's often the way to find a personal learning network, as well as things like position statements that help justify practice when one may be tentative or feeling like they're coming
under fire. So our professional organizations offer so much, on an ongoing basis.
Just a quick point to add to that. In addition, as some of us are talking about, we maintain online professional learning communities beyond just traditional conferences. We're increasingly in the
virtual learning space, webinars. A lot of times, when when turning points happen, that appear to be really important, but will be discussed tomorrow in the classroom, our members come forward, we will put together either special
programming or enable blogs and discussions to happen, but we only are as strong as our members. Meaning we do turn to all of you, our educators, come join.
We are, as Emily said, your home. We are home for professional learning. We are home for subject areas. We welcome you to join all four of us, or the ones that fit
your specific teaching areas, but most importantly, the strength of numbers for us is that you're not alone. Educators, you have resources and there
are partners in other states and districts, next door, another state away that are dealing with what you're dealing with. Together, we see the
facilitated conversations to be what keep our profession strong and vibrant, and we know that's what will carry us forward as we look to a new school year.
A big thank you to our panel. We're out of time. Lawrence Paska, you just heard from, talking about social studies. Ken Krehbiel,
our expert on math. Emily Kirkpatrick, English. And Erika Shugart, science.
A big "thank you!" I really appreciate it. Clearly, for me ,the takeaways are that this is not gonna get better anytime soon. I don't think we're on a path to
resolve this quickly, in any which way, without sort of passing through some difficult, some honest, and some challenging conversations and
and without a dialogue that gets to resolution,
we run the risk and there is the potential, that this could be a massively divisive issue, especially with
legislation across 43 states. Demographic information obviously shows that schools
are more racially and ethnically, economically diverse than they were
certainly when I was in school, or even just 10 years ago. Culturally and linguistically, a
responsive curriculum is lagging behind that and I think that's problematic. And the state bans that we were just talking about
are particularly problematic because of sometimes the vagueness of the language, or as you mentioned the contradictory nature of what's being
asked of teachers, which can lead to a chilling effect and certainly can leave teachers with some tremendous uncertainty about what's permissible to teach, over here, while they're being asked, over here, to
not teach it. Obviously there's lots of reasons for formal education, and one purpose is to promote the development of skills in students for inquiry as was mentioned, and advancing knowledge and understanding, lots of
different areas, including race, and gender and identity, and science, and everything in between. So I think all of these issues mean that
we're gonna be, "we" meaning you guys, and teachers generally, are going to be discussing, in the best way,
grappling with, in more challenging ways, these issues for a long, long time. The Secretary of the Smithsonian, Lonnie Bunch,
has noted that, "our shared future rests on every American, in every state, in every community, working to try to figure out some some common ground" and as I think was said, you owe students a nuanced and frank delivery
of accurate and inclusive information, so that they can form their own perspectives and opinions and decisions. So I really
appreciate all of our panelists today, thank you ladies and gentlemen. I appreciate your time, and certainly your insights as well, and I'm going to take
this opportunity to hand it right back to Monique.
Thank you two and a half years two and a half years into the pandemic. I hit the mute button thank you so much. I just want to say Thank you to Anna King, to Soledad O'Brien, to our our esteemed panel, who
really helped walk us through some of the contours of that conversation. You know, as a country we must recognize that there is nothing wrong with facing
and understanding our history. By exploring our history, we understand that it is ripe with trial, and also
we understand that we have great ideals about what this country can be. But we haven't always lived up to those ideals. The exploration
of our past, and the complicated history is what it means to be educated in America. When one looks back at points of evolution and change during our history, what you will see is that people like
you and me have confronted the things that are wrong, have shined lights in the darkest places to help unveil these challenges. A country that is afraid to understand
itself, honestly is a country that is not going to fulfill its promise. I think the important takeaway here for
me was that it's important to think about how to bring parents, teachers, community members, students, to the table for dialogue and
conversation. It's not about pitting people against each other, it's not about placing blame, but when we can explore topics like
racism and sexism, and if we do that in the classroom, it's not saying that we don't like America, what we're actually saying is that
we love the idea of America as a place where we can talk about these things
and not be persecuted. While progress has been made, we still have a long way to go.Aand true equity inequality has not yet
been achieved. Today's students will have the civic and moral responsibility
to uphold and build on the progress that has been made as a nation, and we owe it to them to equip them for that job.
I want to end with comments that we had from the National Teacher of the Year, Kurt Russell, this morning.
He challenged us; he said, "Be courageous. Not for yourself, but for our students." So, with that, thank you for joining us today. It's been a wonderful day, filled with lots of
content. We have one more session this afternoon. It's the "technology cafe," so please make sure to check that out
and then come back tomorrow and join us at 10 o'clock. And then we will start at 11 o'clock with our keynote with Dr. Samuel and end
the day at 3 o'clock with award-winning author Jason Reynolds. Thank you for all that you do, and thank you for being with us today.