Over this past summer, anti-public education politicians, aided by extremist political groups and their echo chamber, have launched several coordinated attacks on educators and education justice issues.
These attacks are part of a well-coordinated effort by state legislators to distract us from their own failures to fund our schools and lead during a pandemic by dragging the public discourse into a culture war on their terms. Recently, protests have popped up in Vail Unified, Litchfield Elementary, Dysart Unified, Chandler Unified, Peoria Unified, and Scottsdale Unified school districts. They focus on trigger words like “Critical Race Theory” for conservatives and the press and create media circus shows at school board meetings. Often, the issues brought up are not even happening in these districts or are distorted to fit their anti-public school narrative.
“It’s just not happening. I have never worked with a teacher who thought I’m going to use this position to harm children and change their thinking,” AEA Vice President Marisol Garcia told ABC15 News. “No educator would go against what their parents want. If anything, as teachers we want to work with parents, so they are successful, period.”
According to the Arizona Mirror, these protests have been led by Steven Tyler Daniels, chairman of the Patriot Party of Arizona, a Political Action Committee (PAC) that has collected nearly $170K in donations. Their modus operandi is to livestream video on Facebook while they disrupt school board meetings using trending controversial topics such as mask mandates and equity education curriculum to gain media attention. Their efforts become amplified when state legislators like Senator Kelly Townsend praise them on social media.
“They were coming in small groups last winter, but have become more organized and in larger groups,” Peoria Education Association President Trina Berg said in an interview with the Arizona Mirror. “They speak at our board meetings, but they cannot vote on our board members and do not pay taxes in our districts.”
“They’re not able to influence school board policy by voting for board members because they don’t live in our district, so they come here to prevent our school board from passing any policy,” Katie Nash, president of the Chandler Education Association, said in an interview with the Arizona Mirror. The purpose of these groups is to shut down school board meetings and gain media attention for their extremist views. In order to counter their efforts, the Chandler Education Association, working with the District, has closed off its parking areas during meetings to prevent mobs from intimidating school board members and attendees. Scottsdale Unified School District has adopted these same procedures to prevent violent protests.
Protests soon died down after Daniels was banned from Facebook and he was arrested for trespassing outside a school board meeting in Chandler in June.
What is Critical Race Theory?
Critical race theory is an understanding that who we are, the laws we have in place, the histories that have been handed down to us, have been shaped by race. It’s taught in law school and graduate school to adults.
In our public schools, our kids deserve age-appropriate and accurate history lessons, helping them become the critical thinkers we need to make this a more just, prosperous and equitable country.
No matter our color, background or zip code, we want our kids to have an education that imparts honesty about who we are, integrity in how we treat others, and courage to do what’s right. But the same lawmakers who have denied our classrooms resources and demanded sacrifices of our teachers are now stoking fears about our schools, trying to dictate what teachers say and block kids from learning our shared stories of confronting injustice to build a more perfect union.
The Arizona Legislature recently passed legislation preventing teachers from teaching our students the truth about our history. They push for outdated and inaccurate lessons, redlining the realities of our history in order to justify the harms of our present. AEA Vice President Marisol Garcia taught middle school social studies for 14 years and talks about how this new law will impact teachers in Arizona. “I honestly don’t know how I would teach about the 2020 election and the history that is happening just down the street. At any point in instruction, a teacher could be put in trouble by a parent who disagrees with either side of what is being taught in the classroom.”
What a good teacher knows is we can’t just avoid or lie our way through our challenges; we must find age-appropriate ways to tell hard truths about our country’s past and present in order to prepare our kids to create a better future. Joining together, we can demand that our schools have the resources to meet every child’s needs with well-trained and supported teachers and a curriculum that helps them reckon with and reshape our nation.
Learn More, Act Now
On June 12, 2021, the National Education Association participated in a national day of action coordinated by the Zinn Education Project, which promotes and supports the teaching of people’s history in classrooms across the country, to raise public awareness about the danger of the anti-history education bills. Educators across the nation signed the pledge to teach the truth and held demonstrations. Below are links to provide more information, resources, and ways to take action.