“Schools are foundational to building democracy. It’s where students get their first taste of what it looks like to be part of an inclusive, multiracial democracy,” said Jessica Acee, a senior fellow at the Western States Center who coauthored a training toolkit on confronting white nationalism in schools. “So to have people who are espousing anti-democratic values, stories, hyperbole, misinformation to our students, it’s really dangerous because this is where they’re developing their sense of what it means to be an American.”
The murkiness of what counts as “too political” can often lead to teachers just steering clear of lessons on controversial political topics altogether, according to Weingarten of the teachers union, who said this was especially true right now for educators in staunchly Republican areas.
The effect, she said, has been to create a climate of fear.
“Teachers are very avoidant of having any of these conversations in class for fear of being criticized that they’re being political, instead of civic-minded [in teaching] about the government,” said Weingarten. “What that does is teachers … [are] fearful they’re going to get in trouble, that their jobs are on the line if they actually try to deconstruct ‘the big lie.’”
Some have, in fact, gotten in hot water for this. A high school social studies teacher in Catoosa County, Georgia (a district near the Tennessee border that is represented in Congress by QAnon believer Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene), was this week forced to remove a post on the school’s online learning platform where he said there had been no evidence of voter fraud in the 2020 election.
“Most of the conspiracy theories involving the November election are centered on lies that cheating took place in cities that are predominantly African-American, places like Atlanta, Philadelphia, or Detroit,” Tom McMahan wrote in the post, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “These are not accidental lies being told, the implied racism behind them is very deliberate and needs to be called out for what it is.”
“A civil society has to respect facts and the truth, even when the truth turns out differently than what we wished for,” he wrote. “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but everyone is NOT entitled to their own FACTS.”
After parents complained, McMahan, who declined to comment to BuzzFeed News, was directed to take down the post. School officials said it was because McMahan had shared his “personal perspective” on “conspiracy theories, rumors and allegations that have not been litigated.”
But the school is wrong. There is, in fact, no evidence to support these election fraud claims. And they were, in fact, litigated; Trump filed more than 60 lawsuits in an attempt to prove the race was “stolen” from him — and he lost them all. McMahan was merely stating the truth.
The racism McMahan highlighted in his post has been present in classrooms for decades, where white teachers with conscious or unconscious biases have treated students of color in unfair ways that have lasting impacts on them. “These teachers are suspending Black kids and Hispanic kids more,” said the anonymous Virginia high school teacher. “So their politics have already been leaking into the classroom for a long time.”
There are no quick antidotes to a nation poisoned by conspiracy theories. Giving students the tools to discern facts and form their own opinion will mean expanding media literacy training and civic education curriculums. But Acee, the Western States Center senior fellow, said it’s not just the students who will need these classes.
“People really need to jump on getting better professional development for faculty and staff so that they can better support students, [and] one really great place to start is with some digital literacy for our adults, as well as our students, so people know where misinformation is coming from, what it means, how to snuff it out, how to identify it,” said Acee. “We’re starting in a lot of circles to ask that of our students, but I haven’t seen anyone asking that of faculty and staff.” ●
This content was originally published here.