Lessons in Lunacy
Teachers' union vs free speech and political diversity
By Olivia Grady
On November 10, 2016, the United Educators of San Francisco, a union of San Francisco public school teachers, released a statement called “Moving Forward After the Election.”
The statement first praised the anti-Trump protests that had broken out after the election and claimed that everyone was less safe as a result of Mr. Trump's electoral victory:
The results of the November election are rightfully sending people to the streets, taking a stand against the vile hatred and intolerance that Donald Trump represents. His election has made all of us less safe in our lives, but particularly those who are immigrants, people of color, the LGBTQ community, the Muslim community, and women.
The statement then suggested that teachers talk to their students about this election and suggested articles which gave recommendations on how to do this.
The first suggested article was from the Huffington Post called “What Do We Tell the Children?” It laid out several steps: tell them that they are protected; tell them that the outcome of the election will be honored; teach them “how to be responsible members of a civic society”; and remind them that not everyone who voted for Trump is a bigot.
While the message overall in this article was reasonable, there were a few statements that stood out like this one:
I fear that this kind of intimidation (author was threatened for free speech) will only increase in the event of a Trump victory. I fear that it will worsen tomorrow ― as soon as I hit send ― if Trump supporters are emboldened in their aggression towards people with whom they disagree.
The more problematic post was the letter and lesson plan that the union shared from Mission High School (San Francisco) Peer Resources teacher Fakhra Shah.
In the letter to teachers, Ms. Shah encourages them to stop teaching the day after the election and allow students to share their views on the election. She however calls Trump a racist and sexist as well as the over 61 million people who voted for him: “Let us please not sidestep the fact that a racist and sexist man has become the president of our country by pandering to a huge racist and sexist base.”
The use of foul language by students was allowed too in this lesson plan:
I know that they might curse and swear, but you would too if you have suffered under the constructs of white supremacy or experienced sexism, or any isms or lack of privilege. You would especially do so if you have not yet developed all of the tools necessary to fight this oppression.
Another point of the many in this lesson plan was not to accept the results of this election (this point was bolded in the plan):
DO NOT: Tell them that we have LOST and that we have to accept this. We do not have to accept ANYTHING except that we must and will fight for justice against an unjust system and against unjust people.
This post election response by this teachers’ union is shocking. First, the union called about half of the voters racists thereby suggesting that teachers instruct children that free speech and political diversity should not be allowed. This will never lead to a unified America and will create a more divisive atmosphere.
Second, the letter recommends that this lesson plan should be taught instead of other lessons. California however has some of the lowest test scores in the country. Only 29 percent of fourth grade California students in 2015 were proficient in Math, and 28 percent were proficient in Reading. The percentage of eighth graders who were proficient in Math dropped to 27 percent, while 28 percent were proficient in Reading.
It’s time for teachers’ unions to encourage their members to teach what will give students more opportunities rather than to despise those with different political beliefs.
Just a thought.