WASHINGTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten delivered a galvanizing national speech Tuesday honoring educators for their dedication during COVID and offering a full-throated push for reopening schools for in-person learning, community schools, project-based instruction, literacy and civics—including the teaching of critical thinking and accurate history.
Kicking off the union’s biennial TEACH professional development conference before an audience of thousands of AFT members and leaders, Weingarten celebrated students’ and teachers’ resilience and slammed the torrent of lies, misinformation and personal attacks streaming out of the right-wing echo chamber during the pandemic.
The leader of the 1.7 million-strong union underlined her vision for the next school year and beyond—to create a safe and welcoming environment to help students recover socially, emotionally and academically and to spark kids’ passion and critical thinking to fulfill the purpose and promise of public education.
“Educators have just been through the second-most challenging year of your professional lives. What’s the most challenging year? The one that starts this fall. It won’t be easy, and some people will try to make it harder, like those who have disparaged educators, scapegoated our unions and blamed us for things outside our control, like school closures caused by a pandemic.”
Weingarten pledged to vigorously defend teachers’ legal rights in states such as Texas that have passed laws to prevent them from teaching accurate history to their children.
“Mark my words: Our union will defend any member who gets in trouble for teaching honest history. We have a legal defense fund ready to go. Teaching the truth is not radical or wrong. Distorting history and threatening educators for teaching the truth is what is truly radical and wrong.”
She rejected “the new culture campaign some lawmakers (and Fox News) are using to distort history, limit learning and stoke fears about our public schools.”
“Culture warriors are labeling any discussion of race, racism or discrimination as critical race theory, to try to make it toxic. They are bullying teachers and trying to stop us from teaching students accurate history. This harms students. These culture warriors want to deprive students of a robust understanding of our common history. This will put students at a disadvantage in life by knocking a big hole in their understanding of this country and the world.”
The five-day TEACH (Together Educating America’s Children) conference comprises more than 60 professional development sessions to help the nation’s educators recover and respond to a year marked by unprecedented disruption and inspiring resilience.