July 21, 2021

Support Honesty in Teaching

Support Honesty in Teaching Featured Image

Honest education can’t leave out race and racism.

By Ron Martin
Eighth Grade Social Studies Teacher
President, Wisconsin Education Association Council

My mother, part Native American, raised four children as a single parent in northern Wisconsin. She worked three jobs, but always put our education first. She influenced me to become a teacher and be a positive influence in the lives of all students.

I understand how events that came before me shaped my life. How my great-grandfather had to enter the small country store in Barnes, Wisconsin, by the backdoor because Native Americans were not allowed to use the front. How my father’s military service instilled my love of country and inspires me as chairman of my local Patriotic Council. Each of our lives is a mix of struggles and triumphs, and it is the same when it comes to our combined American experience. Painful or proud, it all deserves a place in our shared history.

Honesty in Classrooms

In Wisconsin and across America, there’s a disturbing push to stop educators from teaching honestly about our society in a historical context, including realization of systemic racial inequality and of people who have organized and created coalitions across race, class and gender. It is my professional and moral responsibility to teach my students about the contributions of all of their ancestors and all of those whose stories were left out of textbooks. There is no substitute for the truth.

Legislation to censor teachers from speaking about race and racism has been introduced or passed in at least half of the states in America, aimed at denying students the right to a truthful and honest education. These attempts to rewrite history and stoke fears diminish the experiences of generations of Americans and prevent educators from equipping students to achieve a more equitable future.

Educators are professionals who are best equipped to develop age-appropriate lessons that help students explore difficult conversations about America’s history, including slavery, internment and forced resettlement. Government censorship interferes with our ability to do our jobs and our students’ ability to learn and grow.

Students Need Adequate Funding, Honest Curriculum

The lawmakers pushing for revisionist history in Wisconsin are the same ones who just pushed through a state budget that ties the hands of local school districts from inflationary increases to fund what students need. Denying our classrooms vital resources while demanding more from educators and blocking us from teaching the truth about our nation’s history demonstrates a complete lack of awareness of the unimaginable challenges educators and students have endured during the pandemic.

Republican legislative leaders shirked their duties for 10 months during the pandemic by refusing to pass a single measure to address the pandemic. Now that they’ve convened again, they’ve forwarded a budget that underfunds schools and legislation requiring teachers lie to students about history.

Wisconsin needs leaders who will make long-term investments in education, prevent the need for local referendum to fill state funding gaps, and increase educator salaries to help solve the teacher shortage.

Ignoring racial inequities and their root causes will not solve the very real problems facing our schools and our communities. Educators can objectively teach true history to equip students to understand the roots of inequality and give them the tools to shape a just future.

The members of the Wisconsin Education Association Council support teaching honestly about who we are as a nation, with integrity in how we treat others and courage to do what’s right. Our union stands with our members in classrooms across the state in teaching the truth. It is our promise to our students.

Ron Martin is a middle school social studies teacher and president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council.