By Mandy Manning and Kenji Linane-Booey
I have been an educator for over 20 years. In that time, I’ve taught several subjects, several grade levels and countless students. Because of the variety of cultures, ethnicities and identities my students represent, I always understood that my lessons and my learning environment had to reflect the students in my classroom. I understood this because my students learn better when they feel represented within the curriculum and classroom. Also, when my students have access to honest education that reflects the diversity around them, they develop empathy, feel connected to one another, and are better able to build relationships with people who are different from themselves. When my students have access to a well-rounded education that truly reflects the world around them, they gain the essential critical thinking skills that help them to be connected and productive community members, who care about their fellow citizens.
Discrimination has always been a reality in the education realm. Advocates, educators, students, parents and community members have been fighting for fair and equitable education since before our public education system existed. From “separate but equal” and redlining, to book bans and accurate curriculum, our voices have always been a powerful force in guiding the future of education. Today, one of the battles we are facing is for true and accurate teaching of our nation’s and our world’s history and the full acceptance of our students as individuals.
For half of my teaching career, I taught immigrant and refugee students from every corner of the world. For the other half, I taught students born in the United States who had lived and learned within the same community for their entire lives. What I discovered in teaching all of my students was that the more my students learned about one another’s cultures and current events, made connections to our histories, and saw themselves and their peers reflected in the learning environment, the more they related to and valued one another.
Despite the benefits of an accurate education, across the U.S., states have introduced legislation dictating the limits of what educators can teach about history, gender identity, LGBTQIA+, race and ethnicity, social justice and advocacy. As of early February, there have been 137 bills across 35 states. In our state, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction explicitly requires the education and acceptance of all students and the acknowledgement of all aspects of their individual identity (RCW 28A.600.477, RCW 28A.642.080). Yet, we are seeing local school districts like Mead copying other states like Texas and their education bans as they push for inequitable policies that do not fully represent every community member.
We must combat policies like these. We need to remember that these actions do not exist in a vacuum and if we do not actively and consistently stand up for our students, they will continue to spread from one school district to the next. We must remind our elected leaders of their duty to honor and represent all their constituents through ensuring every child has access to an honest education that reflects their identities and exposes them to the ways of thinking, being, and doing of their peers.
We need every voice to be loud at school board meetings and city council meetings, and we must vote down individuals whose policies limit our students from being able to express themselves fully, and those that limit our teachers from teaching a complete and accurate curriculum. It is only through honest, accurate teaching that represents the diversity of our communities that we will grow and thrive as a nation.
Mandy Manning is the 2018 Washington state Teacher of the Year and the 2018 National Teacher of the year. Kenji Linane-Booey is the Spokane regional field director at League of Education Voters.