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AFT plans to create and promote civics curriculum

While parents express frustration in school board meetings across the country about k-12 curriculum, the American Federation of Teachers wants to put its own politicized stamp on civics education, which could lead to even greater distrust between parents and teachers.

The AFT already helps shape classroom education through its teacher trainings and online lesson sharing platform, but it plans to go even further by developing a new civics curriculum that will be available to teachers across the country, according to AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten.

Weingarten spoke about the union’s plans to influence national civics education during the AFT Teach conference earlier month. Her remarks were given alongside progressive superstars Ibram X. Kendi and Stacey Abrams, as well as First Lady Jill Biden. 

In a speech during the conference, Weingarten said the union’s goal in developing the curriculum is to “provide a counter to the propaganda and the noise that permeates our political culture.”

“It’s how we lay the groundwork for a future generation that’s engaged, that’s informed, and that’s empowered to continue what is the ever-evolving American experiment,” she said.

Weingarten spoke about recent state laws that limit the use of critical race theory in classrooms, and said the AFT will have a legal defense fund for teachers who are found defying the laws.

“We will teach truth and we will defend teachers who teach truth,” said Weingarten, in her introduction to Kendi, making classroom learning sound more like religious teaching than public education. 

Much of the AFT Teach conference focused on anti-racism and anti-bias education, which draw from the tenets of critical race theory. Throughout the training sessions, the speakers endorsed this framework for use in the classroom.

At least one speaker mocked the effort to share diverse viewpoints in the classroom.

“Try to show the other side – I don’t know what the other side of anti-racism is, it’s racism,” said presenter Sari Beth Rosenberg, a New York City teacher who also hosts the PBS NewsHour Extra Educator Series.

“Present them with the other side – quote, unquote,” she said, making air quotes with her hands. “Show them the other side, and don’t narrate, don’t share your opinion. It’s terrible, I hate saying don’t share your opinion, because teachers should be authentic. Maybe a wink or two?”

Several of the presenters made the point that even if certain topics were off-limits based on local curricula or state law, teachers could still insert topics surreptitiously into the classroom.

One of the ways they can do that is by borrowing lesson plans from AFT’s website sharemylesson.com, which has lesson plans from individual teachers but also media companies and special interest groups.

Weingarten’s plan to add a union-developed civics curriculum to the online platform could lead to further scrutiny of teachers and what they’re telling students in their classrooms. With distrust among parents already running high, the AFT’s brand of progressive activism translated into social studies lesson plans is probably not the antidote to political polarization that many are searching for. 

With the stress-level of teachers, parents and students already high because of Covid, AFT’s plan to encourage political division in and out of the classroom by wading into the civics curriculum debate will likely not help the teachers they supposedly serve.

Suzanne Bates

Suzanne Bates is Senior Writer and Researcher with Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector workers offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Prior to joining Americans for Fair Treatment in 2020, Suzanne worked as a journalist for the Associated Press, as Policy Director with the Yankee Institute, as a contributor for The Hartford Courant, and as a regular commentator for WNPR’s The Wheelhouse.