Idaho makes its mark on the discussion of diverse ideas

In a moment where racist systems are being put on trial with the George Floyd murder case, Idaho makes its mark on the discussion of diverse ideas. The introduction of RS28866 brought forth a discussion of teaching racist and sexist ideas in Idaho schools, and if passed, would prohibit such teachings. However, this has not been the only discussion about difficult conversations in classrooms.

Discussions in the House ranged from the federal early education grant to ideas of teachers pay. All of these concerns centered around one topic: social justice. The various discussions and the push to take difficult dialogues out of schools is troubling as a teacher.

As a teacher, it is my job to present facts to students and have them critically analyze the content. That’s the primary focus of English and Language Arts standards. It is not my job to tell students how to think about the topic, but to encourage discussions and inquiry that are backed by evidence. The history of our country, in many ways, is indisputable.

It is clear that the idea of slavery is inherently racist and women prohibition inherently sexist, but we have the power to acknowledge these unfavorable times in our history by calling them out and learning from our past.

Slavery began because people believed that people of color were an inferior race. We can acknowledge today the falsity of that claim. Women received the right to vote in 1920, barely over 100 years ago. It is likely that some of our grandmothers were alive and may have been some of the first voters. These actions were intentional and are a part of history, and need to be given the space to discuss and digest the big ideas brought forth so children avoid repeating these actions. It’s also important that these topics are discussed in the classroom.

Conversations around these controversial topics is nothing if not challenging. As a teacher, I feel the tension rise when a hot topic gets mentioned in the classroom. Sometimes you can even see the discomfort or shock of students because they know the various responses that can be elicited when discussing these topics.

As educators, we are tasked with helping our students understand discourse and the exchange of ideas. Banning the discussions of controversial topics makes it more challenging to help our students learn how to respectfully and intellectually engage in tough and crucial conversations. We have a right to free speech and our children deserve that right to learn and exchange ideas.

Tough conversations are going to arise as we learn about various topics. Instead of shying away and leading to possible fear of ideas, let’s use educators as a way to facilitate conversation. We are often trained in managing difficult conversations to show respect and understanding. Many of us also work with diverse populations and navigate tough conversations regularly in our interactions with students. Also, it is part of our standards to teach students how to engage in various types of discussions.

We need to allow controversial topics and conversations to be properly facilitated by educators. We want to develop the next generation of citizens that think critically about information presented to them. If we censor the topics in schools, it is worrisome how they will handle the introduction of controversial ideas later in life, without the structure of a classroom.

The ideas expressed by many of the house members suppress this discourse of critical ideas and issues found in our society, and the prohibition of the exchange of these ideas is disheartening and divisive. Students need the chance to have difficult conversations.

Write to your legislators and tell them that there is a need for crucial conversations in the classroom because you see the value teachers bring into leading difficult conversations. You can find your legislators here.  Click on their names to learn more and find contact information. If you search for their websites, you can often send them a message or note to express your thoughts.

Austin Ambrose

About Austin Ambrose

Austin Ambrose is an elementary teacher in Nampa. He has taught for four years. He also is a 2021 Advocacy Fellow at the Association of American Educators.

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