Equity in Education: Be Vigilant

If you are an AAUW member, you probably proclaim that you are interested in education. Perhaps you give money for scholarships. Now is the time for you to take an interest in the actual content of education in the context of AAUW’s policy of equity in education. Governor DeSantis approved new civics education standards that exclude discussion of systemic racism and promote, in my opinion, what we used to call “jingoism”. Equity calls for the stories of previously excluded people to be taught.

The Florida Department of Education’s fear of dangerous ideas goes way back. When I was in high school in Gainesville Florida, the state decided that perhaps we should learn something about communism, a very dangerous idea that we might fall victim to if it were taught indiscriminately. So they produced a movie series that seniors were allowed to watch in the auditorium, called “Americanism versus Communism”. Now might be a good time for the state to produce another video series, “Americanism versus Critical Race Theory”. After all, who knows what kids might pick up on the outside that might suggest to them that the promises of liberty and justice for all really did not apply to everyone?

Instead, they have produced a new civics education curriculum that is quite rigorous in its promotion of an absolutely laudatory understanding of all American institutions and practices. The student is to understand the advantages of limited government, capitalism, and the influence of Hebraic and Christian religion on America’s founding ideas.  The words “slave” and “slavery” are not found in the standards. The word “native” is found only in a context that praises the government for granting rights to Native Americans, among other “groups”. Any fault in granting civil rights to these groups was remedied: “Explain how the principles contained in foundational documents contributed to the expansion of civil rights and liberties over time.” Much attention is paid to those foundational documents, but no mention is made of the Constitution’s compromises that perpetuated slavery and denied rights to women.

In my graduate work I learned the maxim that it is the victors who write the histories. We cannot allow the political victors to write, for their own benefit, the history that students will learn in school. We have scholars and journalists nowadays who are willing to dig and learn the histories of people who were left out of official accounts. Florida Rep. Ramon Alexander (D-8) collected a list of ten “pieces of factual Florida history” that have been left out: slavery and the role of enslaved laborers in building our monuments, systematic racism (Jim Crow, redlining, mortgage discrimination), two destroyed towns, and examples of lynchings and vigilante retaliation. One example of the latter, the Jacksonville Ax Handle Saturday “riot,” has recently been the subject of reexamination and apology from the Times-Union for its biased coverage of the events in 1960.

I urge all AAUW members and others who are concerned with equity in education to be alert to potential negative impacts from the new standards. Watch particularly for disciplinary actions taken against teachers who may defy the restrictive standards and try to teach what actually happened: to tell the stories that were suppressed or deceptively reported. And support teachers who promote actual critical thinking rather than acceptance of dogma.

Working for Title IX

Linda Barker in Vero Beach would like to know what other branches are doing to support Title IX. She wrote to national and received the following reply from Olivia Guerrieri (who gave me permission to post):

Meeting with your district’s Title IX Coordinators is a great first step! Successful advocacy is all about relationships, and having a meeting is the first step to starting one. We hope you’ll continue to develop relationships with the Title IX Coordinators you’ve spoken to, and if there are any you haven’t reached out to yet, you can find their information here. One next step you can take in building these relationships is to co-author a letter to the editor about the importance of upholding Title IX protections. You can read more about this idea here, and view a customizable sample letter here. When meeting with Title IX Coordinators, we also encourage you to ask what support your local Title IX Coordinator needs from the community. Finding out what would be most helpful for them will help you use your advocacy power most effectively.
 
Regarding principals serving as Title IX Coordinators, the Department of Education’s 2015 Dear Colleague Letter says, “Title IX does not categorically exclude particular employees from serving as Title IX coordinators. However, when designating a Title IX coordinator, a recipient should be careful to avoid designating an employee whose other job responsibilities may create a conflict of interest. For example, designating a disciplinary board member, general counsel, dean of students, superintendent, principal, or athletics director as the Title IX coordinator may pose a conflict of interest.” This letter is part of the resources you helpfully put in the hands of your local school district. You might consider following up to ask if they have any questions about the information.
 
There are a few other next steps your branch may want to consider moving forward. Many branches have held great community events or forums where they’ve asked local Title IX Coordinators, from all levels of education, to speak about their roles—another way to develop those relationships, while also sharing information with others in your community. One possible discussion topic would be the Civil Rights Data Collection, in which 67 percent of local education agencies reported zero allegations of sexual harassment or bullying during the 2013–14 school year—obviously not an accurate reflection. 
 
AAUW branches have also worked to advance legislation in their states that would address the issue of campus sexual assault. 
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