For the first time since the adoption of the new state budget, teachers in public schools will have to face advice of the state which limits the way they can talk about certain topics, like racism and sexism.
Presented by his supporters as an “anti-discrimination” bill, its adoption was quickly welcomed. pushback from schools and teachers. The debate over this has become so controversial that white nationalists have shown up at school board meetings to support the ban on critical race theory, which is not mentioned in the legislation.
All Things Considered host Peter Biello spoke to Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut about what the new restrictions will mean for the next school year. Below is a transcript of their conversation.
Biello: At this point, school boards and teachers find themselves at the center of a debate on how to teach racism and sexism. We attend demonstrations at school board meetings and other public places. What do you think of these battles over these policies?
Edelblut: So we want to make sure that we are focusing our students on the skills they need to be successful as citizens of New Hampshire. As you know, Peter, the legislature passed a law, an anti-discrimination law, the Attorney General’s office, the Human Rights Commission and the Ministry of Education issued guidelines on how this can be applied in learning environments, and this focus provides the right framework for people to succeed in ensuring that our students understand these important issues, understand the important history, but at the same time do not address these topics with no kind of bias.
Biello: Regarding this law, teachers have reported that it would have a chilling effect on what they say in class. They can be so careful that they will not say certain things that might actually be beneficial for the education of the students, because if they know that parents can sue them for something they have said in class, they can. feeling obligated to limit how they would talk about it. Essentially, cool down those very important conversations. Was this the effect you wanted it to have?
Edelblut: I don’t think that should cool them off, as the guidelines we’ve published are very clear as to what a qualifying conversation can take place. So if educators think that somehow this is chilling the conversations they are having, they should think about what they are talking about, as there is clearly a lot of leeway for the teacher. teaching in this orientation. And so I think they should stick with that. And I think it will allow them to teach, once again, the whole history of America, to have important conversations with the students, but in a way that is constructive for these students.
Biello: All in all, I’m curious to know you as a Republican, someone whose party has been very interested in having a small government and having the government somehow stay out of people’s lives as much as possible. I’m curious how this law fits in with that, because some might argue that it’s kind of a brutal way for the government to interfere in the classroom.
Edelblut: So I don’t really see it that way. I see it as, really a way for us to show respect to each other. The very intention of the law is to avoid discriminatory behavior and there have been cases of discrimination in our schools. It is therefore important to ensure that when we have a teaching environment it is free from discrimination so that students can be free to learn and grow as individuals. And without it, what we have seen are cases where there was no possibility of free and open expression and conversation on certain issues.
Biello: When it comes to school board meetings and policy discussions there, in some cases white nationalists show up at school board meetings, in some cases intimidating community members. How do school boards respect freedom of expression and are they not subsumed by these cultural wars either?
Edelblut: So I think again, you’ve got to allow the people to have a voice in these meetings.
Biello: Should white nationalists have a voice in these meetings?
Edelblut: Let me finish my conversation. I really want to make sure parents have a voice in the meetings. I think what we also need to do is make sure that by allowing parents to have the primary voice in the conversations that take place, these parents can help shape the education our children receive.
Biello: As we move into this next school year. What will you be monitoring to make sure the school year goes as you hope?
Edelblut: So we will listen to the feedback we receive from the school system and we will listen to the feedback we receive from our educators and our families and, to the extent that we have to make adjustments along the way, we will definitely lean in and make this is to ensure that the right kind of advice is given to everyone so that they can all be successful.
Biello: Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, thank you again for speaking with me.
Edelblut: Thanks, Pierre.
These articles are shared by partners of the Granite State News Collaborative as part of our Race and Fairness Project. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.