AFT-NH Testimony on HB 1632 relative to civics education

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Testimony on HB 1632 (relative to civics education)

From Debrah Howes

President AFT-NH To the NH House Education Committee

Dear Chairman Ladd and Members of the Committee,

My name is Debrah Howes. I am the president of the American Federation of Teachers – NH. AFT-NH represents 3,500 teachers, paraeducators and school support staff, public service employees, and higher education staff across New Hampshire.

I write to you in opposition to HB 1632 – not because we are opposed to the teaching about the Civil Rights Era, but because we are opposed to the packaging and teaching of the Civil Rights Era out of its proper context in the full sweep of United States history. AFT-NH firmly believes in providing all students a robust, engaging, and factual US history education so they can understand how our nation was formed and the changes it has undergone through the years, up to and including the present time.

This proposed unit of study needs a lot of background knowledge for students to fully grasp the significance of the Civil Rights Era to our nation. For example:

  • Students must first comprehend the evils of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery as it existed in the United States.
  • Students need to see how the tactics of the Abolitionists, Suffragists and the Labor movement as well as the strength of community within black churches helped shape the individuals and organizations that made up the Civil Rights movement.
  • Students need to understand that free black men gained the right to vote, be educated and own property in Reconstruction of the 1870s. Then those rights were taken away or severely curtailed through poll taxes, literacy tests, segregation laws and peonage starting in the 1890s.
  • Students need to understand the experience of segregation in the Jim Crow era, the vigilante action of lynchings and the violent outbreaks at places such Wilmington, NC in 1898, Elaine, AR in 1919 and Tulsa OK in 1921.

This is some of the background students need to put the Civil Rights Era in context of United States history. It is necessary so they can understand what it was that the individuals and organizations of the Civil Rights movement were seeking to overcome, comprehend their successes and their failures and realize what yet remains undone. As part of a robust, well- rounded curriculum in US History, students would encounter these concepts before they studied the Civil Rights Era. If a stand-alone law requiring teaching of the Civil Rights Era passes, some of these building blocks may be shortchanged in the rush to fit everything in and still get to the new, and mandated by state law, teaching on Civil Rights.

The appropriate place for this proposal is at the NH Department of Education through inclusion in a revised NH State Standards or Frameworks for Social Studies. That way we can be sure that the Civil Rights Era is taught in a way that respects the need for all the necessary prerequisite learning for a full and robust understanding of the ideas. We can be sure that the intended enduring understanding of the unit, that hatred based on an immutable characteristic produces profound injustice and should be worked against, does not get diluted because students are unprepared. The NH State Framework on Social Studies was last updated in 2006, and by law is supposed to be updated every 10 years. While the update is overdue, it is my understanding that the process is underway. AFT-NH urges you to vote ITL on this bill and work with the NH DOE to get this unit included in a cohesive framework that ties together all the necessary elements of a robust social studies education.

Sincerely, Debrah Howes

President AFT-NH