AFT-NH Testimony on Teacher Loyalty Bill (HB 1255)

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Testimony on HB1255

From Debrah Howes, President AFT-NH To 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 HB1255. This bill would outlaw advocating anything that “promotes a negative view of the founding or history of the United States.” Just like the Divisive Concepts law that our union is challenging in court, this bill is so vague that it would put teachers’ licenses and jobs at risk for teaching even the most basic facts about American history. Our members are dedicated to meeting students’ needs by engaging them in honest history lessons that teach them to think critically about information. It would be a disservice to our students to limit class materials or discussions to only the parts of our history that show our nation in a positive light.

If you’re a teacher, this legislation leaves you totally confused on how you can talk about many subjects in your classroom. How do you adequately and accurately discuss the 3/5ths compromise without it shining a negative light on the early days of our Republic? It will have such a chilling effect that teachers will feel intimidated, uncertain, and hampered from teaching a full account of our nation’s history. Even worse, this bill undermines our children’s education and their ability to grow into engaged citizens and critical thinkers.

With all the tumult and trauma of the last few years, more than ever, kids need honest and accurate information from their teachers—not a sanitized version of our country’s story. We owe that honesty to future generations, so they can both celebrate the many things that are wonderful about our American democracy and its ideals, and also learn from the past, repair it, and create a better future for all.

Public education is the lifeblood of our democracy, preparing the next generation for college, career and life. The core of our job as educators is to teach the skills they need to succeed.

Showing history as it really happened isn’t disloyalty. As historian James Bryce wrote back in 1909, “True patriotism consists not in waving a flag, not in shouting ‘our country, right or wrong,’ but in so valuing our country and respecting its best traditions as to desire and to strive that our country shall be righteous as well as strong.” Hiding the truth from our children both wounds their trust in us and dishonors the true meaning of patriotism.

Our children have so many needs right now. Our elected leaders should be supporting public schools and teachers, providing classrooms with resources to help our kids recover and refocus on learning and helping to create safe and welcoming environments for all. Our students don’t need more tension and drama, or laws that pave the way for people to put a bounty on their


teachers’ heads, simply for teaching honest and accurate history. At a time when our elected leaders should be supporting our educators, this flawed law will result in teachers’ voices being silenced, student discussions being stifled and a generation of students viewing American history through rose-colored glasses.

These laws don’t help kids learn, and they don’t help teachers teach. What they will do is deprive our children of a quality education by instilling fear in the classroom and pushing a sugar-coated, shallow version of our country’s history. I urge you to vote this bill Inexpedient to Legislate.

Sincerely, Debrah Howes

President AFT-NH