AFT-NH Testimony on HB 309
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 4000 teachers, paraeducators and school support staff, public service employees and higher education faculty across New Hampshire.
I write to you in opposition to HB 309 as it is written. This is not because we are opposed to 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, the changes it has undergone through the years, and how those changes have impacts and echoes down into current time. To teach the Civil Rights Era as a closed topic that ended in 1968 does a great disservice to our students, and to their parents who are relying on us to not only help students learn the facts but understand their significance.
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 specific aspects of Civil Rights. And teaching it with the required additional unit on other worldwide examples of “discriminatory injustice” while intended to provide enhanced context is more likely to muddy the waters in the rush to cover the mandated curriculum.
Without a clear roadmap, such as the NH State Standards or Frameworks for Social Studies, it is a danger that students will only get an exposure to some of the concepts without any deep understanding of how they fit together. The Social Studies Framework is 7 years overdue for revision. The desire to see students study and learn from the lessons of the Civil Rights Era is one we can agree on. Let’s make sure we put the standards in place so that students learn not only isolated facts, which they soon forget, but also the great cause and effect cycle of history. 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.
AFT-NH urges you to vote ITL on HB309. Please address your concerns about the content of the Social Studies Framework to the NH Department of Education.