Our legislators, on both sides of the aisle, continually reference their support of education for all students. However, the most recent version of House Bill 324, which passed the House Education Committee today, incites a fear-based approach to limit teachers’ ability to discuss the reality of racism in the United States and would limit students’ engagement with history, current events, and personal health, as well as their social and emotional learning. The bill will also hinder efforts at the school district level to understand and tackle the root cause of inequities in our educational system and address the opportunity gap. While non-discrimination and unity are worthy ideals for which we should all strive every day, this bill would take us further from these goals. The only way to truly work towards unity and nondiscrimination is to bravely and honestly reckon with our country’s complicated past and present.
A growing body of research demonstrates that inclusive teaching practices that connect academic concepts to the everyday lives and experiences of their students can improve students’ academic outcomes, attendance, brain processing, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills; promote feelings of safety and belonging; and can increase engagement and motivation. To ensure that our schools can better meet the social, emotional, and academic needs of all students, curriculum and pedagogy must be relevant, engaging, and inclusive of the experiences and perspectives of North Carolina’s very diverse student population.
“We need to give our students the confidence to become more interculturally competent and to be able to have conversations that are difficult about difficult material.”
–Abby R., UNC Chapel Hill Global Gap Year Fellow
Our students are capable of understanding and engaging in difficult conversations. The Dudley Flood Center at the Public School Forum has hosted conversations with students and educators in recent months about the importance of an inclusive curriculum that includes honest discussions about race and systemic racism in this country. Through these conversations, it has become clear that students are eager to have these discussions.
“We are ready to have these conversations and know what is going on, so we are already talking about these topics at the lunch table and with peers. We want our teachers to talk about these things and make space to bring us together and talk about hard things.”
— KaLa K., Middle Creek High School
We have made progress in the movement toward a more just and equitable world, but we still have much more work to do. Engaging students in these critical conversations and complex issues is an ideal way to enable students to analyze, question, and generate solutions to challenging, real world problems. By denying our students these opportunities, we also deny them their constitutional right to a sound basic education, and we put them, and our nation at a future disadvantage. We must not deny students this right simply because these truths are challenging and uncomfortable.
Our students are ready to learn and reimagine a better future for us all. And, in order to do so, we must ensure that they are equipped with the facts and have the knowledge and skills to lead us there.