NH teachers fear ‘freedom from discrimination’ law will worsen decline in social studies education

Nikita Stewart, editor of The New York Times and contributor to the 1619 Project, was among those who spoke at the event.

It’s been six months since the state passed the so-called Freedom from Discrimination Act, and some educators say the new legislation has had a disheartening impact on the classroom subject that needs the most support in New Hampshire. right now: social studies.

The topic was at the forefront of a public dialogue session hosted on February 6 by New Hampshire’s Black Heritage Trail. The in-person and virtual event – “Dividing Concepts: A Chilling Effect on History Education” – brought together more than 350 members of the public and featured three panelists, who said the law and other legislation related had made a bad situation worse.

“Social studies has been marginalized to an incredible degree in our schools, which I don’t think people really realize,” said panelist Elizabeth DuBrulle, director of education and public programs at the NH Historical Society. “The irony of it all is with all this hullabaloo about divisive concepts and social studies and critical race theory… social studies teachers today are under greater scrutiny than ever before.”

While “high-stakes testing” in math, English, language and science guarantees resources for those subjects, the state offers little support for educators who want to teach social studies, DuBrulle said.

She said the problem is compounded by the fact that New Hampshire does not require state and country history instruction for students in kindergarten through 7th grade — “all of the above 8andthe note is optional.

Since the passage of the Freedom from Discrimination Act, DuBrulle said, the continued decline in social studies education has been exacerbated.

“It’s a pretty tough time right now as a social studies teacher in New Hampshire,” said panelist Erin Bakkom, a social studies educator at Portsmouth Middle School. “I didn’t expect this 23-year career in the state, and I really hope there will be changes and changes as we move forward.”

Bakkom said the new law has had a negative impact on the comfort of social science educators who want to teach classes on topics such as systemic racism.

“I seek to want, as a teacher, to have honest, open and truthful dialogues, she said. “In New Hampshire, having silence and fear in those conversations with kids – when have we ever seen fear work well in educating people about what the truth is?”

“Almost no social studies”

The law, which critics say chills important conversations about race and history in schools, was passed over the summer. It specifically prohibits schools or government agencies from teaching that an individual is racist, sexist or otherwise oppressive because of their age, gender or other identity – “whether consciously or unconsciously”.

The Legislative Assembly is currently considering a handful of bills that would make changes to the law, ranging from its repeal to expanding its scope to universities and colleges.

“These laws … reflect broader struggles for recognition of the centrality of slavery and its consequences to the very substance and history of our nation,” said discussion moderator and state senator David Watters. , a Democrat from Dover. “In New Hampshire, in addition to current legislation, we need to understand the context of the decline in teaching the history of our state and our nation as well.”

Watters is the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 298, which would repeal the “Freedom from Discrimination” Act.

According to Watters, the law was originally inspired by former President Trump’s executive order that prevented federal agencies and other bodies from introducing certain “divisive concepts” into workplace training.

Since that order, 37 states, including New Hampshire, have introduced bills that would restrict how teachers can discuss racism and sexism in the classroom, according to an ongoing analysis by Education Weekly.

Panelist Nikita Stewart, real estate editor at The New York Times, said she’s seen the effect of this wave of legislation over time. Stewart contributed to the “1619 Project”, a Times initiative that “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the national narrative of the United States”.

“In 2019 and 2020, I met with teachers about how they could use the 1619 Project to improve their lessons about slavery, and now I’m asking teachers if they can actually use it,” Stewart said. .

Stewart’s story for the project revolved around why slavery is misunderstood in American schools, but she said Sunday the question morphed into why slavery wasn’t taught.

DuBrulle said a Historical Society survey of teachers and administrators found that “there is almost no social studies left in K-7 education in this state.”

The survey was primarily aimed at gathering feedback on the materials educators need to begin teaching state history and civics, which DuBrulle’s organization has used to inform its new curriculum. social media, “Moose on the Loose”.

“Everyone argues about what we teach and how we teach it, but the truth is that in most schools in New Hampshire, they don’t teach it at all,” she said.

The exceptions are in wealthier areas, such as Portsmouth, Exeter and Bedford, DuBrulle added.

Despite these findings, DuBrulle said he has heard people from all political walks of life worry about the decline of social studies education.

” Everyone is concerned. Everyone wants to do something about it, and I think we can if we all start working together,” she said.

The event was part of a weekly series hosted by the Black Heritage Trail, Elinor Williams Hooker Tea Talks, which takes place from 2-3:30 p.m. on Sundays, in person and on Zoom.

This article is shared by partners of the Granite State News Collaborative as part of its Race and Equity Project. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.

About Marjorie C. Hudson

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