As a Black girl growing up in Philadelphia, I was fortunate that my late father, a history teacher, taught my sisters and me (and his students) about the important role our enslaved ancestors and other Black people have played in the struggle and progress that has made America what it is today. All of the educators I know understand that an accurate, well-rounded and inclusive education – one where every student sees themselves and others – fosters joy in learning and a deep understanding of the beauty and complexity of our full American story.
Most of us believe that all children, no matter where they live or how much money their parents make, deserve an honest and accurate public education. They want an education that teaches critical thinking and how to learn from mistakes to make a better future. By supporting culturally responsive education that includes students’ diverse history, cultures, families and communities, we enable students to see themselves in what they learn, to have strong relationships with each other and their educators, and to understand the world in which they live.
This is what public education is about.
Blocking AP African American Studies
So, you can’t blame the majority of us who oppose the chilling attack on our youth and our educators by some governors and elected officials. These are politicians who seek to divide parents and educators in order to deny our students their right to resources and their ability to be reflected and respected at school.
The latest example of this disturbing trend is the recent action by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to block a new Advanced Placement African American Studies course from being taught to high school students. For DeSantis, blocking AP African American Studies is a part of a cheap, cynical and dangerous political ploy to drive division and chaos into public education debates.
He seeks to distract communities from his real agenda, which is to first whitewash and then dumb down public education as an excuse to privatize it. His ultimate goal? The destruction of public education, the very foundation of our democracy.
It won’t work. Parents, students, educators, and yes, voters, will continue to reject these efforts to distract us from their failures to provide students with what they need to thrive.
And there are real consequences, not only to the strength of our democracy but also to our students.
The right to learn about others
During my visit to Florida, I listened to Elijah, Juliette and Victoria answer the question, “How does this ban impact you?” Their cogent, eloquent and passionate answers reminded me how amazing our students are. They understand.
As two Black students and one white student, describing the loss of opportunity to learn about themselves and each other, they reflected what is the best of America. Our beautiful diversity. Our unwavering determination. Our constant striving to be better. To be free to learn. And grow. Together.
These brilliant students know the importance of the right to see themselves mirrored in the images and information they receive in school. They talked about the right to learn about others so they can be the critical thinkers and collaborative problem solvers we need them to be.
Preparing students with more knowledge, not less, is essential for an America that prides itself in having a free marketplace of ideas. This is why it is outrageous to see DeSantis and some other elected officials working to substitute their personal political ideology for well-developed, educator-led curricula. Gov. DeSantis is neither an educator nor a historian.
Consider the message the Florida Department of Education is sending to students when it says an AP African American history class “significantly lacks educational value.” State officials are telling all students, of all races, that African American history has no value and should play no part in their education. The message to all Florida students is damaging and dangerous.
We must learn about our nation's sins
My father taught me the importance of learning about the sins of slavery, the evils of Jim Crow, the impact that structural racism has had on our country’s ability to live up to its highest ideals. Learning about both the progress and setbacks, the cultures and experiences of the gorgeous mosaic of people in our diverse nation that are a part of the story of America is a necessary part of our continued journey toward “We the People.”
'History' more recent than you think: Pam's experience at my 1960s white school is the history we need to teach. Not ignore.
Educators have known this all along: A well-rounded education that is culturally responsive and racially inclusive benefits all students – white, Black, brown, Asian American and Pacific Islander, LGBTQ – and is the most effective pedagogical approach.
Students who participate in ethnic studies and have access to a curriculum that honors their cultural assets and provides them with the tools to critique inequality are more engaged and perform better academically. A full and honest curriculum facilitates the core goals of public education: promoting democracy by preparing children for citizenship and cultivating a workforce that can compete in the global marketplace.
Opinion alerts: Get columns from your favorite columnists + expert analysis on top issues, delivered straight to your device through the USA TODAY app. Don't have the app? Download it for free from your app store.
I am so very proud of the people who have dedicated their lives to educating the students of America – the educators who through pedagogically sound, age-appropriate curricula and teaching standards help students understand our collective past, spark curiosity and critical thinking, and prepare all students to meet the challenges of our multicultural present and future.
We will stand united with our parents, students and community allies because we understand that our fates are intertwined. So, every single day, we will provide for, protect and prepare our students for their future – one of promise, possibility and belonging.
Becky Pringle is president of the National Education Association.
You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NEA: DeSantis blocking AP African American Studies hurts all students