Biden pays tribute to educator teaching students about ‘race, gender and oppression’ amid classroom culture wars

President and First Lady Jill Biden honored Kurt Russell, the veteran educator at Oberlin High School, named Teacher of the Year by the nonprofit Council of State School Principals, during a ceremony at the White House for State and National Teachers of the Year.

Russell teaches electives on African American history as well as race, gender, and oppression. He is also a college basketball coach and faculty advisor for the school’s Black Student Union.

The choice comes as nationwide conservative-led efforts have made successful progress over the past year to stifle discussions of race, gender and sexual identity in the classroom.

At the ceremony in Washington, the president took aim at conservatives for making educators a target of the culture wars.

“Teaching is one of the toughest jobs in this country,” Biden said. “Today there are too many politicians trying to score political points by trying to ban books – even math books. I mean, did you ever think…that when you teach, you you would care about the books being burned and the ban All because it doesn’t fit on anyone’s political agenda American teachers have dedicated their lives to teaching our children and raising them We need to stop make it a target of culture wars.

Russell said at the ceremony that representation in classes is key to providing a well-rounded learning environment.

“Students need to see themselves in the classroom and the program in order to empower and engage,” he said. “That’s why I’ve created classes that make students feel valued. Classes that deal with women’s rights, gay rights, and also an inquiry into black history. It’s important that my students see themselves as I see them – with unlimited potential and full of gifts.”

“I am truly blessed to be part of a profession that transforms and legitimizes student voices and lays the foundation for a more culturally responsive education,” he added.

Conservative-led efforts targeting schools, children, parents and teachers

Talk to “CBS Mornings” after being named teacher of the year, Russell stressed that he teaches history, not critical race theory – which recognizes that systemic racism is part of American society and challenges the beliefs that allow it to flourish. The Ohio educator said he wanted to make sure his classes were seen as “standardized and not different.”
In Russell’s home state of Ohio this month, Republican state lawmakers have introduced a bill banning the teaching of gender identity, sexual orientation, and critical race theory in the classroom for certain classes. Republican state governor Mike DeWine said he wants Ohio to be “inclusive” and “welcoming,” but hasn’t taken a definitive position on the bill. Earlier this year, DeWine — who briefly served as a high school teacher before entering law school — says he opposes critical race theory but believed that the flaws in American history, such as slavery, should continue to be taught in schools.
At least a dozen laws aimed at restrict how topics like racism, sexism and US history are taught in US schools have been passed in several states and more than 100 bills have been proposed since last year, according to the group. free expression PEN America.
Recently, the Florida Department of Education announced that the state has rejected more than 50 math textbooks from next school year‘s curriculum, citing references to critical race theory among the reasons for the rejections. The state is also one of 26 states where books are banned in school districts, according to PEN America. Florida lawmakers banned the teaching of critical race theory in schools in June 2021.

Florida’s efforts have particularly touched the nerve of the Biden administration.

Biden took the rare step of weighing in on what was then a bill — and is now a state law — banning certain discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom. Recently, Disney’s criticism of the so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law led state Republicans to pass legislation last week that ends the Walt Disney Company’s self-governing status in the state. .
And just over last week, Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill directing the state’s Department of Education to withhold certain public funds from local school districts that fail or refuse to determine a student’s gender to participate in school sports. And Oklahoma Republican Governor Kevin Stitt also signed a new law that bans non-binary gender markers on birth certificates in the state.
Last month, a Texas appeals court also reinstated a temporary injunction ensuring that families seeking gender-affirming care for their transgender children cannot be investigated by state authorities. State. In late February, Texas GOP Governor Greg Abbott ordered the Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate families seeking gender-specific surgical care and prescription drugs for their children, after the state attorney general issued a legal opinion saying it should be considered child abuse.

The measures are part of a broader Conservative effort to make it harder for transgender and non-binary Americans to receive gender-affirming health care, play sports, or change their birth certificates and other identifying documents. to match their gender identity. LGBTQ advocates say allowing people to use non-binary gender markers can reduce the risk of harassment and discrimination they face when their perceived physical appearance doesn’t match the genders on their identity documents.

Teachers under pressure

American teachers, advocates say, are still under immense pressure from the stresses of the coronavirus pandemic.

Wednesday’s ceremony at the White House to honor educators comes after the The National Education Association has published a series of reports illustrating alarming data on staffing shortages and teacher compensation. These shortcomings in the American education system, according to the NEA, will have a direct effect on students and families.

When adjusted for inflation, American teachers take home $2,179 less a year, on average, than they did a decade ago, the NEA report says.

As the country continues to face a shortage of teachers, future educators say they are being pushed out due to low salaries, high stress, as well as the effects of the pandemic and remote learning.
The average starting salary for a US teacher in the 2020-2021 school year was $41,770, down 4% from the previous year. And an NEA survey found that 55% of educators are ready to leave the profession sooner than expected and teachers’ job satisfaction is at rock bottom.

At Wednesday’s ceremony at the White House, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona acknowledged that “teachers are being asked to do more and more” and highlighted the Biden administration’s calls for higher salaries. higher, development opportunities, more support staff and better working conditions.

“We need more teachers,” first lady Jill Biden, a teacher herself, told the crowd. “I can’t promise it will be easy work, can I? But I can promise it will fill your life with meaning, purpose and joy.”

This story was updated with additional developments on Wednesday.

CNN’s Chris Boyette, Paul LeBlanc, Andy Rose, Tina Burnside, Zoe Sottile, Nicole Chavez and Faith Karimi contributed to this report.

Comments are closed.