In Georgia, black educators are discouraged. They are insulted. Above all, they are crazy.

A new law, signed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, prohibits teachers from teaching students about race and racism. According to the text of HB 1084, this includes any discussions that “the United States of America is fundamentally racist”, “any other form of racial scapegoating or stereotyping”, or “espousing personal political beliefs”. The law “prevents divisive concepts and ideologies from invading the classroom” and removes “obscene materials” from school libraries.

However, it does not address how the violations would be enforced or what the ramifications would be.

“School is a ground for growth for students, for growth in children’s minds,” said Michael Howard, a social studies teacher at Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta. “It threatens that.”

Many black educators said the new law could not only threaten their jobs, but it would also impact their ability to teach and connect with students.

Howard and other black teachers also called the law “myopic”, “dishonest” and a “political ploy”, accusing Kemp of currying favor with conservative voters ahead of his re-election bid this year.

“I don’t think he really understands the importance and impact of passing the law,” Howard said. “The majority of parents want their children to be critical thinkers and for teachers to at least give students the opportunity to form their own opinions and ask difficult questions. The majority of parents do not want a closed view of history.

The law is part of a growing national campaign to remove books and programs about race, racism or the contributions of people of color from classrooms. Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Florida, New Hampshire and Tennessee are among the states that have passed similar bills, with more than a dozen others with bills or policies through state legislatures. As Phyllis Graham, a retired Augusta teacher, put it, the laws are designed “so white kids don’t feel bad about what their great-grandparents did.”

“They don’t think about what black kids need to know about history — or even what’s going on in America right now,” she said. “And with the racial divide in America now, they want teachers to be mom in the classroom? To say that this bill is intended to help is disingenuous.

The governor’s office said in a statement to NBC News that Kemp “has worked with parents and students, education officials, members of the General Assembly, and state and local elected officials, to pass a package legislation that holds students and parents accountable for the education of their children, as well as hardworking Georgia teachers. HB 1084 is a measure that prohibits the teaching of divisive concepts while protecting academic freedom and education. ‘instruction.

Chris Stewart, CEO of Brightbeam.Brightbeam Network

Chris Stewart, CEO of Brightbeam, a nonprofit network of education influencers, said the Georgia bill indicates momentum for such legislation is building.

“We have real problems if we continue to allow the restriction of educators … and turn a blind eye to it,” he said. “You will literally have educators who we entrust to teaching children every day… There will be things that they cannot teach. There will be books that they cannot use. There will be films they won’t be able to show… It’s not just the laws that have no real impact. They will have a literal impact on how our children – black, white and brown – will be educated, based on what their teachers can teach them in the classrooms.

Educator Keene Walker in Atlanta.
Keene Walker, an educator in Atlanta.Moses James IV.

Keene Walker, a veteran educator who teaches at South Atlanta High School, said students depend on teachers to elevate conversations about current events.

“How would a student feel sitting in a classroom now, where last year the same instructor was shining the light, bringing truth to the class and putting it in historical context,” he said, “but now, someone could possibly come in and threaten this teacher’s livelihood on teaching the truth?

“It would be totally irresponsible to ignore important events that are happening because it might be about race,” he continued. “It would be preparing children for school suicide, for social suicide. If we can’t keep it real, raw, and relevant with our students, we’re going to lose an entire generation of future scholars.

In 2020, Washington High students held a Black Lives Matter rally in front of the school. About 300 people from the community also came out, Howard said. “Young people are very aware and know how to mobilize within their community. And the idea of ​​not being able to talk to them about what they just did is unrealistic.

Stewart stressed the importance of relevance.

“Educators everywhere are trying to make their lesson plans relevant to the lives of the kids they have in their classroom because that’s part of teaching,” he said. “Our teaching leads children to understand how some of these very important lessons in the life around them…are relevant to their lives, but they have to see the connections. And educators can’t do a very good job if they the can’t make the connections.

Jeri Byrom taught in Georgia for eight years.
Jeri Byrom taught in Georgia for eight years.Courtesy of Jeri Byrom

Jeri Byrom, who taught in Georgia for eight years before working as an educator in Prague, India, London, Malaysia and South Africa, said the problem comes down to racism.

“[America] was founded on the backs of oppressed people. So we’re just going to write this in the history books now? Not teaching this truth? she says. “There’s no way to shut people up and there’s no way to hide the story. And it’s really misguided and short-sighted to try to do that in schools, where the learning is supposed to take place. Believe me, it will cause more problems.

Black educators said they weren’t looking for trouble – some refused to publicly discuss the bill. But many said it would be hard not to discuss the issues of the day in a society where race plays a huge role in life. Some said they will have to be “creative” to stay within the spirit of the bill.

“And they should,” Byrom said. “You can take something that’s controversial or potentially explosive, and build a curriculum around it and create a way to teach it, so students can say what they feel with respect, they can have a speech around this and learn from it. And they will learn to talk with people who might not feel the same way as them and understand each other. So it’s a huge mistake to try to go that route. It won’t work. There is no way now to silence the students.

Other educators wonder how the state is going to enforce the law, since it wasn’t spelled out in the bill. Stewart said the bill’s wording was intentionally “vague”, leaving room for parents in some areas to find a problem with a discussion of a topic when it may not be considered controversial in others.

“So maybe in some districts it won’t be as much of an issue,” he said. “But this law can be applied in different ways.

“And what it’s really going to do, because it’s so vague and it can be used so powerfully by parents, is that districts are reluctant to do anything controversial, which will force them to proactively remove things from the classroom, from the curriculum that are good for children to read, learn and understand. They will proactively remove these things just so as not to break this very vague law.