Twenty-five states have taken steps to limit the teaching of critical race theory or to restrict how teachers can discuss racism and sexism, according to a recent analysis by Education Week. But the president of the National Education Association said Tuesday that educators are "doing a disservice" to students by not teaching students about systemic racism.
"We have a rich history in this country," Becky Pringle told CBSN's Anne-Marie Green and Vladimir Duthiers. "We need to make sure that all of that history is included in what we teach our students because we believe in them, and we know that when we teach the truth, they will become leaders of a just society."
Critical race theory is a decades-old academic concept with the core idea that racism is a social construct that's embedded in social, legal and political systems, Education Week reports.
Proponents of critical race theory say that its teachings show how race is implemented into history and that it does not teach that any race is inherently racist. Critics say the theory is divisive and discriminatory.
In May, Idaho Governor Brad Little became the first Republican governor to sign into law a bill that restricts educators from teaching concepts including that "individuals, by virtue of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin, are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of the same sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin."
The bill said teaching concepts of that nature "exacerbate and inflame divisions on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or other criteria in ways contrary to the unity of the nation and the well-being of the state of Idaho and its citizens."
Iowa, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas have signed similar legislation into law, and lawmakers in 20 other states have introduced similar bills, according to Education Weekly's analysis.
Pringle, who has been a teacher for over 30 years, said the debates regarding critical race theory throughout the country are "tactics to divert our attention away from what our students need."
Pringle said the parents and educators she represents "want the educators who have been trained to teach our children to make decisions about what and how they learn, not politicians who are trying to actually not be transparent about what it is they are trying to do."
Pringle also said there are ways to teach topics like slavery to children in an age appropriate way.
"We should never underestimate our students' ability to not only learn about the complete and rich history of this country, but to come together with their shared stories and make sure that they have the opportunity to be those problem solvers we need them to be so we can confront the institutional racism that this country lives with every single day," she said.
She called for educators to "continue to lift our voice to ensure that our students have the truth."
"We are not going to back down," Pringle said. "We are not going to be afraid to teach it, because we know that to not teach it, we are not telling the truth."