Responding to a national atmosphere in which more and more state legislatures have adopted laws restricting content in classrooms and even public libraries, the voting delegates at the United Church of Christ’s general synod adopted a resolution this month in support of educators and academic freedom.
The resolution comes at a time when state legislators and local boards have increased efforts to exert control over classrooms and libraries. While not speaking directly to the UCC resolution, The Intelligencer summarizes the situation the synod addressed:
Over the past three years, legislators in 28 states have passed at least 71 bills controlling what teachers and students can say and do at school. A wave of library purges, subject-matter restrictions, and potential legal threats against educators has followed.
Education has become an obsession on the political right, which now sees it as the central battlefield upon which this country’s future will be settled. Schoolhouses are being conscripted into a cataclysmic war in which no compromise is possible — in which a child in a red state will be discouraged from asking questions about sexual identity, or a professor will be barred from exploring the ways in which white supremacy has shaped America today…
The United Church’s news service reports that the United Church of Christ in New Brighton, Minn., sponsored the resolution supporting greater rather than less classroom freedom in conjunction with a number of other Minnesota congregations.
…Longtime career educator Jane Giles, a member of the Open and Affirming team at New Brighton, who helped draft it.
In addition to affirming teachers, the resolution also affirms parents and other adults as well as lifts up the work of students of all ages, Pryor explained in presenting the resolution for adoption.
“Relying on educators to make decisions in the best interest of all students consistent with research and best practice gave us pause,” said Pryor, explaining the addition of “peer-reviewed” due to an awareness that organizations designed to support public schools also are at risk of similar attacks.”
The resolution, which the church’s national assembly adopted 651-13 with four abstentions on July 3, notes that the denominations from which the UCC’s 1957 merger originated founded a number of colleges and universities, that the church “has claimed to be a thinking church as well as a feeling and believing church”, and that the UCC has a demonstrated commitment to oppressed and disenfranchised minorities. It continues:
WHEREAS students benefit greatly from the study of literature and art that addresses the full range of being human; and
WHEREAS proposals to ban discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools send a profoundly negative message of non-acceptance to students whose romantic attraction does not conform to heteronormative assumptions, and to students who may be experiencing gender dysphoria or who have already realized that their real gender does not match that which was assigned at birth and by socialization;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Thirty-Fourth General Synod of the United Church of Christ declares that it is vital for every person, of every race, skin color, culture, religion, language status, gender, sexual orientation, disability, income, and/or family background to be given an opportunity to see themselves and their neighbors represented, to access truthful information, and to learn from our past; and so that students are better equipped to advocate for, and to reach, their full potential as critical thinkers in school environments that continually strive for equity in all aspects of schooling, from academics and curriculum to extra-curricular activities and school culture;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Thirty-Fourth General Synod of the United Church of Christ affirms support of our public education systems and educators, as well as academic freedom, and the right of educators to make decisions that are in the best interest of ALL students, consistent with peer-reviewed research and best practice…
The resolution continues by saying that evaluation of teaching methodologies and content is necessary to strengthen schools, “but harassment of teachers, administrators and school board members is harmful to them, to the schools and educational systems they represent, and most especially, to the students they serve.”
The document says that the UCC stands against efforts to “inflame the public with hateful rhetoric toward educators; to censor or ban what is taught in public school classrooms; to censor or ban books and media in school libraries; to deny the histories of oppression experienced by marginalized groups…and to impose burdensome disclosure mandates related to classroom lessons, assignments and activities.”
By adopting the resolution, the synod encouraged “all settings of the church” to use it when developing talking points for public presentations when addressing assemblies “where such matters are being dealt with, including state legislatures, local school boards, parent-teacher associations, ministerial associations, community groups, and the like.”
Photo: (Tima Miroshnichenko/PEXELS)