Teaching Truth: Putting Students First is a project of UUCF’s social justice and racial justice ministries. It is grounded in UUCF’s dedication to the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Seven Principles as well as the new UU 8th Principle, and is UUCF’s commitment to build brave spaces in a national atmosphere of political aggression inspired by MAGA extremists. In today’s environment, we believe it is especially vital for progressive faith communities to help present a bulwark against fascism.
In 2021, coordinated extremist factions across the country began to ban books with LGBTQIA+ and anti-racist themes (often incorrectly labeled “critical race theory”), harass local school boards and enact legislation that attempts to restrict student learning. These efforts, which are active in Fairfax County, are contrary to UU principles. In response, UUCF has sought to support local school board activists who value inclusion, counter the baseless claims of anti-critical-race-theory (CRT) politics, advocate for teaching inclusive history and against the banning of books written from marginalized LGBTQIA+ perspectives and the perspectives of people of color. See below some of the projects UUCF has undertaken as part of the Teaching Truth Campaign.
Teaching Truth projects
The Teaching Truth teach-in was held on Sat., Jan. 15, 2022, to counter the baseless claims of anti-critical-race-theory (CRT) politics and reinforce the importance of teaching inclusive history. The date of the teach-in commemorated Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday and coincided with Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s first day in office when he vowed to “ban CRT” in the Commonwealth. The teach-in aimed to counter disinformation about CRT and lift up how quality education needs to include “teaching truth.” Organizers included UUCF, SURJ NoVa (Showing Up for Racial Justice Northern Virginia) and Emmaus United Church of Christ, with organizing and moderating support from the African American Policy Forum.
View the full recording of the Teaching Truth teach-in. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Provide an accurate counter-narrative to lies told about teaching accurate history in our schools.
- Reinforce the understanding of why learning accurate, inclusive history is good for students and our communities.
- Offer a curriculum for those interested in having their children learn accurate, inclusive history.
- Initiate a pledge for faith communities to teach inclusive history as a critical moral calling in our efforts to learn from our history and to help build the beloved community of all souls.
In today’s environment of rampant, fear-based disinformation coming from political actors, teachers are pressured to avoid discussing the nation’s and Virginia’s true history, including the wrongs of racism. Students need access to accurate history to understand where we have come from and to grow into adults who make the world more loving, compassionate and equitable – hallmarks of the beloved community envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Organized by groups and individuals committed to acting for truth, equity and justice, the event aims to support the best interests of children and the parents and teachers who understand the benefits of teaching our children the full, true history of our nation.
This faith-driven event is also launching a year-long project to develop a free, inclusive-history curriculum for faith communities and other non-governmental organizations already in development by UUCF’s Religious Education Program.
The teach-in featured a panel of truth tellers who discussed how the lie that CRT is taught in Virginia schools has been used as a reactionary dog whistle. Panelists discussed the challenges facing educators today and how all of us can support accurate fact-based schooling.
Moderator, Tanishia Williams – Critical Race Theory Research Associate at the African American Policy Forum. Ms. Williams has been a teacher, principal, executive director, instructional superintendent and scholar with significant experience in Virginia schools. She is currently researching how the opposition to CRT has harmed educators and students.
Penny Edwards Blue – author of the book “A Time to Protest: Leadership Lessons From My Father.” Ms. Blue is a speaker, coach and CEO of Penny Wise Gateway, LLC. She previously served 8 years on the Franklin County School Board in Southwest Virginia as one of the only African American board members and has first-hand experience with the pressures targeting school boards over the last year.
Neonu Jewell – the founder and spiritual director of Niyah Center, an online interfaith, empowerment and social justice community. Ms. Jewell, who has over 20 years of legal, corporate, academic and diversity and inclusion experience, is a critical race theory fellow at the African American Policy Forum, a think tank started by Kimberlé Crenshaw.
Dr. Andrea Kane – former superintendent for Queen Anne’s County Public Schools (MD), where she led initiatives to address systemic and overt racism. In 2020, Dr. Kane sent an email to parents after the murder of George Floyd, spurring controversy in that community. Her contract with the school system expired and she moved on to be Professor of Practice, Education Leadership at Penn Graduate School of Education.
Rev. Dr. William G. (Bill) Sinkford – president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) from 2001-2009 and currently senior minister at First Unitarian Portland. His tenure at the UUA was marked by strong public witness for social justice and support for marginalized communities, commitments he continues in Portland. Rev. Sinkford’s commitment to liberal religion dates to his teenage years, when he was an active member of the First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati, OH. He had a successful career in the corporate world and ran his own business in the housing field. Later, he returned to Cincinnati and served his home congregation as a lay leader until he answered the call to ministry in 1992.
Dr. James Whitfield – the first black administrator at four different schools in Texas. Most recently Dr. Whitfield served as the much-loved principal at Colleyville Heritage High School, in Colleyville, TX. In an email to the school community that named systemic racism following George Floyd’s murder, Dr. Whitfield faced significant backlash. Ultimately he reached an agreement with the school board to leave that position. Since then, he has spoken publicly and to the media about his experience and the challenges facing educators.
What do we do when books are banned? Share them with neighbors! The project encourages congregants and the community to put banned books into Little Free Libraries to spread access to work that is under attack, usually because of its depiction of LGBTQIA+ people or people of color. For the project, UUCF buys some books and others are donated. Books for adults come from this American Library Association list. Children’s books come from this list. Congregants sign up to deposit a book a Little Free Library. Part of the fun is taking photos or video of the deposits and posting it on social media with the hashtags #unbanbooks #teachingtruth and #readingtruth Questions? Contact UUCF’s Social Justice Coordinator Andrew Batcher.
With the hostile environment especially targeting LGBTQIA+ people at the Fairfax County School Board, UUCF has engaged with local activists including FCPS Pride, the Pride Liberation Project, 4 Public Education and the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, to advocate for teaching true, inclusive history, access to materials that represent diversity, and a non-hostile supportive school environment. UUCF members and friends have spoken at school board meetings, organized and attended rallies outside, and we have assisted with training and providing de-escalation to help ensure a space that is as safe as possible considering the hostility directed towards LGBTQIA+ people.