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Waterloo teachers protest new state laws in ‘Teach the Truth’ rally

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WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL)- Days after Governor Kim Reynolds signed new legislation opponents say, will dictate what can and cannot be taught in the classroom, several Waterloo educators pledged to 'teach the truth" in their classroom on Saturday.

It was part of a nationwide effort to protest legislation that has either been introduced or passed in Iowa and a handful of other states.

The event in Waterloo was organized by Danny McCabe, a former Hoover Middle School history teacher.

"I was fortunate enough to teach back in a time where I was allowed a certain amount of autonomy. People figured. Alright, he's got his degree in teaching, he's got his degree in history, so he's going to go teach history, and we trust him," McCabe said. "Now, I'm not sure that climate exists. I was able to, within the context of American history which I was assigned to teach, I could bring a lot of his stuff in and make it contextual and relevant."

McCabe, who has been retired for a decade, spent 30 years teaching Eighth Grade American History. He said his lessons had a heavy dose of explicit anti-racism.

He was inspired by one of his early students, Nikole Hannah, now known as Nikole Hannah Jones. She is a Waterloo native and creator of the New York Times Magazine's award-winning 1619 Project.

"She might she might say I inspired her back in the day, but no, she's my inspiration," he said. "She's my teacher now, and that's for sure."

Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer Prize for the project. It aims to reframe history through the lens of slavery and its role in the nation's founding. Hannah-Jones said it teaches a version of history that is not often represented in textbooks and history classes.

On Tuesday, Governor Reynolds signed a bill into law that bans diversity training and teaching that implies the U.S. and the State of Iowa are systemically racist, and training that includes so-called "race scapegoating." HF 802 applies to all Iowa schools, public universities, and government agencies and will affect July 1. The bill passed through Iowa Congress in early May after being amended by the Senate and sent back to the House.

It says agencies cannot hold training that involves certain "specific defined concepts." These include the notion that the country and state are fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist and training that forces people to apologize for their race or sex or cause people to feel guilty because of their race or sex.

"If it does not actually prevent people from teaching, it sure puts a chilling effect on those teachers that would like to teach about the history of slavery, the history of racism in America," McCabe said.

Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange City, introduced a bill this spring to prevent teachers from using the 1619 project in the classroom. The bill would have reduced funding to public schools each day it is used in a history curriculum. It did not have enough support to pass.

"The way that African Americans were brought here and how things were is part of the United States history," Former Waterloo teacher Schnique Rembert said. "The facts that are taught in the classroom are not the complete truth. There's a different version of the facts. The 1619 project's information is educational in helping people understand a different side of history."

Rembert just left the classroom after spending 11 years teaching literature at Waterloo West High School. She called efforts to dictate a specific version of history, sugarcoating the truth.

"Sometimes students aren't going to go out and research on their own what may have happened in the United States," she said. "They are looking to what we're teaching them in the classroom, and by limiting what we're teaching in the classroom, it limits their ability to learn and grow from it. It is important that we have those types of relationships where we can have conversations with students so that they can become better people."

Organizers asked current teachers to take a pledge from the Zinn Education Project. According to its website, the project introduces "students to a more accurate, complex, and engaging understanding of history than is found in traditional textbooks and curricula."

The pledge states “we the undersigned educators will not be bullied. We will continue our commitment to develop critical thinking that supports students to better understand problems in our society, and to develop collective solutions to those problems. We are for truth-telling and uplifting the power of organizing and solidarity that move us toward a more just society.”

Zinn Education Project

Around a dozen educators signed the pledge on Saturday.

"By not teaching the truth, we live a lie, and it's not okay to lie," Rembert said. "It is not okay to sugarcoat the truth by sugarcoating what happened in history. it allows people the opportunity to fantasize what may have happened instead of face to reality and be able to change anything that is not right."

Participants also took time to note specific historical examples of segregation that took place in downtown Waterloo. They told the stories of a black football player who could not sit with his white teammates at a movie theater and a different black man who worked in the kitchen at the tea room in the Black's building but was not allowed to eat there.

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Daniel Perreault

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