Last Updated on December 1, 2022
The Pennsylvania Department of Education recently adopted new “antiracism” standards that will ask teachers to “interrogate their biases and recognize inequality in schools and school systems,” including “institutional racism,” WHYY reported. Under the new initiatives, the Center for Black Educator Development will be providing Pennsylvania teachers with prep programs and trainings. In a 69-page document, the group quotes fugitive cop killer Asatta Shakur, who was convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper in 1973. The group bills Shakur — who escaped from prison and was granted asylum by the Castro regime in 1979 — as a “civil rights activist.” The document also talks about cultivating “the teacher to activist pipeline” so that teachers can encourage students to fight for “social justice.”
The new standards mark the first time that Pennsylvania will be instituting what is referred to as “culturally-relevant and sustaining education” guidelines as part of its mandatory teacher preparation programs.
“Antiracist” ideology requires individuals to not only reject racist principles, but actively fight to dismantle “racist systems” and hierarchies. Under the new guidelines, teachers will be required to “disrupt racist practices” and ensure that their lessons require a “variety of perspectives,” WHYY reported.
Tanya Garcia, who serves as deputy secretary for the department’s Office of Postsecondary and Higher Education, said the new standards are necessary to reflect the state’s changing demographics. “We are becoming a much more multiracial society, so cultural competencies are part of what new educators and existing educators need to acquire in order to perform their roles,” Garcia said.
According to a report from the nonprofit Research for Action, students of color made up 37% of Pennsylvania’s student body in 2020-21, though the number of black teachers remains far below that threshold. In addition to the new guidelines, Pennsylvania wants to prioritize the hiring and retention of black teachers, as well as those from other minority groups.
Sharif El-Mekki, the CEO of the Philadelphia-based Center for Black Educator Development, told state board members that the new standards will benefit “all” teachers and students. “Many of the new teachers who come out of Pennsylvania’s educator prep programs say that they are not prepared to teach anyone, but particularly not prepared to teach students that come from culturally diverse backgrounds,” he said.
El-Mekki said the standards are necessary even for districts that have no students or teachers of color. El-Mekki added that the new initiatives will help with the hiring of black teachers, something his organization prioritizes.
While El-Mekki’s organization did not assist in crafting the new guidelines, the Center for Black Educator Development will assist with creating teacher prep programs and “antiracist” training.
This document is part of our work to ensure equity and promote success for all students in the commonwealth. pic.twitter.com/nI1N3Xb6Aq
— Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Education (@PDESecretary) November 14, 2022
Sharif El-Mekki claims that the standards will benefit “all” students, but a 69-page document titled “The Anti-Racist Guide to Teacher Retention” is littered with black nationalist sentiments, repeatedly stresses the need to foster a “student to activist” pipeline in schools and praises fugitive cop killer Asatta Shakur.
Shakur was convicted of being an accomplice in the 1973 execution-style slaying of New Jersey state trooper State Trooper Werner Foerster, who left behind a 3-year-old son at the time of his murder. Shakur, born JoAnne Chesimard, later escaped prison and fled to Cuba, where she was granted asylum by then-Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro.
Shakur was a member of the Black Liberation Army, which the FBI describes as “one of the most violent militant organizations of the 1970s.”
She is the first woman that the FBI ever listed atop its most wanted terrorists list, while the bureau is offering a $1 million reward for information that leads to her capture to this day. On May 2, 2019, the 46th anniversary of Foerster’s slaying, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal called Shakur “a domestic terrorist and nothing more.”
But El-Mekki’s organization has a far different view of Asatta Shakur, referring to her as a “civil rights activist.”
“The schools we go to are reflections of the society that created them… Nobody is going to teach you your true history, teach you your true heroes, if they know that knowledge will help,” reads a quote from the wanted terrorist on page seven of the document.
The document — which provides insight into the type of training that is set to become mandatory for Pennsylvania teachers by 2025 — repeatedly stresses the importance of encouraging students to become “activists” in the fight for “social justice.”
In a worksheet titled “Checklist For Recruiting Educators And Educator-Activists of Color,” teachers are asked to evaluate whether they are “activists who can simultaneously teach and inspire, rather than assume the role of a missionary or a warden?”
“Will they help us address the challenges educators of color face to persist through the student activism pipeline to become the best educators they can be?” reads another bullet point.
“Our goal in preparing this guide is to help you retain educators of color, especially educator-activists of color who believe that teaching can be a form of activism, every lesson plan a political document, and every classroom interaction a political statement,” reads the intro to chapter five of the guide.
Learning institutions are encouraged to seek, “Those who know schools have not offered refuge from racist ideologies that sanctioned the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and countless other Black and Brown people.”
“The teachers you seek recognize that schools have too often served as incubators of these cruel and violent forces.”
El-Mekki’s organization is currently “preparing materials for teacher-prep programs to use in order to fulfill the new requirements,” according to WHYY. He is hopeful that the state will approve 10 hours of mandatory training as opposed to the five that is currently allotted.
“This is deep work that has to occur in order for us to be able to make the moves and reach the goals that we all desire,” he said. Pennsylvania hopes to boost its percentage of new teachers of color from 13% to 25% by 2025, according to the Department of Education.
Teacher-prep programs are required to include the new standards no later than the 2024-25 school year and continuing professional development programs must implement them a year sooner.