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American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten speaking in Washington, D.C. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Teachers and civil rights activists are organizing and preparing to go to court to stop conservatives' efforts to block curriculum about institutional racism.

Why it matters: "It is the modern-day Scopes trial," American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten tells Axios, recalling the 1925 case over teaching evolution.

  • Legislators in nearly half of U.S. states in recent months have passed or introduced proposals to constrain lessons about how racism has shaped the nation's history and political and economic systems.
  • Conservative groups also are driving recall campaigns against school board members around the U.S.

Driving the news: Weingarten said her union will defend teachers' right to teach American history — and will aggressively protect any educator accused of violating such new laws and restrictions.

  • "We're looking at court actions because these laws conflict with standards and our licensure requirements and our professional obligations," she said.
  • Union delegates with the National Education Association earlier this month voted to expand the teaching of anti-racism and diversity in American classrooms, despite the growing backlash.
  • The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and 79 other civil rights and education groups recently released a statement calling anti-racism classroom lessons a student right needing to be defended.

The big picture: This backlash against critical race theory comes as school systems grow more diverse and many parents welcome more diverse curriculums.

  • The popularity of The New York Times' 1619 Project, by Nikole Hannah-Jones, which examined the history of slavery and its lasting impact in the U.S., also sparked conservative anger.

The other side: Citizens for Renewing America, a group led by a White House budget director under former President Trump, offers activists model legislation to craft bans on critical race theory in their states. Teachers also are facing threats of firing for introducing anti-racism lessons.

  • At least 51 local recall efforts involving K-12 school boards have been initiated this year in reaction to critical race theory and COVID-19 closures.
  • Critics of critical race theory are suggesting long-time popular children's books and novels regularly listed high school reading are dangerous now.
  • Idaho state lawmaker Heather Scott cited the 1960 novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee as evidence that critical race theory was "creeping through our schools."
  • A group of white parents in Tennessee claimed "Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story,” by Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana, was anti-American (and) anti-white.”

Reality check: Critical race theory — which holds that racism is baked into the formation of the nation and ingrained in our legal, financial, and education systems — was developed in law schools in the 1970s and isn't really taught in grade school.

Go deeper

Updated Oct 14, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on equal opportunity in education

On October 14th, Axios race and justice reporter Russ Contreras discussed how education systems are preparing their students for equal opportunity and sustained success in life after school, featuring Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández (D-N.M.) and California State University Chancellor Joseph I. Castro.

Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández demonstrated how the federal government can aid states in addressing education inequalities, the difficulties of recruiting teachers in rural areas, and her focus on alleviating poverty to give children better educational opportunities.

  • On the importance of hiring teachers who can relate to students on a community and cultural level: “We need to make sure that we are training teachers that come from the community that reflect the children that they are teaching, because then that’s where the aspiration starts.”
  • On improving infrastructure to support greater broadband access: “Creating that infrastructure in those communities so there’s good broadband, so they can stay connected to the world, so they can assign subjects and projects that require that students plug into the internet and gather information. That’s the broadband work that we need to do.”

Joseph I. Castro discussed how a counselor at a college fair opened up his eyes to educational opportunity, how student services play a central role in education equity, and how public universities are working to eliminate inequities for students.

  • On investing in student services: “I believe that we need to invest in our students. They are the next generation of leaders. In order for us to support them, we of course need to have extraordinary faculty members in the classroom...and we need to make sure that they have food and housing, access to technology, all the tools necessary to be successful.”
  • On California State University’s plans for an Equity Innovation Hub: “It will be a place where Hispanic serving institutions, like 21 of our Cal State campuses, as well as hundreds across the country, will be able to work together to serve students from Latino and other backgrounds and help prepare them for STEM fields.”

Axios Chief People Officer Dominique Taylor hosted a View from the Top segment with Bank of America president of Business Banking Raul Anaya and Eduardo Díaz, Smithsonian Latino Center director and interim director of the National Museum of the American Latino. They discussed how race and racism have shaped the history of the U.S., and how these effects are still being felt in the Latino community.

  • Eduardo Díaz on the influence behind Smithsonian’s recent program “Our Shared Future: Reckoning with Our Racial Past”: “With the murder of George Floyd, it was cathartic, it brought to bear a lot of underlying historical aspects of the way race and racism has shaped this country’s history and culture, and I think it was a pivotal moment when the Smithsonian needed to do something and step forward to address it…”
Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
54 mins ago - Economy & Business

Peloton stock tanks on report of production halt

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Peloton stock fell by as much as 25% on Thursday, following a CNBC report that the connected fitness company will temporarily halt production on its bikes and treadmills.

Why it matters: Peloton is viewed by many as a proxy for consumer behavior in the pandemic era, as its popularity surged when gyms closed and people wanted to exercise at home.

Updated 56 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: No evidence that healthy children, teens need boosters, WHO says — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older.
  5. Variant tracker