It was a Martin Luther King Jr. Day “probably like no other,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten, who spent the holiday at Kean University’s Enlow Recital Hall as part of a panel discussion about teaching African American history in New Jersey’s public K-12 schools.

“First and foremost, we need to teach fact versus fiction — fact versus propaganda,” Weingarten said. “And then how do we create the kind of critical thinking where the facts that we are teaching are facts that may be uncomfortable for people to hear — like slavery? Like what happened in Ghana? What happened here in terms of the fight for black Americans?”

She added, “We have to understand history in all of its fractions. … This is how we pierce the silos of hate and of chaos.”

Like Weingarten, fellow panelist Newark Mayor Ras Baraka cited the chaos at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, adding that the context of today is similar to that of the Civil War era. And in terms of teaching history (which Baraka did during his career as an educator), he said, “Now more than ever, we just have to be as clear and direct as possible.”

“I know sometimes we like to go around it and under it — we like to say it nice or package it in a way that we think will be palatable for people,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I think we should be as direct with exposing lies as people are about telling them — and that we should be teaching our kids all of what happened, not just part of it.”

Asked how he would support New Jersey school districts in this endeavor, Kean University President Dr. Lamont O. Repollet said his institution would be a resource and add expertise.

“It’s time for us to now do some serious outreach because this is our moment now to make sure that we can touch them and to be able to bring them on campus and be able to show them that college life is attainable,” Repollet said.

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