Education

'I Won't Be Silenced': North Texans Testify in Congress About Censorship in Education

Dr. James Whitfield addresses the Oversight Committee on Thursday, May 19.
Dr. James Whitfield addresses the Oversight Committee on Thursday, May 19. Screenshot/YouTube
Dallas is more than 1,300 miles away from the nation’s capital, but North Texas loomed large over Congress this week. On Thursday, a local educator and a student joined others in testifying before the House Oversight Committee about the toll that recent censorship efforts have taken on education.

Some on the right are attempting to restrict what can be taught in public schools: ban lessons on racism that make white students uncomfortable, ban curricula that mention LGBTQ issues, ban books.

Appearing before the committee was Dr. James Whitfield, the former principal pushed out of Grapevine-Colleyville ISD following accusations he wanted to indoctrinate students in so-called critical race theory, a complex academic framework that isn’t even taught in public schools.

Whitfield explained that when he was a teen, public education saved his life. He eventually chose a career in the field because he knows how wonderful an environment it can be for young people.

“But I’ve also witnessed how toxic things can get when people with nefarious agendas come to town,” he said. “The lies. The bigotry. The intolerance. The racism.”
The hearing comes just days after a white man fatally shot 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket. The shooter livestreamed the racist massacre and left a manifesto echoing language spewed by other mass shooters, including a man from Allen who killed 23 in an El Paso Walmart.

New York U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney noted that censorship in schools can lead to the proliferation of hateful ideology. Hiding the truth from students increases the likelihood that homophobia, racism and other intolerance will metastasize, she said.

Lawmakers also heard how Texas' "anti-CRT" law has created confusion among educators, with one Southlake leader instructing teachers who have books on the Holocaust to include material with "opposing views."

Elle Caldon, a high school student in Dallas County, spoke to the committee remotely. She noted that her favorite teacher, Rachel Stonecipher, was removed from the classroom and had her contract terminated. Advocates say it was because of Stonecipher's support for the LGBTQ community.

Last year, administrators at MacArthur High School in Irving quietly removed rainbow stickers from teachers’ doors, which had indicated they were safe environments for queer students.

But Caldon refuses to sit by as educators like Stonecipher are driven out.

“I do not believe in muzzling student inquiry or speech, and I won’t be silenced,” she said.

Whitfield said educators are tasked with building bridges, not walls, between the school and parents. The latest attacks on student learning are aimed at destroying public education, he argued, adding that it’s a way to divert public school funding to subsidize private schools "in the name of choice."

But Whitfield insists that we can’t move forward that way, nor can we afford to lose public education. Students from every background, including those of different races and faiths, deserve to be empowered and celebrated, he said.

The past several months have been traumatic, Whitfield said, but young people continue to give him hope. He’s witnessed what happens when hate takes hold of a community, but he’s also seen students and parents stand against such bigotry.

“These concerns are real and have lasting impact on educators, students and families,” he said, “and I beg you to take these threats seriously and do all you can to support us.”
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter