HACKENSACK, N.J. — Toney Jackson, a 4th grade teacher at Nellie K. Parker School in Hackensack, has never shied away from difficult topics in the classroom.
A recent lesson on the scars of colonialism he said, allowed his students to see the impact it still has today
“They connected it to the Capitol riots,” he explained. “They connected with what happened at the Capitol to privilege and how Black protesters were being treated in 2020.”
Jackson’s teaching approach is now getting a boost by the state as Gov. Phil Murphy signed a new bill into law, mandating all school districts to incorporate economic diversity, equity and inclusion in connection with race, gender and sexual orientation among other things — within its curriculum.
It opens the door to more conversation on unconscious bias and economic disparities — and their societal impact.
“As a teacher as a citizen as a human, I think it’s fantastic,” Jackson said. “The fact that it has to be legislated is frustrating in a sense but the fact that it is being done, I’m definitely grateful for.”
The bill which was met with opposition by many Republicans, comes a year after the state mandated an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum.
Critics say some of the themes are simply too heavy for young minds.
On the contrary, Dr. Rebecca Mannis, an expert in developmental psychology, says bringing awareness to children early on about the communities outside theirs will just make them more effective global citizens.
But parents, she says, remain at the helm of this process.
“If children are observing that something feels inequitable or unclear, they are watching what we do and listening to our words to see how to react,” Dr. Mannis said.
All eyes are now on the state’s education commissioner who will be in charge of setting the tone for the curriculum which will begin in the 2021-2022 school year.