Yes! Finally! Kurt Russell is Teacher of the Year!
“I’ve always encouraged my students to talk in class, to have discussions in class, to have students think on their own, instead of that direct instruction where I’m giving all the answers,” he said. “I want students to think critically, to own their learning. And I think that has helped me teach history more effectively.”
…Following the 2020 murder of George Floyd, Russell helped his students grapple with racial injustice and form the Black Student Union at the high school.
“I try to be as honest as possible. I think students are more than willing to learn about these tough conversations and they’re more than willing to participate in it,” he said.
Russell teaches U.S. history, History of the Americas, African American history, and Race, Gender, and Oppression to grades 9-12. He explained he strives to bring cultural relevance and diverse representation to his lessons.
“It’s equity, representation in the classroom. Make sure we empower students and give students a voice,” he said. “It gives students a sense of – ‘my education matters. My race, my sex, my sexual orientation – it matters.’ And it should be reflected in our curriculum. But not only our curriculum but our staff and our faculty as well” [Catherine Ross, “Oberlin High School Teacher 1 of 4 Finalists for National Teacher of the Year,” Cleveland News 5, 2022.02.22].
Uh oh—encouraging students to think on their own and talk about race and gender? That can only lead to trouble…
Ryley Steggall, a senior at Oberlin High School, says Russell works hard to create a safe, respectful and constructive space for his students.
“Mr. Russell is such an incredible teacher and person, in general. He does a really good job of fostering conversations where everyone can have a perspective.”
“He wants us to engage with one another and embrace new ideas,” added senior Anna Fritz. “The biggest lesson I’ve learned from him is to confront the uncomfortable” [Tim Walker, “Meet Kurt Russell, the 2022 National Teacher of the Year,” National Education Association, 2022.04.19].
Russell says his teaching of uncomfortable subjects is not controversial:
Asked about critical race theory, an academic framework about systemic racism decried by conservative politicians and commentators, Russell called it a “dog whistle.”
“I always tell individuals I do not teach controversial courses,” Russell said. “I teach different courses. There’s nothing controversial about teaching about women’s rights or the gay rights movement” [Mark Gillespie, “Strong Influences Help Mold 2022 US Teacher of the Year,” AP via WRAL, 2022.04.19].
Dismissing “critical race theory” as a dog whistle will surely get Kurt Russell in Kristi Noem’s doghouse. The National Teacher of the Year spends the year speaking at schools and events across the country to “share wisdom, advocate for students, elevate issues teachers face, and inspire others to join the profession.” Expect Governor Noem to read Russell’s comment that race, sex, and sexual orientation matter and his student’s affirmation that Russell teaches uncomfortable subjects and declare that her Executive Order 2022-02 bars the South Dakota Department of Education from inviting this Teacher of the Year to speak to South Dakota’s teachers and students.
She might even call Kurt Russell “Snake“.