A Vermont lawmaker wants to require licensed teachers in the state to take a course in African American history.

“So that they have even a little bit of foundation to the history,” said Rep. Maida Townsend. “A reality that has been lived for decades, for centuries, but to which many of us on the planet have been blind.”

Rep. Townsend is a retired teacher who’s taught in three Vermont school districts and, a former president of the Vermont chapter of the National Education Association. She wants teachers to be equipped with this knowledge as racial issues can arise in any school, and at any grade level.

“If nothing else, it is a starting point for a conversation,” she said. “Sort of putting a toe in the ocean in which we can delve into yet another way to solve implicit bias and outright racism.”

It would require people seeking or maintaining a teaching degree to take, at the minimum, a three-credit course on African American history. Townsend says this proposal has been brought up before, more than ten years ago, but never gained any traction under the golden dome.

“As we begin to tell the American story, it includes all Americans,” said Don Tinney, president of the Vermont NEA. “If people of color never see themselves in the stories or in the curriculum, how can they possibly feel like they belong?”

Tinney says they’ve been focused on racial justice and the union welcomes the bill as a step forward. But he emphasizes, it’s just one step toward solving a complex problem.

“We need to add educators of color onto our faculty,” he said. “It’s very important that students of color see teachers who look like them.”