by PEG Contributor, Leslie Kamil, OTR/L, MS, JD
Tell Politicians to stop banning books and Censoring Educators
Classroom Culture Wars
There have been widespread attacks on educational censorship in both higher education and K-12 through legislative infringements on free expression in the classroom. The subjects and books that are at risk are race, gender studies and diversity. The majority of books targeted as well as the extent of content that can be taught mostly reflect the diverse experiences of students of all races, all abilities, and all religions. It’s no coincidence that the books under attack are often written by Black, brown, and LGBTQ+ authors. Also read Teacher Fired After DeSantis says Bookshelf video was ‘Fake Narrative”.
It is certain that if you restrict free inquiry and open conversation in the way that these laws would do, “you’re going to have a citizenry that is unprepared to engage in the democratic process. And so, this really is a democracy attack.”
PEN America has reported the following as of February 2023:
- 193: number of educational gag order bills introduced in state legislatures since January 2021
- 41: number of states where an educational gag order bill has been introduced
- 19: number of educational gag orders that have become law
- 15: number of states with an educational gag order law
- 7: number of states with higher ed gag orders in force
- 19: total number of states with an educational gag order in force via law, policy, or executive order
- 122 million: number of people living in states with educational gag orders in force
Rights to an Equal Education
All kids living in the United States have the right to a free public education. The Constitution requires that all kids be given equal educational opportunity no matter what their race, ethnic background, religion, or sex, or whether they are rich or poor, citizen or non-citizen. In addition to this constitutional guarantee of an equal education, many federal, state and local laws also protect students against discrimination in education based on sexual orientation or disability, including pregnancy and HIV status. Even if you are in this country illegally, you have the right to go to public school.
Thus, every student deserves the freedom to read age-appropriate books that represent them. The National Education Association (NEA) created Read Across America to help connect every student with books that encourage them to be who they are and prepare for their future.
Legislation regarding race: A Synopsis
At least 18 states, including Florida, have laws or policies that restrict the teaching of race. Typical restrictions include barring teachers from suggesting the United States is a racist country or elevating one race or gender over another, as well as outlawing “indoctrination” and teaching of critical race theory, an academic construct that holds systemic racism is baked into American law and institutions.
Other proposals in the mix in Florida include eliminating college majors in gender studies, abolishing diversity efforts at universities and job protections for tenured faculty, strengthening parents’ ability to veto K-12 class materials and extending a ban on teaching about gender and sexuality — from third grade up to eighth grade. Another bill introduced, House Bill 1, renders all parents eligible to receive state funds to send their children to private school, stripping away a previous low-income requirement, although low-income families would still be prioritized.
The Advanced Placement course on African American studies, developed by the College Board, covers a wide range of Black history and cultural topics. The course is being piloted in about 60 classrooms nationwide this year and will be widely available in fall 2024 — unless states block their schools from offering it. Many states are currently reviewing the content. The revised course presented in February 2023 dropped various lessons and authors disliked by conservative politicians, such as lessons on Black Lives Matter and on reparations for the harms of slavery and racial discrimination, as well as suggested readings. In addition, the word “systemic” , as in systemic racism, had been removed from the course.
Legislation regarding LGBTQ: A Synopsis
The ACLU is tracking 378 anti-LGBTQ bills in the US.
At least 31 bills, in Missouri, one of the largest number in any U.S. state, have been introduced by the Republican supermajority, targeting youth participation in competitive school sports, the ability to revise gender on birth certificates, gender-affirming medical treatments and other rights of LGBTQ people. Similar bills have been introduced in at least 11 states.
The measures that frighten families the most would classify any efforts to support children and teens seeking medical treatment to help them transition to their preferred gender as child abuse. The legislation would carry criminal penalties for providers and possibly parents. Last week Mississippi became the fifth state after Alabama, Utah, South Dakota and Arkansas to pass legislation restricting minors seeking gender-affirming care.
What happens when education is censored, free speech denied and history whitewashed?
At this point, teachers do not have a clear understanding of what can actually be taught or how and what to teach. Therefore, many teachers are quiet on these subjects. Clearly an injustice to students and the nation!
Book burnings mark the beginning of fascism. U.S. Holocaust Museum states “[I]t matters little whether the removal literally takes the form of burning or consists of storing the books in basements and warehouses.”
One of the worst repercussions is that our future leaders will not learn how to fully participate in the life of this nation.
These actions are frightening and strip students of their right to a robust and truthful education. We cannot allow these laws and arcane principles to permeate our schools.
ACTIONS – BE VOCAL! ACT NOW!
SCHOOL and LIBRARY BOARDS
- Attend meetings and make your opinions known
- Help retain/recruit good potential school and library board candidates
- Participate in school and library board campaigns
WRITE/CALL/EMAIL your legislators
SIGN the National Education Association’s (NEA) petition and pledge to tell politicians to stop banning books.
CONTACT Friends and Family who live in Florida, Mississippi, Texas and other states that impact free education and encourage them to contact their legislators
A few additional readings
- Educational Censorship
- The Expansion of the 1619 Project
- A Lasting Impact
- This is My History, American History
- Letters from an American
- Florida Bills would Ban Gender Studies, limit trans pronouns, Erode Tenure
- Separate and Unequal: Black Americans’ Fight for Education
- Your Right to Equality in Education
- A Black Professor Defies DeSantis Law Restricting Lessons on Race
- Teacher Fired after DeSantis says Bookshelf Video was “Fake Narrative
- College Board Faces Storm of Criticism over AP African American Studies
- More States Scrutinizing AP Black Studies after Florida Complaints
- Our State is at War with our Family: Clergy with Trans Kids Fight Back
- Tell Politicians to Stop Banning Books and Censoring Educators