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    Joint Statement on Legislative Efforts to Restrict Education about Racism and American History

    by Katrina Lee | Jun 17, 2021
    These legislative efforts seek to substitute political mandates for the considered judgment of professional educators, hindering students’ ability to learn and engage in critical thinking across differences and disagreements.

    We, the undersigned associations and organizations, state our firm opposition to a spate of legislative proposals being introduced across the country that target academic lessons, presentations, and discussions of racism and related issues in American history in schools, colleges and universities. These efforts have taken varied shape in at least 20 states, but often the legislation aims to prohibit or impede the teaching and education of students concerning what are termed “divisive concepts.” These divisive concepts as defined in numerous bills are a litany of vague and indefinite buzzwords and phrases including, for example, “that any individual should feel or be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological or emotional distress on account of that individual's race or sex.” These legislative efforts are deeply troubling for numerous reasons.

    First, these bills risk infringing on the right of faculty to teach and of students to learn. The clear goal of these efforts is to suppress teaching and learning about the role of racism in the history of the United States. Purportedly, any examination of racism in this country’s classrooms might cause some students “discomfort” because it is an uncomfortable and complicated subject. But the ideal of informed citizenship necessitates an educated public. Educators must provide an accurate view of the past in order to better prepare students for community participation and robust civic engagement. Suppressing or watering down discussion of “divisive concepts” in educational institutions deprives students of opportunities to discuss and foster solutions to social division and injustice. Legislation cannot erase “concepts” or history; it can, however, diminish educators’ ability to help students address facts in an honest and open environment capable of nourishing intellectual exploration. Educators owe students a clear-eyed, nuanced, and frank delivery of history so that they can learn, grow, and confront the issues of the day, not hew to some state-ordered ideology.  

    Second, these legislative efforts seek to substitute political mandates for the considered judgment of professional educators, hindering students’ ability to learn and engage in critical thinking across differences and disagreements. These regulations constitute an inappropriate attempt to transfer responsibility for the evaluation of a curriculum and subject matter from educators to elected officials. The purpose of education is to serve the common good by promoting open inquiry and advancing human knowledge. Politicians in a democratic society should not manipulate public school curricula to advance partisan or ideological aims. In higher education, under principles of academic freedom that have been widely endorsed, professors are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject. Educators, not politicians, should make decisions about teaching and learning. 

    Knowledge of the past exists to serve the needs of the living. In the current context, this includes an honest reckoning with all aspects of that past. Americans of all ages deserve nothing less than a free and open exchange about history and the forces that shape our world today, an exchange that should take place inside the classroom as well as in the public realm generally. To ban the tools that enable those discussions is to deprive us all of the tools necessary for citizenship in the 21st century. A white-washed view of history cannot change what happened in the past. A free and open society depends on the unrestricted pursuit and dissemination of knowledge.



    PEN America
    American Historical Association
    American Historical Association
    American Association of University Professors
    Association of American Colleges & Universities
    ACPA-College Student Educators International
    Agricultural History Society
    Alcohol and Drugs History Society
    African American Intellectual History Society
    African Studies Association
    American Anthropological Association
    American Association for State and Local History
    American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education
    American Association of Community Colleges
    American Association of Geographers
    American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education
    American Council of Learned Societies
    American Counseling Association
    American Educational Research Association
    American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO
    American Folklore Society
    American Library Association
    American Philosophical Association
    American Political Science Association
    American Society for Environmental History
    American Society for Theatre Research
    American Sociological Association
    American Studies Association
    Anti-Defamation League
    Association for Ancient Historians
    Association for Asian American Studies
    Association for Counselor Education and Supervision
    Association for Documentary Editing
    Association for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies
    Association for the Study of Higher Education
    Association for Theatre in Higher Education
    Association of African American Museums
    Association of College and Research Libraries
    Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges
    Association of Research Libraries
    Association of University Presses
    Association of Writers & Writing Programs
    Berkshire Conference of Women Historians
    Business History Conference
    Center for Research Libraries
    Central European History Society
    Chinese Historians in the United States
    Coalition of Urban & Metropolitan Universities
    College Art Association
    Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender History
    Comparative & International Education Society
    Conference on Asian History
    Conference on Faith and History
    Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes
    Czechoslovak Studies Association
    Dance Studies Association
    Executive Committee of the American Comparative Literature Association
    Forum on Early-Modern Empires and Global Interactions
    French Colonial Historical Society
    German Studies Association
    Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities
    Historical Society of Twentieth Century China
    Immigration Ethnic History Society
    Italian American Studies Association
    John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education
    Labor and Working-Class History Association
    Middle East Studies Association
    Modern Language Association
    NAFSA: Association of International Educators
    NASPA - Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education
    National Association for College Admission Counseling
    National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education
    National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education
    National Association of Graduate-Professional Students
    National Women's Studies Association
    National Coalition for History
    National Council for the Social Studies
    National Council of Teachers of English
    National Council on Public History
    Organization of American Historians
    Pacific Coast Branch-American Historical Association
    Peace History Society
    Phi Beta Kappa Society
    Radical History Review
    Rhetoric Society of America
    Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media
    Scholars at Risk
    Shakespeare Association of America
    Society for Austrian and Habsburg History
    Society for Classical Studies
    Society for French Historical Studies
    Society for Historians of the Early American Republic
    Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
    Society for the Study of Early Modern Women and Gender
    Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States
    Society for US Intellectual History
    Society of Architectural Historians
    Society of Civil War Historians
    Society of Transnational Academic Researchers (STAR Scholars Network)
    Southern Historical Association
    The Freedom to Read Foundation
    Urban History Association
    Western Society for French History
    Western History Association
    World History Association