States Continue Efforts to Remove Facts from History
Education Policy Brief #60 | By: Steve Piazza | February 6, 2023
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Six states have recently signed into law restrictive measures regarding the teaching of race in K-12 schools. New laws in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Tennessee consist of, amongst other things, measures prohibiting anything appearing on a list of “divisive concepts.” Similar legislation that barely failed last year in Alabama is re-emerging, while Governor Glenn Youngkin of Virginia has joined in the fray by signing an executive order brandishing such a list.
These specified restrictions do not include actions by 23 states that have either banned, or are in the process of banning Critical Race Theory in curricula despite the fact that evidence of its existence as any formal, systematic instruction remains unsubstantiated.
By contrast, California, Colorado, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Washington have passed laws that are antithetical to restrictions on teaching about race. These nine states require expanding the focus on cultural and diversity studies in an attempt to encourage inclusion and reduce potential for negative attitudes and behavior inspired by hatred.
The results of these and similar actions indicate that states are moving in opposite directions when it comes to teaching about race.
Attempts by some political entities to modify or whitewash facts in curricula have far reaching consequences. Rather than allowing for the good judgment of practitioners working closely on sensitive topics with scholars, academics, school leaders, and parents, the reckless and opportunistic actions of elected officials affects the stability of the entire school community.
This is especially true in terms of curriculum, where classroom content and lessons can be reduced to what’s implicit in the extreme language of political grandstanding. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ recent criticism of how race is taught and his call for bans on unpleasant topics is a good example.
Last year, Florida passed the controversial Stop WOKE Act, which included restrictions on the handling of racism in classrooms. The stated purpose of the law was to prevent “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress.” Yet, such restrictions only promise to perpetuate it, something the state more recently had a chance to prove.
In January, DeSantis reacted strongly to a leaked proposal of the College Board’s AP History course redesign by threatening to ban the course in state schools. His stance was that elements of the course were not only inaccurate, but were a violation of state law.
Calling the syllabus a political agenda that affects students, DeSantis said ”…we don’t believe they should have an agenda imposed on them when you try to use Black history to shoehorn in queer theory.”
This resulted in protests and threats by liberals across the country, most notably by Illinois Governor J.B Pritzker. Pritzker said in a letter to the College Board printed in the Chicago Sun Times that the state would reject the curriculum’s final draft if modified “in order to fit Florida’s racist and homophobic laws.”
Document screenshot taken via Twitter
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He goes on to state, “One Governor should not have the power to dictate the facts of U.S. history,” calling the Florida Governor and his allies “extremists.”
The state objected to topics that include Black Lives Matter and queer black women, terms like intersectionality and systemic marginalization that address discrimination, and works by select African Americans writers, such as Henry Louis Gates, Te-Nehisi Coates, and Michelle Alexander.
The College Board claims that it did not bow to political pressure from Florida’s Governor and its Department of Education. Teresa Reed of the University of Louisville and member of the committee drafting the course, told NPR that the whole thing is a misunderstanding.
Reed says “There are other elements of the course that are still under construction, one of which is a very powerful online platform called AP Classroom which supports all AP courses.”
Debate on race and curricula is nothing new. And if anything, our imperfect history has shown we must understand that present rhetoric amounts to desperation by opportunists looking to advance their political standing.
Decision makers have to come clean and admit that they know it’s okay for students to feel uncomfortable about the past. What’s left out matters, and historical facts are not optional.
Censoring history is only sacrificing one select group of kids’ discomfort for another, while at the same time jeopardizing the stability of a civil society all students will someday be responsible for maintaining.
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The National Council for Social Studies stands behind truth in the teaching of history: https://www.socialstudies.org/current-events-response/response-attacks-social-studies-education-state-legislatures-and-local
This is an example of state legislation (enacted in Massachusetts, 2021) requiring instruction in grades 6-12 about genocide for the purposes of combatting racism: https://malegislature.gov/Laws/SessionLaws/Acts/2021/Chapter98