‘Cynical and Illegitimate’: Higher-Ed Groups Assail Legislative Efforts to Restrict Teaching of Racism

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tags: culture war, teaching history, critical race theory

A raft of higher-education organizations voiced their “firm opposition” on Wednesday to legislation that they say aims to bar or impede instructors from educating students about racism in American history.

The bills, versions of which have been introduced in at least 20 states, risk infringing “on the right of faculty to teach and of students to learn,” says the joint statement, written by the American Association of University Professors, the American Historical Association, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and PEN America, and signed by them and more than 85 other groups.

“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,” the statement says. “Educators, not politicians, should make decisions about teaching and learning.”

The bills’ details differ between states, including if they apply solely to elementary and secondary schools or to higher ed as well. In general, many of them target the teaching or advocacy of certain “concepts” that are deemed “divisive,” including that the United States is fundamentally racist, or that any individual should be made to feel “guilt,” “anguish,” or other forms of distress due to that person’s race or sex.


In reading those bills, Jim Grossman, executive director of the AHA, recognized what he called an old trick to drum up political support: You ban things that either aren’t or are barely happening, to make them seem more widespread. By treating rarities as if they’re pervasive, lawmakers are creating effective political rhetoric, Grossman said.

The AHA and other higher-ed organizations reject that rhetoric. To Grossman, the goal of the bills is to “inculcate patriotism” by “celebrating the nation’s past rather than understanding it,” he wrote in a recent message to AHA members. Professional historians generally recognize that you cannot teach the history of the United States without regarding racism as a central feature, he said. “It’s just not possible.” Yes, scholars will debate certain aspects of that history, and it’s important for them to be able to do so. But what’s happening in state houses right now, said Grossman, is not about scholarship or scholarly debate. “It is about riling up voters.”

Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Education

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