Statement on Efforts to Restrict the Teaching of History

The AAUP issued the following statement today.

At a time when the nation is confronting our deep-rooted racial inequity, legislators in several states have moved to restrict teaching about oppression, race, and gender. In Iowa, a bill was introduced that would strip funding from K–12 schools or institutions of higher education that use curriculum derived from or similar to the New York Times’s 1619 Project, which delves into the racial history of the United States, arguing in particular that the nation was founded on the basis of slavery. In Arkansas, a similar bill would likewise restrict funding for K–12 schools and public colleges and universities that include instruction on topics that “promote division between, resentment of or social justice for a particular group; are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group; or advocate the solidarity of or isolation of students based on a particular characteristic.” Like the Trump administration’s absurd 1776 Report (which was quickly withdrawn by the incoming Biden administration), these bills and similar efforts brewing in other states are deeply troubling for several reasons. 

First, their goal is to thwart antiracist progress by suppressing teaching and learning about the role of racism in the history of the United States. 

Second, they constitute an inappropriate attempt to transfer responsibility for the evaluation of a curriculum and subject matter from educators to legislators. The purpose of education is to serve the common good by promoting inquiry and advancing human knowledge; it should not be used to advance partisan aims. Under principles of academic freedom widely endorsed by the higher education community, college and university teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject. Decisions about scholarship and teaching should be made by qualified faculty with expertise in the subject matter, not by politicians. 

Finally, as educators we understand that knowledge of the past exists to serve the needs of the living. As more groups gain access to higher education, they bring more demands for the expansion of expert knowledge. The pursuit of knowledge is surely enriched by these new challenges.

—John McNay, Chair, AAUP Committee on Government Relations

Publication Date: 
Friday, January 29, 2021