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Censorship in Schools

September 21, 2022

Censorship in Schools

In the last year, educational gag ordersdefined by PEN America as “state legislative efforts to restrict teaching about topics such as race, gender, American history, and LGBTQ+ identities”—have increased by 250 percent. PEN America notes that those bills are also increasingly punitive, including hefty fines, loss of state funding for educational institutions, and for teachers, termination of employment or even criminal charges.

To summarize PEN America’s August 2022 report, classroom censorship is being bolstered by educational gag orders at an alarming rate. In many states, students lack opportunities to learn about race, gender, and sexual orientation as they relate to identity, community, and inequality, in American history. The gag orders facilitate a type of “education” where information imparted to students is impersonal, sanitized, whitewashed, and, inaccurate.

As Alexandra Martinez explains, students aren’t the only people being impacted by these gag orders. Teachers face an ever-bleaker landscape riddled with book-banning, the removal of anti-bullying videos, and punitive repercussions should they discuss gender or other forbidden topics in their classrooms. Ashley Nguyen writes that this onslaught of legislation stifles teachers’ autonomy and adds to the exhaustion they already face in their careers.

Nguyen is blunt: “The downright abuse of educators across the country is a huge disservice to young people who are set to inherit a conflicted, polarized and ailing world. Students deserve access to our nation’s full history, and students of various backgrounds have the right to learn about their own cultures and stories, not just ones deemed uncontroversial enough for parents and lawmakers. The manipulation of curricula promotes historical erasure, is racist and shows our kids that it’s okay to ignore a problem if you feel too guilty to face it.”

We at the Woodhull Freedom Foundation echo Nguyen’s statement. Censorship has no place in classrooms, where people are meant to grow, learn, and explore themselves and the world around them. Education is a fundamental human right, and the exercise of that right requires free access to information.

a photo of books on shelves

A large brown shelving unit holds many shapes, sizes, and colors of books. (Kai Schwabe/Getty Images)

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