Boston, MA – Discriminatory censorship laws have been adopted by at least 21 states and 145 school districts or local governments, according to new research conducted by legal scholars at Boston University and West Virginia University. These laws aim to silence discussions on topics such as racism, sexual orientation, gender identity, and American history in schools. The research suggests that these laws originated as a response to the racial justice protests in the summer of 2020 and the implementation of diversity, equity, and inclusion measures in educational settings.
The laws, as described by the researchers, not only limit the topics that students can engage with but also undermine inclusive pedagogy, curriculum, and practices. Scholars Jonathan Feingold and Joshua Weishart argue that these laws target perspectives that center the experiences of historically marginalized communities. To illustrate the impact of these laws, Feingold and Weishart point to recent legislation in Indiana that enables community members to challenge and request the removal of books in schools. The law also removes legal defenses for educators accused of distributing harmful material to minors.
In an interview with WFYI education reporter Lee Gaines, Feingold and Weishart explained the concept of discriminatory censorship laws. Feingold emphasized that these laws are designed to demean inclusive practices and deny students access to important topics, while Weishart highlighted how they target certain subjects for regulation in the classroom.
The consequences of these laws are far-reaching. Feingold argued that they contribute to a manufactured learning loss, depriving students of a comprehensive and well-rounded curriculum that fosters critical thinking. Additionally, the laws create an environment where teachers feel compelled to self-censor, leading to a potential loss of engagement and an increased likelihood of harassment based on gender or race.
Unfortunately, the researchers anticipate that these discriminatory censorship laws will continue to be passed in more states. They call for action from both everyday citizens and political leaders. Feingold and Weishart suggest that concerned parents should attend school board meetings and advocate for inclusive education. They also encourage politicians to hold congressional hearings on these laws and for the U.S. Department of Education to issue legal guidance and investigate civil rights complaints. Furthermore, the researchers recommend that state and local governments take the lead in endorsing anti-racism pedagogy and curriculum.
In conclusion, discriminatory censorship laws are stifling important discussions on crucial topics in schools across the country. The impact on students and education, including the loss of critical thinking skills and the potential for increased harassment, cannot be underestimated. It is essential that individuals and leaders take action to counter these laws and promote inclusive and comprehensive education for all students.