A National Teach-In: Doing History Right

This online event is for university and college professors at all levels and in every discipline; its goal is to motivate, mobilize, and train them for action on their own campuses.

The proposed teach-in will be a two-hour online event in spring 2022, featuring leading scholars and widely publicized to faculty.  Its purpose is two-fold:

first, to provide an overview of current legislative efforts to dictate the content of history and social studies education;

second, to encourage involvement in local campaigns for academic freedom by providing tools such as break-outs, role-plays, and organizing guides for on-campus activism.

Currently, in more than three dozen states, rightwing legislators and lobbyists are fanning hysteria over “divisive concepts,” by which they mean any teaching that acknowledges the impact of enslavement and Jim Crow, systemic racism, indigenous struggles, or the struggles for equal rights by women, gays and lesbians, and transpeople.

Authoritarian regimes assert control over how history is taught. The goal of these activists and the politicians who do their bidding points in that direction by attempting to cleanse classrooms of controversies. As most teachers know, stories of competing ideas are precisely what keep most students engaged, much more than tame instruction listing a series of exceptional American achievements.

Careful educators encourage students to examine primary evidence and decide for themselves; engaging with unfamiliar facts may not always be comforting, but these classroom challenges are the best way to prepare students for the public life of democracy. Fortunately, historians and social studies educators at every level, from K-12 to colleges and universities, are mobilizing to defend their right and responsibility to teach history, not propaganda.  We reject the assertion that good teaching seeks to “divide” Americans against each other. It is a sanitized, patriotic version of history which is inherently divisive, because its goal is to make some Americans feel good at the expense of others.

This mobilization will support K-12 teachers in their efforts to maintain the integrity of the classroom in the face of systematic attacks on history and social studies education. If successful, it will generate significant attention at local and state levels, empowering students, parents, and educators to resist legislative gag-orders that limit the full and accurate teaching of history and social studies, which are vital to any healthy society.