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Historians Mobilize to Fight Back Against Right-Wing Attacks

"Killing the Scholars and Burning the Books", anonymous, 18c. China. Image Bibliothèque Nationale (Fr.)

Not a day goes by that we don’t hear about another right-wing attack, or multiple attacks, on education, teachers, and/or curriculum. Lawmakers in at least 42 states have attempted (in some cases successfully) to pass legislation that would require teachers to lie to students about the role of racism, sexism, heterosexism, and oppression throughout U.S. history. Their efforts are national, coordinated, dangerous, and destructive. On January 19, 2023, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis blocked a new Advanced Placement course for high school students on African American Studies. DeSantis’s decision to prevent the teaching of African American history is nothing more or less than a blatant attempt to eliminate students’ right to learn accurate history and teachers’ responsibility to teach it. Such actions are not new, but they have intensified and increased in the last few years. University and college professors are currently less likely to be the primary targets of these orchestrated efforts to censor the teaching and learning of history than high school teachers are. But we are hardly immune from them. We in Historians for Peace and Democracy (H-PAD)  oppose any and all attempts by right-wing groups and politicians to severely restrict or eliminate teaching about race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and LGBTQ rights.[i] In this article we briefly outline what we are doing and ways you can join us.

On January 17, 2023, H-PAD released online a comprehensive digital resource, Culture Wars Against Education Archive. The archive, which Molly Nolan, Professor of History Emeritus at New York University, Ellen Schrecker, Professor of History Emeritus at Yeshiva University, Andor Skotnes, Professor of History Emeritus at The Sage Colleges, and H-PAD Research Associate Sarah Sklaw curated, consists of a wide variety of official documents, articles, and information about the main protagonists in the current attack on democratic education. It is free and we encourage you to use it and to share it. And we plan to update the archive periodically.

H-PAD has also launched Historians-On-Call (HOC), in conjunction with the Zinn Education Project, https://www.zinnedproject.org/, which we have developed in conjunction with the Zinn Education Project, https://www.zinnedproject.org/, which is in direct contact with high school teachers across the country. As we know, high school teachers are being threatened, attacked, and fired. Members of school boards have been either voted out of office or forced to resign. Librarians are under intense pressure to get rid of books a particular parent or parents or right-wing groups don’t like. University professors are not immune from such attacks, but many of us do operate in safer, more protected environments. The goal of HOC is to mobilize university and college professors to work directly with high school teachers, librarians, administrators, and school board members who are receiving the brunt of the right-wings attacks on education. Here’s how it works.

To date, more than 60 historians have signed up from Arizona, California, D.C., Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and more states. When we hear about an attack on education, we alert professors from the area and put them in touch with local teachers, librarians, or administrators who are the targets of these attacks. They will then work together to determine an effective response to the attacks. 

H-PAD also encourages professors to take advantage of our professional resources and draw on our expertise proactively. We don’t need to wait for attacks to take place to act. We can all learn what is happening in our local school districts, attend school board meetings, get in touch with local Social Studies teachers and teachers’ unions, write editorials and op-eds, speak to parents’ organizations and other community organizations. By working together we can pool our experiences, offer each other suggestions and encouragement, and provide a more effective counter to the right-wing. If you would like to get involved, or learn more, contact Margaret Power, power@iit.edu and Van Gosse, vgosse@fandm.edu.


[i] H-PAD press releases, “Historians Document the “Culture Wars,” January 17, 2023.