Archives for category: Academic Freedom

This is a thrilling story, reported by The Intercept.

THE NATIONWIDE CAMPAIGN to stifle discussions of race and gender in public schools through misinformation and bullying suffered a reversal in Idaho on Monday, when a high school senior vocally opposed to book bans and smears against LGBTQ+ youth took a seat on the Boise school board.

The student, Shiva Rajbhandari, was elected to the position by voters in Idaho’s capital last week, defeating an incumbent board member who had refused to reject an endorsement from a local extremist group that has harassed students and pushed to censor local libraries.

Rajbhandari, who turned 18 days before the election, was already well-known in the school district as a student organizer on climate, environmental, voting rights, and gun control issues. But in the closing days of the campaign, his opponent, Steve Schmidt, wasendorsed by the far-right Idaho Liberty Dogs, which in response helped Rajbhandari win the endorsement of Boise’s leading newspaper, the Idaho Statesman.

Rajbhandari, a third-generation Idahoan whose father is from Nepal, was elected to a two-year term with 56 percent of the vote.

In an interview, Rajbhandari told The Intercept that although he had hoped people would vote for him rather than against his opponent — “My campaign was not against Steve Schmidt,” he said — he was nonetheless shocked that Schmidt did not immediately reject the far-right group’s endorsement. “I think that’s what the majority of voters took issue with,” Rajbhandari said.

The Idaho Liberty Dogs, which attacked Rajbhandari on Facebook for being “Pro Masks/Vaccines” and leading protests “which created traffic jams and costed [sic] tax payers money,” spent the summer agitating to have books removed from public libraries in Nampa and Meridian, two cities in the Boise metro area.

But, Rajbhandari said, “that’s the least of what they’ve done. Last year, there was a kid who brought a gun to Boise High, which is my school, and he got suspended and they organized an armed protest outside our school.”

Rajbhandari, who started leading Extinction Rebellion climate protests in Boise when he was 15, is familiar with the group’s tactics. “We used to have climate strikes, like back in ninth grade, and they would come with AR-15s,” he said, bringing rifles to intimidate “a bunch of kids protesting for a livable future.”

So when the Idaho Liberty Dogs called on Boise voters to support Schmidt — and a slate of other candidates for the school board who, ultimately, all lost — Rajbhandari told me he texted his rival to say, “You need to immediately disavow this.”

“This is a hate group,” Rajbhandari says he told Schmidt. “They intimidate teachers, they are a stain on our schools, and their involvement in this election is a stain on your candidacy.” Schmidt, however, refused to clearly reject the group, even after the Idaho Liberty Dogs lashed out at a local rabbi who criticized the endorsement by comparing the rabbi to Hitler and claiming that he harbored “an unrelenting hatred for white Christians.”

While the school board election was a hyperlocal one, Rajbhandari is aware that the forces he is battling operate at the state and national level. “Idaho is at the center of this out-of-state-funded far-right attack to try to undermine schools, with the end goal of actually abolishing public education,” Rajbhandari told me. “There’s a group, they’re called the Idaho Freedom Foundation, and they actually control a lot of the political discourse in our legislature. Their primary goal is to get rid of public education and disburse the money to charter schools or get rid of that funding entirely.”

For his courage and candor, he won the endorsement of The Idaho Statesman.

This is a remarkable young man with a bright future ahead of him. I am happy to add him to the honor roll of this blog.

Read the rest of the story by opening the link. Rajbhandari is a force to be reckoned with. He is a good omen of the bright, dedicated young people who stand up for their teachers and for environmental activism, who fight for gun control and against censorship. Best wishes to him!

Mercedes Schneider explains the uselessness of banning books. For one thing, young people become curious about the forbidden and may seek it out. For another, banning books banishes critical thinking. Reading only those books that confirm what you already believe limits your intellectual development. Try reading something different. Schneider provides a useful description of done of the most frequently banned books.

Schneider writes:

For those who would ban books, here is something to consider:

Developing critical thinking skills requires that human beings are confronted with the unfamiliar and (perhaps therefore) uncomfortable and that we intellectually wrestle with that which does not fit readily and neatly into our current world schemas. To not allow students to be exposed to a variety of reading materials– and to insist that developing minds be “saved” from what others deem unpleasant– is to stymie the growth of the human mind and, ultimately, maturity of the human will.

Rather than rush to ban, a far better option would be to cultivate cross-generational relationships (e.g., parent/guardian-to-child) in which open, nonjudgmental, respectful communication is the norm and to develop a habit of reading and discussing books together.

If you feel a book that interests your child is age-inappropriate, consider setting a date in the future to read and discuss.

Besides, the surest way to prompt a young people to read a book is to vehemently campaign for a book to be off limits. Social media thrives on such undesired popularity.

Summer Boismier took a stand against censorship of books in her classroom. A teacher in the high school of Norman, she had been ordered to remove from her classroom any books that might violate state law HB 775. That law declares that if any educator makes part of their curriculum teachings that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex” or that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” they could be suspended or have their license removed. She said teachers were instructed to remove such books or cover them with butcher paper. She did cover them up and posted a warning not to read banned books but posted the QR code of the Brooklyn Public Library, where students can gain access to banned books. The state superintendent Ryan Walters moved to suspend her teaching license. He said, “There is no place for a teacher with a liberal political agenda in the classroom.”

Boissier wrote the following opinion article in The Oklahoman to explain her opposition to censorship and book banning:

May 2, 2004, was a Monday. How do I know, you ask? Well, I was 15 at the time, and like most 15-year-olds, I was at school. I know, shocking! But what you might not know is that a mere 24 hours before, I had lost my father to suicide. I went to school the following day because that is where I wanted to be. That is where, in the worst moments of my life to date, I believed I’d be safe. School — specifically public school — had always been the place where I felt seen and heard and valued for who I was and, most importantly, for who I was becoming as a result. As both an educator and a public school proud Oklahoman, I want something similar for all — and I mean ALL — of my students, including the many amazing learners who often look, think, love, live and/or pray differently than I do. Every single child who walks through the doors of a public school in this state should have the opportunity to feel centered, to feel valued, to feel celebrated, to feel affirmed and sustained for who they are and for the lived experiences and diverse communities they bring to class.

Education is political, and the classroom — by extension — is a political space. Let me say it louder: Education is inherently political, but it is not automatically partisan. That would be, to use the word of the day, indoctrination. Politics encompasses the ideologies supporting a person’s daily choices, or lack thereof. Politics is power — who has it and who wants it. If knowledge is also power, then it would stand to reason that the classroom is indeed political. Who gets to learn what, from whom, and how is steeped in a political reality that Oklahomans would be foolish at best and reprehensible at worst to ignore. Laws such as House Bill 1775 fail to account for the fact that some pre-K-12 students are rarely afforded the luxury of experiencing “discomfort” only at school. When skin color and/or gender presentation is weaponized, discomfort isn’t just a poor word choice in some poorly worded legislation. It is a matter of survival.

Actions can sometimes speak louder than words; however, inaction can often speak just as loudly. Silence can even scream. There is power in what we say, but there is also power in what we don’t. What does it communicate when adults in leadership positions repeatedly and loudly target books by and about the 2SLGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities, among others? Make no mistake, when students — some of whom are also members of these communities — walk into public schools, they’ll get the message loud and clear that the state sees such stories as smut and such lives as less than.

Mother of multicultural children’s literature, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, argued that stories are mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors. Stories are also telescopes and prisms and ladders. Stories are safety. Stories are possibility. Stories are connection and validation. Stories are power. And stories are political. Empathy is dangerous precisely because it takes a sledgehammer to fear. If we don’t “other” differences and hold them at arm’s length, then those driving division by justifying censorship in our schools lose the power they’ve amassed keeping Oklahomans apart.

This is not a zero-sum game. What a student gains when teachers prioritize inclusive stories in the classroom is not another’s loss. Privilege is not a euphemism for guilt; it is a means to better understand the power a person has and the ways they can use that power to uplift others. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to defend a student’s right to read, to be represented and — by extension — to simply exist. But alas, this world is as far from perfect as I am from retirement. This incessant debate over (insert whatever term best reflects your particular belief system) books is evidence enough of that.

The lives of historically marginalized people should not be up for debate, but as Michael Brown, Ariyanna Mitchell, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, David Kato and George Floyd prove, they frequently are. Their stories cannot and should not be separated from the context of their lived experiences. No story — including the ones we teach and thereby validate in our public schools — exists in a vacuum. In the same way charges of indoctrination are an insult to their critical thinking skills, Oklahoma’s students are certainly capable of speaking for themselves. For instance, one student stated, “Being an openly gay student myself, who is witnessing LGBTQ+ characters for the first time emerging in our own curriculum, gives other LGBTQ+ students and I a more elevated self-worth and pride towards our own respective identities.”

It is time to come together as Oklahomans and side with a politics of critical thinking and compassion. This November you have a choice to make for the future of our state and the state of our public schools: a politics of inclusion or exclusion. So what’s your story? What side are you on?

John Merrow’s title is sarcastic. Of course he wants you to read banned books, and he is deeply concerned about the large number of eligible voters—especially young people—who don’t bother to vote.

When someone on Twitter posted a list of 25 popular books that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis had supposedly banned from the state’s public schools, people went crazy. The list included Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” and Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time.”

Below is a screenshot of the list. How many of these books have you read? Have your children read most of them? What on earth is going on in Florida?

People familiar with DeSantis’s efforts to restrict classroom discussion of controversial topics had no trouble believing that he would try to prevent young people from reading controversial or challenging books. If DeSantis did draw up a list, these books might well be on it.

But the list is a fake, a clever satire.

Many people were fooled, including teacher union President Randi Weingarten and “Star Wars” actor Mark Hamill. Hamill’s screenshot of the list amassed more than 100,000 likes and 24,000 retweets.

(Add my name to the list of those who were taken in.)

Like all good satire, that fake list of banned books is rooted in truth, because book banning is real and growing. Florida school districts have banned around 200 books, according to a report published by PEN America, a nonprofit that tracks book banning in the U.S. Pen America ranks Florida third among US states for banning books, trailing only Texas and Pennsylvania.

We are in the midst of a pandemic of book banning, so it’s hard to imagine any title that would never be banned by some zealous or timid school board or ignorant legislator.

One way to stop this outbreak of censorship is to get active, vote, attend school board meetings, run for school board. Passivity and complaining is a losing strategy.

Time to turn back the rising tide of incipient fascism.

The George Dawson Middle School in the Carroll Independent School District in Texas is named for a man who was enslaved, learned to read at the age of 98, and died at 103.

The school board is now reviewing whether Dawson’s biography should be read by students at the school. After all, its references to slavery and segregation might defy the state law against teaching “critical race theory.”

When Dawson’s book was published, it was hailed as an inspiring story. Its title: “Life Is So Good.”

A book about the grandson of a slave who learned to read when he was 98 years old is currently under review for use in the school named after him in Southlake.

The book, “Life is So Good,” tells the story of George Dawson’s life, from segregation and the civil rights movement to learning to read at 98. It’s one of about 10 under review by Carroll ISD….

Dawson gained worldwide attention for his 2000 memoir and was profiled on the Discovery Channel, Oprah, Nightline, and in People magazine. A grandson of slaves, he become a face for literacy before his death in 2001 at age 103.

The district insists that the book has not been banned…yet.

Others in the district say it has already been banned and the “administrative discussion” is a cover.

I wrote recently about Amanda Jones, the librarian in Louisiana who is fighting back against censorship and harassment in court.

One of our regular readers said she belongs on the honor roll of this blog. He’s right.

Amanda Jones joins the honor roll for her courage and integrity in fighting censorship!

Her GoFundMe page is raising money for her legal defense. Consider helping her fight for free thought!

Beth L. Matters on is a college professor in Florida. She describes how she will respond to DeSantis’ censorship laws: She will ignore them.

She writes:

In a couple of weeks, I’ll walk back into my college classroom and continue my second decade of teaching at one of Florida’s universities. Despite the recently passed HB 7 Amendment (Stop WOKE Act), I won’t be adjusting my syllabi to remove readings or discussions that make students “uncomfortable,” and I won’t pretend that systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia and other forms of oppression do not exist. I will not “whitewash” our country’s history or minimize the challenges and oppression that so many still experience, especially those who are women and/or members of the BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities.

Instead, I will do what I have always done. I will select the creative work of writers who belong to all sorts of communities, and I will require students to read their stories and discuss the work and their themes. Some of those themes are difficult and may make many of us uncomfortable, no matter how we identify or what community we’re in….

I purposefully select work by members of marginalized communities, because many of my students have not yet heard these voices… and many of my students belong to these communities. Recently, among other work, my students read, “Heavy: An American Memoir″ by Kiese Laymon and poems by Danez Smith. Both of these authors address race, class, whiteness, sexuality, politics, family and body image. Smith’s work also addresses homophobia and police brutality, and other topics that are “uncomfortable.”

What if every teacher in Florida did the same? They can’t arrest everyone.

Massive resistance.

Florida professors are feeling the chilling effect of Ron DeSantis’ gag orders and bans on teaching about race and gender. DeSantis will not stop his crusade for censorship in K-12. Higher education knows they are his targets as well. DeSantis has an authoritarian mindset and will not be satisfied until he has squelched all teaching, study, and research into racism and gender. When does the book-burning begin?

The Miami Herald reported:

Florida university professors are facing unprecedented challenges as a spate of new laws could soon crack down on research, discourse on race and gender identity and create an environment in which employees feel their political beliefs are being scrutinized at the risk of losing tenure.

The measures are backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-led Legislature and are seen as just the start by some educators. Those concerns have been fueled by reports that DeSantis had drafted even more attempts to rewrite laws governing public higher education, including stripping university presidents of the ability to hire professors.

The underlying message from eight professors from four public universities across the state interviewed by the Miami Herald is this: It is not easy to be an educator in Florida. Two professors who spoke to the Herald declined to be identified out of their concern for retribution.

It isn’t just history or politics professors who are worried about the chilling effects of restrictions on academia as they head back to class later this month, it appears to ripple through many academic disciplines. Some professors even suggested that they were considering leaving Florida to teach in other states and said they knew colleagues who had similar thoughts.

“In Florida, we know that these policies have really led to increased efforts to silence and surveil academic speech,” said Emily Anderson, an assistant professor of International Relations and Intercultural Education at Florida International University. “Academic speech matters, because it’s a fundamental freedom that is really how our university system is grounded. When we have policies that threaten speech, in my view, it shadows threats to all other protected rights.”

Read more at:

PBS ran a special about the love affair between America’s far-right extremists and Hungary’s authoritarian leader Viktor Orban. Here is the transcript. It’s worth reading to understand the extremism and not-so-latent fascism embedded in America’s right wing.

The Oklahoma State Board of Education lowered the rating of two districts—Tulsa and Mustang—for offering lessons or training that violated state bans on “critical race theory.”

Let’s be clear: hardly anyone in the state of Oklahoma knows what “critical race theory” is.

The board punished the two districts because they asked students or teachers to reflect on the meaning of racism.

In Mustang, one teacher complained.

Tulsa is a majority-minority district, but it made the mistake of teaching something other than lily-white stories about America., where racism might have long ago existed. Teaching about racism today is intolerable.

Representatives for the Tulsa and Mustang school districts did not immediately respond to requests for comment Saturday. In a statement to the Oklahoman, Tulsa Public Schools denied that the training stated that people of a certain race were inherently racist, saying it would “never support such a training,” but the system defended the need for implicit bias training.

“In Tulsa, we are teaching our children an accurate — and at times painful, difficult, and uncomfortable — history about our shared human experience,” the district told the newspaper. “We also teach in a beautifully diverse community and need our team to work together to be prepared to do that well.”

Charles Bradley, the superintendent of Mustang Public Schools, said in a statement published by News 9 that he was “shocked” by the board’s demotion, which he called a “harsh action.”

H.B. 1775 prohibits teaching that any individual “bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.” It also bans any course material that would make a student “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.”

Message: Never teach the truth!