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The War On Education And Free Thought Is A War On The Foundations Of Our Democracy

Today, on this Presidents Day 2022, while we honor the aspirations of the Constitution to “establish Justice … and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” we see gag laws being enacted and open threats to the honest teaching of the history of our nation in our public schools and universities. If left unchecked, this censorship will undermine our multiracial democracy. We can meet these challenges only if Truth Be Told.

At a press conference Friday, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick announced plans to fire professors teaching what he described as Critical Race Theory in the public colleges and universities in Texas and to eliminate tenure, the job security system that protects academic freedom. Patrick’s proposal came in direct response to a resolution approved by UT-Austin’s Faculty Council by an overwhelming 41-5 vote that simply reaffirmed that professors had the right to teach independently about all subjects, “including matters related to racial and social justice.” The resolution rejected efforts by state political leaders and the Texas Board of Regents to interfere with curricula and classroom instruction. Patrick had announced that the resolution was another instance in which “the woke left” had “gone too far”—and that the state would retaliate by treating instruction that legislators decide falls under the rubric of Critical Race Theory as outside the protections of academic freedom. He said: “We are not going to allow a small group of professors who do not represent the entire group to teach and indoctrinate students with Critical Race Theory, that we are inherently racist as a nation.”

While Patrick’s flagrant attack on higher education and academic freedom is alarming, none of this is surprising. AAPF has long anticipated that there would be a furious backlash to attempts, like the ones we experienced in the summer of 2020, to begin a national reckoning with the ugly truths about race we have long tried to bury. The willingness to teach the truth about the shameful past and painful present of race in America has always been a test of our country’s commitment to open inquiry and a more just future. And, we are surely being tested now. The hard-won insights of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality, however, enable us to own up to a national history and institutional life steeped in the divisive and exclusionary logic of white supremacy. But, only if we are willing to accept the challenge.

Educated citizens are the bulwark of a democracy. Civics education grounded in social history—which we honor today—is the cornerstone of an open society. Suppressing open inquiry is a dangerous step toward authoritarianism. As we have seen, it is has already led to school boards banning books that range from Ruby Bridges’ biography to the Holocaust-themed novel Maus. It has also claimed the livelihood of committed educators such as Matthew Hawn in Sullivan County, TN, who was dismissed for engaging in candid class discussions about racial justice—the very concern that will jeopardize the jobs of professors in the UT system under Patrick’s directive.

In this moment we make a clarion call to all who would preserve the values of democracy and racial justice to stand with educators struggling to help the next generation understand who we are as a nation, so that they will be prepared to lead us toward a more just society. Dan Patrick’s effort to cow educators into silence is an ominous move. It must be resisted.

AAPF’s #TruthBeTold campaign needs your support to speak the truth about race relations in America: truths that the Dan Patricks don't want you to hear.

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