The (Short) Road from Book Banning to Book Burning

On the heels of my last post (Behind the Attack on Critical Race Theory) comes the news that efforts by Republican-led states to ban books from K-12 classrooms have now spread to colleges and university campuses. Consider this: Last year PEN America, an organization which champions free expression, reported that of the 54 bills introduced between January and September 2021 in 24 state legislatures across the United States, only three states (Idaho, Iowa, and Oklahoma) extended gag orders to the higher education system. Yet a recent legislative review by the same organization has found that the focus of these measures was rapidly shifting. “Forty-six percent of all educational gag orders filed so far this year implicate higher education directly,” PEN America reported.  “As of January 24, there were 38 higher education-focused bills under consideration in 20 states.” The PEN America report provides many specific details of the pending legislation, and you should read it.  But here are some notable horrors:

  • Oklahoma’s HB 2988, under which professors at public colleges are prevented from teaching “that America has more culpability, in general, than other nations for the institution of slavery; that one race is the unique oppressor in the institution of slavery; that another race is the unique victim in the institution of slavery; that America, in general, had slavery more extensively and for a later period of time than other nations.”

  • Under laws in introduced in Missouri (HB 1484), Oklahoma (SB 1141), Pennsylvania (HB 1532), South Carolina (H. 4605), and Wisconsin (SB 409), “professors could not discuss affirmative action or reparations for the descendants of enslaved people, even to disagree with them, or assign readings such as Ta-Nehisi Coates’ ‘The Case for Reparations,’ even when paired with competing perspectives.”

  • Mississippi’s HB 437 would prohibit faculty from teaching or assigning materials that raise the idea that “the State of Mississippi is fundamentally, institutionally, or systemically racist.” All seven of Mississippi’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) would be muzzled by this gag order since the measure would apply to private as well as public colleges in the state. Violations could lead to the loss of state funding.
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