Representative Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, is bringing another discussion of censorship to the House floor Thursday, May 19, 10 AM Eastern time. This is the second such hearing meant to highlight ongoing efforts across the country to suppress free speech and access to literature in public schools and libraries. The first, held in early April, invited educators, librarians, and guests like Civil Rights activist Ruby Bridges together to talk about the chilling effect of book bans and censorship. Thursday’s meeting will specifically address new laws being enacted across the country to limit classroom speech and information.
In the last year, 17 states have banned discussions or lessons in K-12 classrooms on race, sexuality, and gender. Among these are Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, as well as laws that ban so-called “Critical Race Theory” lessons. These laws, pushed through thanks to advocates for “parental rights,” have created an epidemic of self/quiet censorship and have created an environment where educators are afraid to do their jobs for fear of being fired, sued, or both. Such legislation undermines Free Speech and the First Amendment rights of students and educators, and they allow the vocal minority to dictate what public education may look like.
A teacher in Carroll Independent School District (TX) was reprimanded–and subsequently apologized to–for having an anti-racist book in her classroom. In Missouri, a teacher was fired for using Dear Martin in a classroom, while in Mississippi, a teacher was warned that by being who she is, she’s committing more than one fireable offense. A Kansas City area high school banned any rainbow flags and stickers because of “division” they cause, and an assistant principal lost his job after reading a funny book about a butt to a class of students.
In a small study, Reuters revealed in February that this school year has seen over 220 death threats made against educators. Much of the reporting on the mass exodus of educators from the profession this year has focused on a lack of support from administration and parents, as well as the unease educators have being in the classroom despite the ongoing pandemic, but certainly, these laws limiting what can and cannot be taught play a role as well.
The Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties’s hearing will feature parents and educators from across the country, highlighting how these authoritarian-style laws are impacting their work and their students lives. Among the guests are high school students in Texas, Ohio, and Michigan; educators in Kentucky and Texas; Suzanne Nossel from PEN America; a professor of history from Yale; and parent Jennifer Cousins, who has been working with the Florida Freedom to Read Foundation to ensure Florida students have the right to access materials they desire in their schools.
You can tune in to the meeting below or by clicking here. Note that because this is a subcommittee hearing, it is subject to change time-wise depending on other meetings and votes needed to be attended to by members.