For Our Children: Threats to Education are Threats to Democracy

August 17, 2023 | National

Dr. Starsky Wilson speaks into a microphone.

When young Black and Brown children and youth see their stories in books—when they read about families like theirs, from neighborhoods like their own—they learn more effectively. But a disturbing trend is developing in classrooms across the country.

Many local school boards and state boards of education, under pressure from so-called parents’ rights groups and calculating politicians, are voting to take young people’s learning in the wrong direction. They are curtailing the teaching of Black history, banning books, and hardening the discipline measures used on students when they make mistakes.

This alarming reality encouraged our team in California, Children’s Defense Fund-California, to devote the focus of our upcoming advocacy symposium, ChildWatch 2023, to discussing ways to end these harmful practices.

The August 23 event in Los Angeles will feature Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, the Ford Foundation Professor of History, Race and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. He is widely regarded as a thought leader in the modern civil rights struggle to teach true and complete history. CDF was proud to partner with him and other national civil rights organizations in the #FreedomToLearn campaign and Day of Action, which focused on connections between efforts to suppress the teaching of history in K-12 curriculum and attacks on our democracy.

Muhammad’s concerns align with my own. In May, he pinned an op-ed for that summed up the issue perfectly: “Americans are losing the freedom to learn.”

We cannot let that happen.

As I said during the Freedom to Learn Day of Action, when we don’t tell the true history of Black and Brown people in America, we’re not telling America’s true history.

If we don’t share the stories of ALL our foremothers and forefathers with our children, they will be led down a path of ignorance that could cause them to repeat the mistakes of the past.

The threat to our students and to our democracy is real and pervasive. A recent report by the UCLA School of Law’s Critical Race Studies program found lawmakers in every state but Delaware introduced at least one “anti-Critical Race Theory” measure on some level in 2021 and 2022. School leaders in a community just 90 minutes south of our ChildWatch 2023 site voted in July to ban an elementary school social studies book that mentioned Harvey Milk, gay rights advocate and history-making former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Meanwhile, Children’s Defense Fund-Texas is actively fighting classroom censorship before a new bill goes into effect in that state that could risk the removal of vital books from school districts’ shelves. Our team will soon send an advisory letter to more than 1,200 Texas school board superintendents informing them about the “Dos and Don’ts” of that new law to make sure unnecessary censorship does not occur.

What’s clear is that certain people in power are afraid of a rising generation of diverse, educated citizens, learning their own stories.

At Children’s Defense Fund, we are committed to making sure all young people grow up with dignity, hope, and joy whether it be at home, outside in the community, or in the classroom.