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The whitewashing of education – and how to stop it

Ameshia Cross

No matter how much the right derides the word, the Black community needs to stay woke. In recent years, we’ve witnessed a disturbing trend that threatens the foundations of our democratic society: the rise of book bans, curriculum censorship and attacks on historical narratives in our educational institutions.

These actions not only threaten the principles of academic freedom and undermine the integrity of our education system, but they also position America as a democracy on the brink of collapse.

Education is meant to be a journey of unlocking the unknown, expanding critical thinking and advancing intellectual growth. Central to this journey is the freedom to engage with a diverse range of ideas, perspectives and honest history.

When they censor books, sanitize curricula, or suppress truths like the harsh effects of slavery, Jim Crow, Reconstruction and various civil rights movements, they are robbing students of the opportunity to grapple with complex issues of the past and design a future that embraces a more just society.

In a country growing more diverse by the day, we cannot let the right whitewash our history or dilute cultures that ignore the multicultural America and world our young people reside in. To do anything other than teach both historic and modern realities is erasure. 

Education should encourage dialogue, debate and the exploration of diverse viewpoints, not shield them from various ideas, uncomfortable truths, or controversial topics. And yet, more than 4,200 books were targeted for censorship in 2023, a 65% increase over the previous year, according to the American Library Association (ALA) — with 47% of them centering the lived experiences of the LGBTQ+ community and people of color.

This isn’t by mistake; it is a deliberate effort to propagate (cis-hetero) white supremacy. As a result, there has been a dangerous domino effect with the rollback of hard-earned civil rights progress. The so-called anti-CRT and anti-DEI culture wars have coincided with the downfall of affirmative action in college admissions and the decimation of voting rights, along with amplified white grievance politics and claims of reverse racism. Schools have always been battlegrounds for civil rights — today is no different.

Black and Latino students are particularly impacted by the erasure of their history and culture. With the majority of students in the U.S. being students of color, they deserve a rich and rigorous education that is culturally relevant to them. Not only is it just, but it has positive effects: Research shows that children are more engaged and have better academic outcomes when they can see themselves in books, learning materials, and teachers. In other words, representation matters.

Similarly, curriculum censorship stifles academic inquiry and hampers educators’ ability to provide a comprehensive and well-rounded education. The right’s attacks on history are particularly insidious, as they seek to rewrite or erase the past to fit a memory of America that no longer represents who we are or where we are going.

History is not static; it is a dynamic and ongoing process of inquiry, interpretation, and revision, and it should not be diluted or distorted. And whiteness should no longer be the default perspective.

Moreover, book bans, curriculum censorship and attacks on history disproportionately impact marginalized communities and perpetuate systemic inequalities. By silencing voices and perspectives that challenge the status quo or highlight the experiences of marginalized groups, we perpetuate a narrative of exclusion and erasure. Our histories, our heroes and our experiences cannot be erased

That’s why EdTrust and renowned leaders in education and civil rights are hosting Can’t Be Erased: An Event to Rally Against Book Bans and Curriculum Censorship on Wednesday, April 17 at 6 p.m. E.T. Attendees of this free virtual event can learn how to push back against efforts to suppress the teaching of honest history and the diversity of identities and ideas in your community. 

The call to provide every student with a culturally relevant curriculum in a safe, inclusive environment has never been more pressing. Book bans and policies that restrict discussions of race, gender and identity not only stifle academic growth but also obscure students’ understanding of diverse cultures both in the U.S. and the world around them.

Ameshia Cross is the director of communications for the Education Trust.

acedemic freedom, book bans, Education, opinion, whitewashing