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Censorship and Self-Censorship in History Education: The Case of the United States

Tuesday, November 14, 2023, 5:40 pm – 7:30 pm

There is a war on public education that is raging in the United States (US) - a war PEN America calls the “Ed Scare” for its similarity to destructive Red Scares (an unfounded mass public fear of leftist movements in a society) of the past. This conference will particularly analyze the concerted efforts in a number of republican-led states against the teaching of race, gender and sexuality in US-history under the banner of an anti-Critical Race Theory (CRT) movement. Jeremy Young, who is the Freedom to Learn program director of PEN America, will explore the landscape of “educational gag orders,” “educational intimidation” laws, book bans, and restrictions on higher education autonomy in states and districts across the country. He will further address the chilling effect such policies have on professors and teachers, including the rampant self-censorship that is jeopardizing the freedom to learn for millions of American students. Nelva Williamson, a history high school teacher from Houston, Texas, with 42 years of teaching experience, will give an insight into one such classroom. Even though she was doxed by a right-wing website for her outspoken criticism of anti-CRT laws, she has continued to teach based on her conscience and has repeatedly spoken out for the importance of truth, critical thinking and reason and against book bans and the infringement of her rights to teach African American history and the history of her ancestors. Finally, Mathias Möschel will place the backlash against CRT in a broader context, looking at its reception in continental Europe and the extent to which critiques from the US have been adjusted to local contexts, in particular in France. An introduction will be given by Michael Ignatieff about CEU's own experiences with limitations imposed on academic freedom in Hungary.

This roundtable is the first in a series of four that deals with censorship and self-censorship of history education in “backsliding” democracies. The other roundtables will take place on Brazil (in January 2024), Hungary (February) and India (March). The goal of this series is to bring to light a set of worrying global trends: the increasing censorship of historical teaching; the widening scope of censorial practices; and the cross-fertilization of censorial techniques between different state and non-state actors. The aim of these roundtables is to bring together academics, high-school teachers and textbook publishers from the four abovementioned countries to talk about the dangers of censorship and self-censorship; ways to combat these in transnational cooperation; and the importance of academic freedom and critical history education for resilient democracies and an engaged civil society. These roundtables have been made possible by generous funding from the Zeit-Stiftung and the Conference and Academic Events Fund. Partners to the roundtables include PEN America, the Associação Nacional de História (ANPUH), Histories at Risk and the Network of Concerned Historians (NCH).


The Zoom link will be sent upon request. Please contact Margaretha Boockmann: