Contact: Human Rights Watch
As organizations, groups and initiatives committed to the pursuit of human and civil rights, advocating for marginalized communities and defending racial and gender justice in the United States, we are proud to endorse the Freedom to Learn campaign and announce our participation in the Freedom To Learn National Day of Action on May 3, 2023. We join the growing, global network of more than 5,000 academics, authors and advocates who oppose the censoring of critical content in public and higher education.
The Freedom To Learn Movement has grown in response to the College Board’s February 2023 decision to water down its new Advanced Placement African American Studies course curriculum. We stand united in the call to restore the teaching of critical frameworks like intersectionality and contemporary movements for Black lives to the AP course. But more than that, we recognize that this one decision is not isolated. It is part of a long history of Black erasure and an alarming, current political moment in which right-wing politicians are seeking to undermine democracy by limiting public access to history and ideas.
As part of the Freedom to Learn National Day of Action, we are uniting around the following principles, which we believe are vital to a healthy democracy:
- Public educators across the United States should be empowered to teach curricula that reflect true history and inclusive, anti-racist and intersectional ideas without fear of retribution from federal, state, or local government or officials;
- Private third-party educational institutions with power to shape curricula — such as the College Board — should refrain from caving to political pressure from government officials who are attempting to manipulate public education as a cornerstone of their efforts to erode an inclusive and rights-respecting US democracy;
- The College Board should hold to its commitment to revise its 2022 Advanced Placement African American Studies course, including by restoring content removed in February 2023; and always ensure that students across the country have access to authors, ideas and concepts that can help them make sense of their history, current moment and future;
- All stakeholders who care about an inclusive and rights-respecting US democracy should unite in protest of legislation at the local, state and federal level to ban books and to ban anti-racist teachings like Black feminism, Critical Race Theory, Black Queer Studies and Intersectionality.
Many of our organizations have played pivotal roles in Black history: from the campaigns to stop the atrocities of lynching, the fight to dismantle segregation to the contemporary struggle against anti-Black police violence. Our US history reminds us that racial progress is not guaranteed and that even incremental advancements will be met with fierce backlash, like we are seeing today in school districts across the country. Our generational fights for racial justice in the United States have empowered us to see clearly how public schools are the frontlines of democracy, even as the rest of the public might have their gaze pulled away. This is why we believe the Freedom to Learn National Day of Action represents such an urgent and necessary intervention.
Along with the banning of thousands of books, 21 states and counting have enacted restrictions against Critical Race Theory, which is the teaching of structural racism and gender inequity. These attacks have metastasized to additionally target Black feminism, queer theory, intersectionality and other frameworks that address structural inequality. This censorship affects millions of public K-12 and college students in impacted areas, keeping them from vital knowledge of not only the way in which racism and discrimination impacts our contemporary society but why, if racial justice is not promoted and defended, racism will continue to constrain our futures.
Anti-truth legislation is designed to destroy people’s sense of reality in the United States, to invert right and wrong, to convert anti-racism into anti-whiteness, to turn victims into villains, and to replace the will to fight with the weariness of fear. As organizations committed to advocating for social change, we reject these politics of fear and division.
All children and young adults in the United States have an inalienable human right to be taught the truth in our nation’s classrooms. In 2020, millions of young people across the United States demanded a national reckoning with the prevalence of structural racism in our institutions and society. They demanded they be provided the tools, knowledge and resources to work to dismantle it.
So on May 3, we will join with young people in the United States to demonstrate our support for their right to education, their freedom to learn, and their rights to seek and receive information as full stakeholders in our democracy by supporting:
- Protests and rallies at state houses across the country
- Banned book read-a-thons or Book Circles
- Teach-ins or Town Halls
- An international social media campaign showcasing how all interested participants support the #Freedom2Learn
- And many more options
This Day of Action is designed to spotlight the multi-front challenges to securing academic freedom: the reactionary forces that have advanced legislation, tried or succeeded in taking over school boards and threatened educators across the United States and also the forces that believe that accommodation and appeasement are appropriate courses of action in response.
We recognize and are inviting others to join us in endorsing a core truth: we cannot protect the bedrock institutions of a healthy democracy–the right to vote, freedom of speech and of thought, the rights to access and receive information, and access to the truth–by appeasing organized and legislated lies as the College Board and others have done.
Through collective actions across the country, we will join in resisting restrictions on the freedom to learn, fight anti-truth disinformation campaigns, and demonstrate broad support for equity in our schools, campuses, and workplaces. We stand with all organizations on May 3rd to resist attempts to silence us, just as we have resisted attempts to silence communities before.
A People’s Law Office
Albert Shanker Institute
Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC
Educators’ Institute for Human Rights (EIHR)
Foundation for Systemic Change
Global Justice Center
Hawai’i Institute for Human Rights
Human Rights Initiative
Human Rights Watch
Indivisible Georgia Coalition
Justice Action Center
National Homelessness Law Center
New American Leaders
Project Say Something
Southern Poverty Law Center
Woodhull Freedom Foundation