Reaching Out to Colleagues Under (Content) Fire

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It feels as though every few weeks we educators in the United States are forced to reckon with an atrociously violent incident that is not only upsetting on a human level, but also has historical precedent with which we have to grapple as we seek some kind of meaningful discourse with our students. 


This week I’m struggling with how best to address questions about the Tyre Nichols’s case. It’s fair to say that most of us have officially tired of the “thoughts and prayers” response to the seemingly never-ending horrors of gun violence, police brutality, and inadequate care for the mentally ill. We feel increasingly helpless as we have no concrete solutions to offer as we discuss these topics with our students. Do we focus the discussion on race? On police brutality? On the reality of how indistinguishable the two topics have become in the 21st century?


This most recent tragedy comes as educators in some parts of the country are being forced to mold their curriculums to the whims of politicians with no background in education, history, or any other content-area in which they seek to impose their political viewpoints. This week the College Board announced changes to its Advanced Placement African American Studies curriculum (see New York Times, 1 February 2023) seemingly in response to politicians in states where so-called “conservative” voices are working to erode the progress that has been made educating young people on race, gender, economics and history over the last thirty or so years. I write "so-called conservatives" because I personally do not believe that the delivery of historical content in a classroom needs to be either liberal or conservative. Historians share with all human beings the dilemma of personal bias. The best historians seek to find the truth in the evidence and help their students to uncover meaning and context.


It’s easy for me to deliver an inclusive curriculum in “blue” New England while colleagues in other parts of the country are increasingly being censored. I can’t help but feel, however, that we as a profession need to collectively do more. 


What, then, is that “more”? What do our colleagues need from us in these curriculum content-battleground states? 


I would love to hear from educators facing politically motivated content restrictions to their teaching. How are you addressing such issues with your students? What resources can we in other states offer to support you through these enormous challenges? Please share.

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About the Author
Suzanne K. McCormack, PhD, is Professor of History at the Community College of Rhode Island where she teaches US History, Black History and Women's History. She received her BA from Wheaton College (Massachusetts), and her MA and PhD from Boston College. She is currently at work on a study of the treatment of women with mental illness in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Massachusetts and Rhode Island.