Teaching the History of Race

Historians confront the complicated history of race and racism in the pre-modern, modern, and contemporary world.

Yet, historians and social science teachers in the United States are under attack by conservative politicians and political activists. Many conservative political groups have long sought to promote a “patriotic” interpretation of United States history that supports nationalism and sanitizes racial problems and conflicts within American society.

For decades, the “Culture Wars” have generated controversies over high school history teaching, history textbook approvals, statewide history curricula, and museum exhibits.

The recent Texas ban on teaching race in history classrooms is one of the latest rounds in the “Culture Wars.”

Elementary school classroom. Photo: The New Yorker

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is opposing the attempts by the Texas Attorney General to ban discussions of race and racism in classrooms.

The AAUP reports: “Last week the AAUP submitted a brief to Texas attorney general Ken Paxton strongly opposing recent political efforts to ban ideas from the classroom. The brief was filed in response to a recent request from State Rep. James White for an opinion on whether teaching about race and racism in America, including critical race theory (CRT), would violate the civil rights of Texans. This insidious political maneuver to ban discussion of racial inequality is part of a broader right wing assault on the ability to teach truthfully about the impact of racism on American history and society.”

The AAUP emphasizes that: “These attempts to limit classroom discussion stand in irreconcilable conflict with the principles of free inquiry, free thought, and free expression, which the AAUP has championed for more than a century. The AAUP’s brief underscores how these transparent attempts to dictate the education provided by faculty could undermine higher education, violate academic freedom, and result in censorship and indoctrination.”

The AAUP has also issued a statement on legislative attempts in multiple states to limit discussions of the history of race and racism.

The current controversy over teaching the history of race is simply the latest round in the “History Wars” in the United States. There have been parallel “History Wars” in Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, France, Japan, and many other nations on teaching of race, imperialism, and genocide in public high schools and universities. The debates over history teaching intersect with broader issues of public history and historical memory in the “Culture Wars.”

See my previous post on Historians’ responses to the controversy over Critical Race Theory.

For context on History and the broader “Culture Wars,” see the following works:

David W. Blight, “The Fog of History Wars,” The New Yorker, 9 June 2021.

Dane Kennedy, “The Imperial History Wars.” Journal of British Studies, 54(1), (2015): 5-22.

Roger D. Launius, “Public History Wars, the ‘One Nation/One People’ Consensus, and the Continuing Search for a Usable Past,” OAH Magazine of History, Volume 27, Issue 1 (January 2013): 31–36.

Gary B. Nash, Charlotte Crabtree, and Ross E. Dunn, History on Trial: Culture Wars and the Teaching of the Past (Vintage Books, 2000).

Edward Tabor Linenthal and Tom Engelhardt, eds., History Wars: The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1996).

This entry was posted in Academic Freedom, Education Policy, High School History Teaching, History in the Media, History of Race and Racism, Humanities Education, Museums and Historical Memory, The Past Alive: Teaching History. Bookmark the permalink.

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