Silencing Minds: The Violation of Basic Human Rights Through School Censorship

Written by Leticia Cox

Efforts by US states to ban school curricula offering historically accurate accounts of racism in the United States is an attack on fundamental human rights and the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

Image by Leticia Cox.

Education is critical in shaping individuals’ understanding of the world and fostering a just and equitable society. Denying students access to accurate and comprehensive information about racism undermines their ability to grasp the full extent of historical injustices and perpetuates systemic discrimination.

“The May 3 Day of Action in support of the freedom to learn underscores that children and adults have fundamental rights to education and to access accurate information,” said Alison Parker, deputy US director at Human Rights Watch. “Attacks on education are attacks on US democracy because they ban access to the information that motivates voting and political participation.”

Historically accurate accounts of racism provide students with a broader perspective on the development of American society, shedding light on the experiences of marginalised communities and the struggles they have faced. These curricula examine topics such as slavery, segregation, and the civil rights movement, and they are essential for a complete understanding of US history. By learning about the historical roots of racism, students can better comprehend the current social and racial inequalities.

‘One of the ten amendments of the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment, gives everyone residing in the United States the right to hear all sides of every issue and to make their own judgments about those issues without government interference or limitations. The First Amendment allows individuals to speak, publish, read and view what they wish, worship (or not worship) as they wish, associate with whomever they choose, and gather to ask the government to make changes in the law or correct the wrongs in society.’ 

Banning the teaching of these subjects not only distorts history but also eternalises a cycle of ignorance and prejudice. Students shielded from confronting the truth about racism are deprived of the opportunity to develop empathy and critical thinking skills necessary for active participation in a diverse and inclusive society. By denying students access to accurate information, these bans undermine the principles of academic freedom and hinder the development of a well-informed citizenry.

A crowd protesting then U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos in 2017. Photo by Ted Eytan.

Furthermore, such bans on teaching accurate accounts of racism affect marginalised communities and perpetuate systemic inequalities. People of colour, who have historically been the victims of racism, have a right to see their experiences and contributions acknowledged in the curriculum. By erasing or downplaying the history of racism, these bans silence marginalised voices and contribute to a culture of exclusion and inequality.

The right to education is a fundamental human right recognised internationally. It encompasses not only the access to education but also the content and quality of education. States should provide an inclusive and comprehensive education that enables students to understand and respect the diversity of human experiences. Banning historically accurate accounts of racism contradicts this obligation and undermines the principles of equality and non-discrimination.

Efforts to ban curricula offering historically accurate accounts of racism must be challenged and resisted. Educators, activists, and advocates must defend the right to education, promote inclusive curricula, and ensure that students have a genuine and nuanced understanding of history. By doing so, we can strive to create a society that confronts its past, acknowledges its flaws, and actively works towards a more just and equitable future for all.