Dear Radical Teacher reader:
We are sending you the document below because, thanks to a bequest from Louis Kampf, we helped fund an effort by Historians for Peace and Democracy (H-PAD) to widen and deepen the pushback against the efforts in Florida and elsewhere to destroy democratic teaching and learning. Material produced by H-PAD is designed to "provide resources that we believe will be of use to teachers, students, journalists and concerned citizens in our common struggle for the freedom to think and to teach." We hope you will find this material of use in your on-going struggles to address —instead of hiding—issues of race, gender, and democracy, and to encourage a realistic view of America's past, in class and out.
Radical Teacher editorial board
Historians for Peace and Democracy: Our Fight for Academic Freedom and Democracy
Mary Nolan and Ellen Schrecker for the H-PAD Steering Committee
Every day we see another atrocity in the mindboggling war against teaching the truth about racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression in American history, LGBTQ+ issues, or anything else that may affront the extreme right in American politics. Florida may be the epicenter of this well-funded campaign against public education, but in 2022 alone, 140 bills have been introduced – and many passed in 42 state legislatures, and the current year may break that record. The list of horrors is long and growing, creating a chill in classrooms across the nation that push teachers at every level to prune their syllabi and watch what they say in class in case a conservative student records their words and files a complaint.
For historians, especially those of us concerned with issues of peace and social justice, these repressive measures pose a direct threat to our professional identity, not to mention our own political values. We know we must fight back. In a recent statement about Governor Ron DeSantis’s agenda in Florida, our main disciplinary organization, the ruling council of the American Historical Association, called it a “hostile takeover of a state’s system of higher education” and “a dagger to the heart” of American universities, that they viewed with “horror (not our usual ‘concern’) [italics added]. This is not the normal language of a dispassionate scholarly organization.
It has taken roughly two years since the culture wars against supposedly “woke” teaching, critical race theory, and other so-called “divisive concepts” got under way with the blessing of President Donald Trump, before most of the academic community began to recognize and strike back at the repressive measures that threaten democratic education at every level.
A few of us began the struggle earlier. Beginning in the fall of 2021, our organization, Historians for Peace and Democracy (H-PAD), decided to focus our efforts on combatting that crusade. A national organization, with a list-serv of nearly 1,400 scholars and activists and more than 163 official members at 400 colleges and universities, H-PAD was founded originally as Historians Against the War in January 2003 to challenge the Bush Administration’s distortions of history that led to the disastrous US invasion of Iraq. In 2017, in response to the Trump administration’s assault on basic human and civil rights, we changed our name and broadened our focus “to stand up for peace and diplomacy internationally, and for democracy and human rights at home.” More recently, the H-PAD Steering Committee decided to step up our activities countering the serious threat posed by the education gag orders that are coursing through red state legislatures. As historians, we are on the front lines of these culture wars, but the problems we face today affect teachers in every field and at every level from K-12 to colleges and universities.
Some of us have been involved with progressive causes since the 1960s and 1970s. Like Radical Teacher, many of H-PAD’s founding members emerged from the radical academic organizing of those years – in our case as the offspring of the former Mid-Atlantic Radical Historians Organization. We have been functioning informally over the past few decades as a de facto radical caucus within our discipline. Our projects have evolved over time. Once we threw ourselves into the current culture wars, we became more active as an organization than ever before in order to help build a broader movement against the attack on democratic public education.
We are emphasizing our work with K-12 history and social studies teachers and hope to expand it considerably – perhaps with the help of Radical Teacher and its contacts among teachers. We are also encouraging our colleagues within the academic community as well as concerned citizens elsewhere to take collective action to preserve the right to teach as well as the broader right to dissent. We stress “collective action” here. In some cases, we seek to collaborate with such other groups as faculty and teachers’ unions, radical academic organizations like RT, and groups like the Zinn Education Project that focus on bringing a social justice agenda into the public schools. In other cases, we hope to provide resources that we believe will be of use to teachers, students, journalists and concerned citizens in our common struggle for the freedom to think and to teach.
For example, H-PAD participated in last year’s national drive for the passage of Faculty Senate resolutions in public colleges and universities. Such resolutions are designed to alert college and university teachers, students, and administrators, and the rest of the nation to the academic community’s widespread opposition to the educational gag laws coursing through so many state legislatures. Initially organized in the fall semester of 2021 and focusing primarily on flagship state universities, by the end of the 2021-22 school year that campaign had successfully mobilized about sixty faculty groups from HBCUs to the Ivy League and leading public universities in such deep red states as Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee as well as in New York, Chicago, and California. We look forward to expanding that campaign to involve more teachers, students, and administrators as it is clear the drive to destroy democratic teaching and learning is not going to ease up.
HPAD has just launched another project in collaboration with the Zinn Education Project. Historians On Call (HOC) is a national effort to recruit our own members and other historians to supply groups of K-12 teachers, parents, and community activists with practical expertise. We are offering to provide testimony at legislative hearings, attend school board meetings, write editorials and op-eds, speak to parents’ organizations and other community groups and provide whatever services might be needed to combat the attack on education at the state and local levels.
Since its inauguration at the end of 2022, more than 70 historians have signed up from Arizona, California, D.C., Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia. And some are beginning to form state-wide HOC groups that are organizing events and reach out to the media. When we hear about an attack on education, we alert professors from the area and put them in touch with local teachers, librarians, or administrators who are the targets of these attacks. They will then work together to determine an effective response to the attacks. H-PAD also encourages professors to take advantage of our professional resources and draw on our expertise proactively. By reaching out to local history and social studies teachers, academic colleagues, and other concerned citizens, we hope to pool our experiences, offer each other suggestions and encouragement, and provide a more effective counter to the right-wing.
We have also been able to make our presence felt over the past few years within our own discipline by organizing in cooperation with the Radical History Review multiple panels each year at the annual meetings of the American Historical Association. This year, for example, we organized eleven sessions – a kind of -mini-conference-within-a-conference – that dealt with topics ranging from “Fighting the Culture War Attack on History” and “Unions in Higher Education” to roundtables on the “Empire of Sanctions,” and “Teaching the Truth in Secondary Schools during Contentious Times.” There were 48 individual participants and almost every panel was well attended, with standing room only at some.
One project that we are particularly eager to share with other groups and individuals is
the comprehensive digital archive, Culture Wars Against Education Archive, whose table of contents is below. Released at the beginning of 2023, it contains over 130 documents about the campaign by rightwing groups and politicians to censor the teaching of United States history – and about the growing resistance to that campaign. The archive, which we plan to update regularly, consists of a wide variety of official documents, articles, and information about the main protagonists in the current attack on democratic education. We view it as an accessible resource: one click takes you to each document. It provides an up-to-date repository of information designed to help students and teachers at every level, as well as journalists, politicians, and concerned citizens educate themselves about the current crisis and find constructive ways to respond to it. We hope that readers will find this article useful and help us disseminate the archive widely to potential allies, the media, and others interested in defending academic freedom and the right to learn. The archive can be accessed at http://www.bit.ly/hpadCWE or by using the QR code in the table of contents below.
Our website https://www.historiansforpeace.org/ contains information about the organization, its occasional newsletters, and lists of our other activities and resources for teachers, such as syllabi and our series of broadsides, short one-page overviews of historical issues produced by our members for classroom and other use. Among the topics we’ve dealt with are McCarthyism, the U.S. War on Drugs, North Korea and Nuclear Weapons, the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, and Is Trump a Fascist?
We welcome your support for this project – both in sharing this information with others and in supplying us with materials that we might otherwise overlook. We do follow the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed closely. Please send such documents to Mary Nolan firstname.lastname@example.org or Ellen Schrecker email@example.com.