LITTLE ROCK — The ACLU of Arkansas is closely monitoring the Arkansas Department of Education’s attempt to scrutinize and potentially censor Advanced Placement African American Studies courses in six school districts across the state. It is alarming that state officials are signaling that they may interfere with educators teaching a comprehensive, factual account of American history that includes the truth about our history, laws, and the experience of African Americans.
It is unconscionable for the state to intimidate educators and school districts for teaching about racism, civil rights, and the myriad contributions African Americans have made to this nation as well as the struggle to overcome systemic racism. American history is not a sanitized narrative where only certain perspectives are allowed and the truth is erased. It is a complex tapestry that includes difficult truths about inequality and injustice — truths that students must be allowed to explore and understand. To do otherwise is intellectually dishonest and a disservice to Arkansans and Americans.
ADE’s request to review course materials raises a red flag about targeting educators and topics for state censorship and the infringement of students’ rights to learn the truth in our public schools. This kind of heavy-handed oversight sends a chilling message to educators and students alike: that the state is the arbiter of what historical truths may or may not be taught, and that some histories are less deserving of study than others.
We strongly urge ADE to refrain from any attempts to suppress or dilute the teaching of African American Studies or any other courses that provide students with a full understanding of our nation’s history or the truths about American life.
For the students who are watching, for the educators who are taking risks, and for the integrity of education in Arkansas and throughout the United States, we must not let this stand.
Educational institutions must be places where difficult but necessary conversations happen, where all stories are told, and where all voices are heard. Anything less is an affront to the values that underpin our democracy.