News Topic

Advocacy, History Education


State & Local (US)

The AHA has sent a letter to the Missouri House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee opposing the following House Bills before the committee: HB 1457, HB 1474, HB 1484, HB 1554, HB 1634, HB 1669, HB 1767, HB 1815, HB 1835, HB 2132, HB 2189, and HB 2428.

February 8, 2022

Dear Members of the Missouri House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee,

The American Historical Association registers strong opposition to the following House Bills before your committee: HB 1457, HB 1474, HB 1484, HB 1554, HB 1634, HB 1669, HB 1767, HB 1815, HB 1835, HB 2132, HB 2189, and HB 2428. Formally, these bills would prohibit discriminatory teaching, but in effect they would create a climate of fear for students in which trusted teachers could be subject to legal reprisals or highly valued community schools could suffer damaging penalties for teaching a full and accurate account of the past.

HB 1474, for example, prohibits teaching “any of the claims, views, or opinions presented in the 1619 Project.” This would appear to ban teaching about many well-established events, developments, and historical debates mentioned in that work, regardless of whether they were genuinely controversial. Indeed, the wording of the legislation ignores the fact that there are three separate editions of the “1619 Project,” and they differ in significant respects. The American Historical Association is well aware that the “1619 Project” is controversial. But so are many other materials used in Georgia schools, and we object to this one set of publications being singled out.

The practical effect of the proposed policies would be to make teachers think twice before teaching students about discrimination in the past: for example, that the US Constitution prohibited any limitations on the slave trade for two decades, that the Plessy v. Ferguson decision legalized racial segregation, or that women were excluded from voting booths for a substantial period of American history. It is not clear that these are specifically prohibited, but teachers would have a reasonable concern that enforcement of the statute could include these and other controversial issues central to the history of our nation.

Though this legislation might appear to respond to public concerns about history education, it does nothing of the kind. In reality, there is overwhelming and bipartisan public support for what the vast majority of history educators actually teach on this subject: that slavery and racism have played a key role in shaping American history, and that their influence redounds to the present day. According to a recent national survey conducted by the AHA and Fairleigh Dickinson University, three-quarters of both Republicans and Democrats support teaching history about harm some have done to others even if it causes students discomfort—exactly what history educators, with only rare exceptions, do in the classroom.

With almost 12,000 members, the AHA is the largest membership association of professional historians in the world, representing every historical era and geographical area. Founded in 1884 and incorporated by Congress in 1889 for the promotion of historical studies, the Association provides leadership for the discipline, helps to sustain and enhance the work of historians, and promotes the critical role of historical thinking in public life.

If passed, these bills would result in ignorance of basic facts about American history and undermine the education of Missouri students, including their ability to perform effectively on the U.S. History advanced placement test or successfully complete college-level dual enrollment courses in US history.

This bears emphasis: The legislation you are considering would do significant harm to students in your state. The significant gaps in the knowledge of high school students would limit their college preparedness and their access to early college credit.

It will also harm their employment prospects. As the AHA has documented through our extensive work on career preparedness in history classrooms, the aspect of history education employers value most is students’ ability to communicate with and understand people from different backgrounds. This policy would limit students’ exposure to complex and contested voices from the past, making them less competitive job candidates and imperiling their future career prospects.

The AHA urges you to reject these misguided, harmful, and unnecessary restrictions on history education. I attach a statement criticizing similar legislative efforts to restrict education about racism in American history, co-authored by the AHA in June 2021 and signed by 152 organizations, including seven college accreditation agencies.


James Grossman
Executive Director