In Support of Students, Educators, and Presidential Record Preservation
AHA advocacy in late 2021 and early 2022 focused on the ongoing battle regarding “divisive concepts” in schools. The new Freedom to Learn initiative launched, which includes contacting state legislatures considering bills that would limit teachers’ ability to provide honest history education. The AHA also spoke out against the Trump administration’s violations of the Presidential Records Act, advocated for history faculty, and signed on to a statement supporting Afghan students and scholars. Furthermore, the AHA condemned recent bomb threats against HBCUs and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, putting these actions into historical context in two statements.
AHA Sends Letter Opposing Oklahoma Bill That Would Limit Teaching of Race and Slavery in America
On December 23, the AHA sent a letter to members of the Oklahoma state legislature strongly opposing House Bill 2988, which would restrict the teaching of “certain concepts pertaining to America and slavery.” This “irresponsible legislation,” the AHA wrote, would be “harmful to the youth of Oklahoma, leaving students ignorant of basic facts of American history and poorly prepared for the critical thinking and interpretive skills required for career and civic accomplishment.”
AHA Sends Letter Opposing Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District Resolution
On January 6, the AHA sent a letter to leaders at the Placentia-Yorba Linda (CA) Unified School District opposing the proposed Resolution No. 21-12, “Resolution Opposing the Teaching of Critical Race Theory.” “If the district is committed to academic freedom,” the AHA wrote, “why has it singled out one set of ideas—critical race theory—as a subject that cannot be taught in Placentia-Yorba Linda schools?” The AHA hoped history teachers would not be required to minimize historical transgressions or their influence on the evolution of American institutions, writing that “to do so would be a direct and clear violation of ‘the commitment to teach a complete and accurate account of history.’” The letter included 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 155 organizations.
AHA Signs On to Statement Urging State Department to Protect Afghan Students and Scholars
On February 3, the AHA signed on to a statement from the Middle Eastern Studies Association, the American Institute of Afghan Studies, and Scholars at Risk encouraging US State Department officials “to take immediate action to enable the safe and speedy relocation of Afghanistan’s students and scholars, many of whom represent the best and brightest of the country’s young generation.” The current admission pathways into the United States, the statement says, “are not available to many Afghans who face challenges overcoming the statutory bar to immigrant intent for such nonimmigrant visa categories. . . . As the spring semester commences, we strongly encourage the White House to seize this moment and open a pathway for them to return to school and productive academic careers.”
AHA Sends Letter to Collin College President regarding Nonrenewal of History Faculty
On February 7, the AHA sent a letter to Collin College president Neil Matkin stating that it “views with alarm your decision not to renew the contract of Dr. Michael Phillips, professor of history” after Phillips’s request that his students “consider wearing masks to protect their own health and the health of their classmates.” This request, along with the historical context Phillips provided about responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, was “well within institutional guidelines. . . . We fear that your actions will serve to intimidate other history professors who seek to teach about the history of pandemics and other controversial issues, and seek to protect the health of their students.”
AHA Releases Statement Condemning Violations of Presidential Records Act
On February 9, the AHA released a statement “condemn[ing] in the strongest terms former President Donald J. Trump’s reported extensive and repeated violations of the Presidential Records Act of 1978.” “Historians, journalists, and other researchers depend on the preservation of presidential records to educate the public and inform future administrations,” the AHA wrote. “These acts of destruction and noncompliance with the Presidential Records Act demonstrate blatant contempt for both the rule of law and the principles of transparency and accountability that constitute the bedrock of our nation’s democracy.” As of March 15, 30 organizations have signed on to this statement.
AHA Releases Statement on Bomb Threats against HBCUs
On February 23, the AHA released a statement historicizing and condemning the numerous bomb threats received by at least 17 historically Black colleges and universities in early 2022. “These crimes are part of a long history of attacks on institutions that serve the Black community,” wrote the AHA. “[These acts] spawned not only a hateful legacy, but also a current, ongoing threat to the physical safety and emotional well-being of all Black Americans.” As of March 15, 44 organization have signed on to this statement.
AHA Releases Statement Condemning Russian Invasion of Ukraine
On February 28, the AHA released a statement “condemn[ing] in the strongest possible terms Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine” and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s abuse of history as justification for the attack. “Putin’s rhetorical premise for this brutal violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty is anchored by a set of outlandish historical claims, including an argument that Ukraine was entirely a Soviet creation,” the AHA wrote. “We vigorously support the Ukrainian nation and its people in their resistance to Russian military aggression and the twisted mythology that President Putin has invented to justify his violation of international norms.” As of March 15, 41 organizations have signed on to this statement.
AHA Announces Freedom to Learn Initiative
In many states, legislators have introduced “divisive concepts” bills in an effort to limit history education in ways that would make it virtually impossible for teachers to help students understand the continuing impact of slavery and racism in American history. At the very least, teachers will be wary, uncertain as to the boundaries of the law. The AHA has launched the Freedom to Learn initiative in response to these legislative efforts, helping historians and others understand these bills and how to respond to them, advocating publicly for history education rooted in current scholarship, and creating resources to assist teachers directly affected by this legislation. Freedom to Learn is the first step in what will be a broader series of efforts by the AHA to combat attempts by legislators to minimize or even exclude from classrooms critical elements of the American past. As of February 23, the AHA has sent 14 letters about specific bills and resolutions to representatives in nine states, including Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas.
Rebecca L. West is operations and communications assistant at the AHA. She tweets @rebeckawest.
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