Guest Opinion: Banning Discussions of Race, Gender Sets Dangerous Precedent and Undermines Democracy

This is a guest opinion column

As someone born in the Soviet Union, I have followed with concern the debates about banning the teaching of “divisive concepts” such as “race” or “gender”.

My family remembers what happens when states weaponize this type of teaching. My great-grandfather was executed during the Soviet purges of the 1930s – a time when anyone who disagreed with state dictates paid the ultimate price. Among those who lost their lives were teachers, educators, scholars and researchers. My family rarely shared their story, but I learned an important lesson to share with the world: when governments decide to ban academic theories and concepts because they are considered “divisional” and “dangerous”, they undermine democracy and pave the way for authoritarianism. .

As someone who left behind a country that has historically and violently suppressed dissent, I cherish the freedom to seek and speak the truth that the United States constitutionally protects. Being able to teach about race and gender, as well as other categories of social difference without fear of reprisal or attack, defines life in a democratic society. Discussing these topics is not always comfortable, but with learning comes a feeling of discomfort. Those who assume that discussions of race or gender focus on “scapegoating” or “blaming” individuals miss the fact that their ultimate goal is to create a society where “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.

As many anthropologists, psychologists and educational researchers would agree, children and young people are creative problem solvers who benefit from open conversations about difference. Research with young children has shown that they begin to see differences related to notions of race as early as three months of age. By the age of two, they begin to see race as a factor in who they like and who they dislike. At the age of four, children choose playmates based on their race and may bully children of other races. What studies have also shown, however, is that explicit conversations about race help children develop positive racial attitudes. Such interventions reduce bullying and improve student achievement. Thoughtfully conducted diversity initiatives foster positive racial identities and attitudes that benefit all children, regardless of racial background. Banning discussions of difference – whether race or gender – flies in the face of established scientific evidence.

Bans already introduced in some states, such as Idaho, Florida, Texas, Georgia, and under consideration in nearly two dozen other states, are beginning to produce results that should send shivers down the spine of any citizen of this country. The first African-American principal of Colleyville Heritage High School in Texas has been fired on charges of teaching critical race theory. He was accused of holding “extreme views” after writing an anti-racism email.

Organizations such as Parents Defending Education, No Left Turn, and the Legal Insurrection Foundation have created databases, tracking websites, and reporting systems on what is being taught in schools and colleges about diversity, diversity, and diversity. equity and inclusion. This places all educators under excessive scrutiny and scrutiny. New Hampshire’s Moms for Freedom is offering $500 to anyone who submits reports about how teachers discuss race in their classrooms. There is now a wave of book bans and removals from school libraries. These books are considered harmful because they are written by BIPOC or LGBT authors. Arbitrary firings, monitoring and reporting systems, and book bans are not signs of a healthy democracy.

These examples of surveillance and censorship resemble actions undertaken by authoritarian governments around the world – the USSR and Germany in the 1930s, China in the 1960s, Cambodia in the 1970s, Chile in the 1970s and many more. They are also governments that then embarked on political persecution and mass executions. House bills 8 and 11 that were introduced in the House this month banning discussions of race and gender set this state on a similar path. These bills should not advance if Alabamians are serious about maintaining democracy.

Elena Aydarova is an assistant professor at Auburn University. She is the author of the award-winning book Teacher Education Reform as Political Theatre, a 2021-2022 National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, and a 2020-2021 American Association of University Women Postdoctoral Fellow. Dr. Aydarova studies the interaction between educational policies and social inequalities.