The Freedom to Learn in Historical Perspective

How do today’s attacks on public education compare with those in the past? How can history inform our responses to educational censorship in the present? This summer and fall, the Washington Post’s Made by History section, in partnership with PEN America, has published the Freedom to Learn series – a group of ten essays by academic historians providing historical context for the current assault on public education. In this webinar, PEN America’s Jeremy C. Young and Made by History series editor Diana D’Amico-Pawlewicz will discuss the creation of the series; then D’Amico-Pawlewicz will moderate a discussion among Freedom to Learn authors about what their work tells us about the past, present, and future of public education.

PEN America is grateful to Made by History for their partnership and editorial direction of the Freedom to Learn series, and to Lumina Foundation for their generous sponsorship of this webinar.



Diana D’Amico Pawlewicz, Ph.D., is a historian of education policy and reform and Associate Professor at the University of North Dakota and a Visiting Scholar at the University of Richmond’s Bonner Center for Civic Engagement. She is also an editor at the Washington Post’s Made by History section. Her scholarship explores school reform as social reform and the ways education policies and practices have both disrupted and supported broader fights for equity. She is the author of Blaming Teachers: Professionalization Policies and the Failure of Reform in American History and the editor of Walkout!: Teacher Activism, Militancy, and School Reform. Her writing has appeared in national newspapers and academic outlets.

headshot of Jeremy YoungJeremy C. Young is Senior Manager of Free Expression and Education at PEN America, where he leads the organization’s advocacy work against educational gag orders and for academic freedom in higher education. A former history professor, he holds a PhD in U.S. history from Indiana University and is the author of The Age of Charisma: Leaders, Followers, and Emotions in American Society, 1870-1940 (Cambridge University Press, 2017).

Eddie R. Cole, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Higher Education and History at UCLA. He is also the author of the multi-award-winning book, The Campus Color Line: College Presidents and the Struggle for Black Freedom (Princeton University Press, 2020). Dr. Cole has received national recognition for his scholarship on college presidents and race, including: named in Education Week as one of the most influential U.S. education scholars; the 2018 Early Career Award from the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE); a 2017 Mellon Emerging Faculty Leaders Award from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation; and a 2015 National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Karen Graves, Ph.D., is Professor Emerita at Denison University. A former president of the History of Education Society (USA), she is the author of And They Were Wonderful Teachers: Florida’s Purge of Gay and Lesbian Teachers. Her latest publication is Mad River, Marjorie Rowland, and the Quest for LGBT Teachers’ Rights, co-authored with Margaret A. Nash.

Ed Larson, Ph.D., holds the Hugh and Hazel Darling Chair in Law and is University Professor of History at Pepperdine University.  Originally from Ohio with a Ph.D. in the history of science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and law degree from Harvard, Larson lectured on all seven continents in one memorable (but exhausting) year and has taught at Yale University, Stanford Law School, University of Melbourne, Leiden University, University of Richmond, and the University of Georgia, where he chaired the History Department.  Prior to becoming a professor, Larson practiced law in Seattle and served as counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives. Recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in History and numerous other awards for writing and teaching, Larson is the author of fifteen books and over one hundred published articles appearing in such diverse places as Nature, Atlantic Monthly, and Virginia Law Review.

Jonna Perrillo, Ph.D., is an education historian and a professor of English Education at the University of Texas of El Paso. Her scholarship focuses on the history of schools and citizenship, both in the sense of how schools define and translate citizenship values and how they enfranchise or disenfranchise students and teachers. She is the author of two books: Uncivil Rights: Teachers, Unions, and the Battle for School Equity and Educating the Enemy: Teaching Nazis and Mexicans in the Cold War Borderlands. Her work has also appeared in the Washington Post, the Boston Review, Education WeekEl Paso Matters, and Time magazine.