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Educational Censorship

The Issue

PEN America is a national leader in fighting educational censorship in both higher ed and K-12. Our signature campaign against educational gag orders — legislative restrictions on the freedom to learn and teach that have swept the country since January 2021 — has generated media coverage in over a hundred publications. We will continue to expand our work to defend students and teachers against legislative infringements on free expression in the classroom.

PEN America tracks these bills in our Index of Educational Gag Orders, updated weekly.



Educational Intimidation

Educational Intimidation

“This rising tide of educational intimidation exposes the movement that cloaks itself in the language of ‘parental rights’ for what it really is: a smoke screen for efforts to suppress teaching and learning and hijack public education in America,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of Free Expression and Education programs at PEN America.
America's Censored Classrooms

America's Censored Classrooms

This year, proposed educational gag orders have increased 250 percent compared to 2021. Thirty-six different states have introduced 137 gag order bills in 2022, compared to 22 states introducing 54 bills in 2021. While there has been a decline in new gag order laws passed from 12 last year to 7 this year, overall, legislative attacks on education in America have been escalating—fast.
Read the report
Educational Gag Orders

Educational Gag Orders

Between January and September 2021, 24 legislatures across the United States introduced 54 separate bills intended to restrict teaching and training in K-12 schools, higher education, and state agencies and institutions. The majority of these bills target discussions of race, racism, gender, and American history.
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PEN America: Withdrawal by Arkansas of AP African-American Studies Course is “Reckless and Ideologically-Motivated”

August 15, 2023
PEN America’s  Freedom to Learn program director Jeremy C. Young said: “In its zeal to copy Florida’s destructive policies, Arkansas has demonstrated that attacks on intellectual freedom in schools are a truly national crisis. With this action, Arkansas is now using its K-12 focused educational gag order to limit students’ access to early college credit. In restricting access to this course just days before school is meant to begin, the state is undermining students’ long-term educational plans for political gain. This reckless and ideologically-motivated directive robs Arkansas students of their freedom to learn, and it threatens public schools’ ability to cultivate a robust, well-informed citizenry.”

PEN America: “Disturbing” Decision to Take Away 28 School Libraries in Houston

July 28, 2023
“To remove libraries and librarians under the guise of “transformation” is shocking and disturbing,” said Kasey Meehan, Program Director for Freedom to Read at PEN America. “School libraries and librarians are incredible resources for students and educators. As efforts to ban books sweep the nation, the wholesale removal of libraries and librarians further impedes students’ access to knowledge and ideas. These schools predominantly serve students of color from economically disadvantaged communities, and this decision robs them of the truly transformational opportunity offered by access to fully resourced and staffed libraries, filled with books that represent the identities, cultures, languages, stories, and experiences that mirror and expand upon their own.”

“Blatantly Inappropriate Investigation” of Texas A&M Professor After She Criticized the Lieutenant Governor

July 25, 2023
Kristen Shahverdian, senior manager in PEN America’s Free Expression and Education program, said: “This blatantly inappropriate investigation is a frightening example of how precarious academic freedom is becoming on Texas campuses. For Alonzo to be investigated and censured, seemingly at the request of the lieutenant governor, is a frightening encroachment on her academic freedom that sends a chilling effect across all of higher education in the state. This is worsened by the fact that it is unclear what exactly it is that Alonzo said to cause such offense, leaving professors to self-censor lest they offend someone in a position of political power. This debacle is deeply at odds with the fundamental protections that must exist for the exchange of ideas at colleges and universities, so that they can remain spaces of dialogue and debate vital for our democracy.”
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Tip SheetIf you live in the United States, it’s likely that your state legislature or school district has either passed an educational gag order or is considering doing so.

Want to help combat this threat to free expression, but don’t know where to start? Here are a few steps you can take as a citizen to help change the conversation in your community.

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