Policy Brief

Educational Gag Orders: Legislative Restrictions on the Freedom to Read, Learn, and Teach

“Teach the Truth” Rally in Milwaukee on June 12, 2021, as part of the National Day of Action organized by the Zinn Education Project and Black Lives Matter at School.
“Teach the Truth” Rally in Milwaukee on June 12, 2021, as part of the National Day of Action organized by the Zinn Education Project and Black Lives Matter at School. Photo by the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA)/Flickr
Jonathan Friedman, James Tager, Cheryl Leanza, and Andy Gottlieb
October 2021 | PEN America
“Teach the Truth” Rally in Milwaukee on June 12, 2021, as part of the National Day of Action organized by the Zinn Education Project and Black Lives Matter at School.
“Teach the Truth” Rally in Milwaukee on June 12, 2021, as part of the National Day of Action organized by the Zinn Education Project and Black Lives Matter at School. Photo by the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA)/Flickr

This policy analysis from PEN America examines recent state legislation that prohibits the teaching of specific ideas, concepts, or curricular materials in public schools, higher education, and/or state agencies and institutions. The brief provides an overview of 54 such legislative bills introduced or passed between January and September 2021. This analysis concludes that these laws are anti-intellectual and that will disproportionately affect teachers of color. The analysis proposes that the laws enacted to restrict the curriculum about racism, anti-Blackness, gender discrimination, and homophobia are related to recent laws enacted to restrict voting and protesting. The analysis also finds that bill proponents use “critical race theory” as a catchall term that encompasses a range of ideas, practices, and materials related to advancing diversity, equity, or inclusion. The report examines the implications of such laws on education for students, teachers, and teacher educators.

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