Two women posing in a frame that reads "#TEACH TRUTH"

Teach Truth Day: Help Defend the Freedom to Learn on June 8

This blog post is by Deborah Menkart, co-director with the Zinn Education Project, a Unite Against Book Bans partner.

When the Zinn Education Project is approached about our work on the Teach Truth campaign, we’re often asked: “Is this book on the banned list?” Our answer is that, if it teaches complex and difficult U.S. history or relates to LGBTQ+ identities, it is being censored regardless of whether it’s on a list.

Consider Oklahoma law HB 1775, which has been challenged by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the American Civil Liberties Union. This bill restricts teaching that could make a student “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.” What book that examines the full scope of U.S. history doesn’t risk causing discomfort for the reader?

While claiming to protect young people with book bans, legislators block efforts to address the lethal effects of gun violence and the existential threat of climate change. Proponents of bills that restrict access to books and U.S. history argue that they’re protecting children from propaganda and feelings of guilt. However, we believe that legislators’ real intention is to prevent young people from understanding the power of multiracial society, becoming empowered to ask critical questions, and organizing for social change.

Many adverse laws are worded so vaguely that school administrators ask teachers to pre-censor or shadow ban titles to avoid the risk of a complaint. As reported in NEA Today, 65% of K-12 public school teachers limit discussions about political and social issues in class as a result of the “spillover effect.” In Florida, many classroom teachers and librarians emptied bookshelves rather than risk a felony for having an unapproved title.

These laws and their chilling effects come at a time when young people need – and are asking for – the tools to shape a more just future with respect to the climate, war, policing, education, and more.

Book bans and curriculum censorship legislation are the curricular counterpart to voter suppression laws. That’s why during this election year, we’re working to alert everyone that they threaten an informed and engaged democracy and hosting the 4th annual Teach Truth Day of Action.

In collaboration with 50+ organizations, we provide resources for teachers, librarians, students, and community members to host an information table at a public site or organize a gathering at a historic site. Hosts receive a Teach Truth pop-up installation box with four banned books, colorful information sheets about why each book was banned or challenged, buttons, posters, and other resources. The books introduce K-12 readers to a range of topics that are often censored – including racism, Native American history, sexism, and trans identity. To join the Teach Truth Day of Action on June 8, all you need to do is select a site and register.

Whether in your classroom or in the community, please join us to defend the right to teach history and the freedom to learn.

Featured image: Educators and students at a Teach Truth rally at the African American Civil War Memorial in , Washington, D.C., 2023. Photo by Maddy Kessler/Teaching for Change.