Academic Freedom Isn’t Free
My poem The 451 App (22 August 2022) is a science fiction/dystopian musing about the possibility of technology providing a comforting veneer to the creeping rise of totalitarianism — a simple App appearing on everyone’s smartphone before erasing all our books.
The point of the poem is less about technology and a dystopian future (alluding of course to Fahrenheit 451) and more about another work of literature: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity” (“The Second Coming,” William Butler Yeats).
For me, this unmasking of the human condition has always been haunting; it also has become disturbingly relevant in the Trump/post-Trump present in which we live.
Real life is always far more mundane than speculative fiction — and far more shocking.
The “worst,” “full of passionate intensity,” launched an assault on academic freedom in the final months of the Trump administration. The initial wave seemed poised at The 1619 Project and a manufactured Critical Race Theory scare.
By January of 2022, a report found that educational gag orders passed in states across the U.S. were having a significant and chilling effect:
We found that at least 894 school districts, enrolling 17,743,850 students, or 35% of all K–12 students in the United States, have been impacted by local anti “CRT” efforts. Our survey and interviews demonstrate how such restriction efforts have been experienced inside schools as well as districts. We found that both state action and local activity have left many educators afraid to do their work.
As bills have increased since this report, the number of teachers and students impacted are certainly higher.
Concurrent with educational gag order legislation, book banning has increased dramatically, as reported by PEN America…
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