In 1949, New Hampshire was just one of many states that introduced laws relating to teacher’s loyalty, specifically prohibiting the advocacy of communism. Steeped in the era of the Red Scare, many states required teachers to take actual sworn oaths to defend the freedom of the United States and upload the Constitution. Though the oaths were done away with, there still exists in New Hampshire a law against teachers advocating for “communism as a political doctrine”, called the Advocacy of Subversive Doctrines Prohibited.
House Bill 1255, “An Act relative to teachers’ loyalty”, first introduced to the State House’s Education Committee on January 21, 2022, seeks to make some additions to the law that has raised concerns among local teachers. Socialism and Marxism are added as political doctrines that cannot be advocated for. However, the following line has potential implications for how the history of race may be taught in the state going forward, if passed:
“No teacher shall advocate any doctrine or theory promoting a negative account or representation of the founding and history of the United States of America in New Hampshire public schools which does not include the worldwide context of now outdated and discouraged practices. Such prohibition includes but is not limited to teaching that the United States was founded on racism.”
The bill also includes that violation of this section “shall justify disciplinary sanctions” and will be seen as a violation of both the educational professionals code of conduct and the New Hampshire Code of Ethics.
Many state teachers and local organizations have expressed concern at the implications this may have on discussions about race in the classroom, such as the Manchester NAACP. In an interview with NH Public Radio, Megan Tuttle, president of the National Education Association in New Hampshire, said that teachers ultimately want to provide a quality education to their students and this bill would damage those efforts and “ban learning from the mistakes of our past.” In the same piece, Deb Howes, president of the American Federation of Teachers New Hampshire, argues that the bill would “intimidate teachers” if passed and echoes Tuttle by calling it “a disservice to all of our students”.
The State Representatives sponsoring the bill have acknowledged that the bill’s writing was rushed and that they are working on drafting changes, but have stood by the overall message of the bill. One of the bill’s sponsors, Representative Glenn Cordelli, told NH local news that he is not against discussing the topics of racism and slavery, but does not think that teaching that the US was founded on slavery or that “we were or still are a racist country or state” is valid.
The bill’s primary sponsor, Republican Representative Alicia Lekas, has concerns over how today’s students are learning about history and says that “teachers spend too much time indoctrinating students about political things”. In the same article Lekas states that she does not believe that the bill will have a negative impact on teachers because it doesn’t keep them from teaching history, just that “you can’t teach one-sided history.”
New Hampshire’s education and teaching of race also gained some attention last year, when the State passed the “Right to Freedom From Discrimination in Public Workplaces and Education” on June 25, 2021. Under the third question in an FAQ published by the State it does not prohibit the teaching of historical events like segregation, slavery, treatment or LGBTQ+ people, and current events like the Black Lives Matter movement. However, it also states that any parent who feels as though their child has been discriminated against can file a complaint directly with the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights, which has caused some teachers to feel afraid of making a mistake which could potentially cost them their licensure if deemed credible. That pressure was likely not helped by the group Moms for Liberty tweeting that they would give $500 to the first person who successfully filed a complaint on a NH teacher. The tweet was condemned by New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu.
In an age where it seems like educators and librarians across the country are having to stand up more than ever for the rights of their students and patrons, it’s also worth mentioning that advocacy efforts from those outside the profession are also on the rise. PBS recently published an article that mentions several efforts across the country of varying scales and spearheaded by people of all ages. From the advocacy efforts of Penguin Random House and PEN America to children forming their own banned book reading groups and speaking up in school board meetings in favor of assigned reading of challenged books, there are those standing up and making a difference.
A recent poll from CBS News also is encouraging, finding that 8 out of 10 people surveyed don’t think books should be banned from schools for discussing race and criticizing US history. So, it’s up to this majority to make their voices heard when it comes to bills like in New Hampshire, which in the end will only hurt students and the larger communities if passed.
Amanda Girard is the Collections, Access, and Facilities Information Specialist at Southern New Hampshire University. In this role, she provides reference support to a variety of students, both on campus and online, with an equally diverse set of information needs. She received her MLS from Simmons University in 2019, and is in the early stages of what she hopes is a life-long service to the academic library field. Amanda’s professional interests include information literacy, book challenges, and censorship. She also loves to explore primary sources in her spare time.