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FIRE’s Response to Thought Reform Efforts in K-12 Education: Part 1

FIRE’s K-12 initiatives aim to improve the climate for free speech in American schools. (Image/

Due to growing concerns about perceived thought reform efforts in K-12 schools, FIRE’s High School Outreach program recently held a webinar and Q&A featuring program director Bonnie Snyder. We answered many questions from a large audience, but feel the topic deserves more attention, as it continues to develop rapidly.

This concern has been growing for some time and has increased since November, as we’ve continued to hear from distressed parties — parents, students, and teachers — about abrupt, troubling changes in their schools. Some schools are issuing collective belief statements that subsume the entire range of thought on current events into one presumed officially approved opinion. The message seems clear: Adopt this perspective or face potential adverse consequences. 

We hear complaints of classes suddenly veering from established learning objectives to incorporating subjective, politicized content with implied expectations that students will conform to the advocated viewpoint. Concerningly, we are seeing efforts to adjust state learning standards to include requirements that students and teachers advocate for certain attitudes or positions, without regard for individual liberty or the sanctity of private conscience. (FIRE has long warned about the dangers of mandating a particular worldview for our nation’s teachers, and successfully opposed efforts to impose ideological litmus tests on students at teachers colleges.) 

But, there is a bright side to this. Parents, teachers, and concerned citizens are overcoming their reluctance to speak out against the imposed orthodoxy in the classroom and coming forward to expose and oppose it. They’re recognizing the need to closely monitor what’s going on in their children’s schools and organizing groups to address perceived overreach in K-12 education. By assuming a greater, more vocal presence in their PTAs and at school board meetings, and by working together, they can restore a healthy free speech culture to their children’s schools. 

A FIRE-designed classroom poster provided free to K-12 teachers. Get yours at the link below.

At FIRE, we oppose the narrowing of the opinion corridor in academia and we support rigorous, open discourse in the classroom. We are coordinating and collaborating with individuals and organizations to preserve open discourse and free thought in American schools. Stay tuned for the next installment of the series where we will continue to examine thought reform efforts in K-12 education and what we can do to combat them.

In need of First Amendment resources for teachers? The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression has you covered. Our “First Things First” free speech textbook for college undergraduates explores the fundamentals of modern American free speech law. Meanwhile, our K-12 First Amendment curriculum modules help educators enrich and supplement their existing instruction on First Amendment and freedom of expression issues in middle and high school classrooms. Explore for even more First Amendment educational resources.

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