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The Discomfort of History

Welcome to “Tracing Policy to Impact” – A Civic Educational Series by A4A


Between January 1, 2021, and December 31, 2022, local, state, and federal decision makers introduced over 500 policies that limit the teaching of historical topics such as how some of our nation’s core systems were shaped during times where racist ways of thinking were clearly included. More than 200 of these policies were enacted, leading to an impact on our educational systems that this blog post will uncover.  


Several of these restrictive policies included a discomfort clause which states something like: 

“No teacher, administrator, or other employee in any state agency, school district, campus, open-enrollment charter school, or school administration shall require, or make part of a course, concepts that make any individual feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his race or sex... Or any divisive concepts or controversial issues.” 

including Arkansas’ Senate Bill 627, Texas’ House Bill 3979, and Florida’s House Bill 7. 


These policies have a negative impact on our educational systems by preventing students from learning the full truth about American history and its after-effects on our shared present-day. This is especially true when it comes to identifying how racist ways of thinking from the past can still be found within the systems and institutions all Americans fund with their tax dollars and rely on. 

Statue of Liberty

Contradicts the Purpose of Learning History 


The purpose of learning history is to understand the past, learning from the successes and mistakes of previous generations, promoting analytical thinking and the development of empathy skills.  


To prevent emotions of guilt and anguish, these policies stop teachers from being able to discuss important aspects of American history. For example, Native American students might feel discomfort learning about the violent seizure of their ancestral lands, while Black American students might feel discomfort learning about the history of slavery. Similarly, Chinese American students might feel discomfort grappling with the Chinese Exclusion Act, Hispanic American students might feel discomfort confronting the exploitative conditions their ancestors endured, and White American students might feel discomfort learning about historical privileges granted at the expense of these minorities. 


These policies allow this discomfort to be the reason teachers and students don’t talk about these things, meaning they would not learn about these important moments that have shaped American history and have lingering effects on our present-day. 


Prevents Students from Growing  


Discomfort is often a natural part of learning because we become aware of our lack of knowledge as we are also gaining that missing knowledge. This can be a positive and productive force for learning because it can motivate us to question our assumptions, challenge our preconceived ideas, and seek new perspectives. 


Removing topics from history curriculum because it makes students uncomfortable deprives students of the opportunity to recognize where today’s issues began and what has or has not worked in the past. This also strips the student’s ability to develop their own opinions or ideas about these topics, a skill essential for civic engagement and our progress as a nation. 

Harms the Nation’s Ability to address its challenges 


These policies have a negative impact on the nation’s ability to address its present-day challenges. The 27 states that have implemented these policies are slowly creating a generation of students who are ill-equipped, uninformed, and unaware of how to confront the present-day issues that affect them and their communities. 


By limiting what can be taught in our nation’s classrooms, these discomfort policies fuel ignorance, the lack of mutual concern for one another, and the further polarization of our country. This jeopardizes the future of our country by making it harder to trust our nation’s systems and cooperate with each other, thus weakening our democracy. 



Wrapping up 


These discomfort policies are harmful to our educational systems because they prevent students from learning the full truth about our nation’s past, its after-effects on the present-day, and how we can resolve them in our shared future. It is no secret that our nation has a sobering and harsh history of the oppression of minority groups, but learning from our history gives us a chance to right these wrongs and face our nation’s current challenges in a way that considers the well-being of all Americans. 


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