Posted on October 26, 2023
Survey Results: Your educational experience
Recently, there have been repeated attacks on education in the United States: “Don’t say gay” laws, threats to teachers and librarians, banned books and a manufactured panic about Critical Race Theory (CRT). We were interested in your thoughts on education and your experience with schools to see how things have changed over time. We were thrilled to receive over 3,000 thoughtful responses.
The attacks on education are a backlash against progressive progress in education. Progress may be slow, but there is progress. In almost every area we surveyed, the educational experience became more inclusive and more progressive. Younger respondents read more books by LGBTQ+ authors or authors of color. Younger respondents were more likely to be taught about LGBTQ+ history or Jim Crow. There is more coverage of consent and sexual orientation in Sex Ed classes.
Progress leads to backlash. And that is why CREDO supports groups like Zinn Education Project and Facing History and Ourselves. We need to keep moving forward. We can’t go back.
What we found:
Lots of books by straight, White men.
We did not see a lot of diversity in the books read in high school.
- 87% of responders did not read a book by an LGBTQ+ Author.
- 40% did not read a single book by an author of color.
- 24% read less than 2 books by women in high school.
We did see some trends by age and those who graduated from high school more recently were more likely to read books by women, authors of color and LGBTQ+ authors. Unfortunately, we did not have much data from current high school students to see how much things have continued to change.
If you are interested in catching up on authors you may have missed in high school, please check out our Bookshop.org affiliate. This is a great place to find new books and help raise money for independent bookstores. CREDO earns a commission on every book sold. We have recommendations for books by LGBTQ+ authors, authors of color, women authors and even a list of most banned books. That said, you can find just about any book you are looking for there. Why shop at Amazon, when you can support CREDO and independent bookstores?
Book banning is in the news, but not a new problem.
Only ~10% of responders mentioned a controversy about a book while in school. The most common books mentioned were Catcher in the Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird and Tropic of Cancer. Other books mentioned included books by Toni Morrison and Mark Twain.
Over 250 of the educators who responded had a book or lesson plan challenged. Many of these challenges were around LGBTQ+ inclusion. Others about religion. Apparently, The Crucible can be interpreted as instructions in witchcraft. Fortunately, in most of these cases, the teachers were supported.
The best comment on censorship was, “The AP Bio book had to have some pages glued together because they discussed abortion.”
What is taught in history is changing.
When asked about topics that were controversial or did not present the United States in the best light, we see that these topics are more likely to be covered in history classes than they used to be. There has been a growing movement on the right to suppress the teaching of many of these topics, but at least from our respondents, the trend had been in the right direction. For example, 49% of respondents over age 45 covered the Japanese Internment. That is up to 64% for respondents under age 45.
The Civil War is taught differently depending on where you went to school.
Responders who went to high school in the former Confederate states were more likely to have been taught the Civil War was about something other than slavery.
- 42% of responders from former Confederate states were taught the war was about State’s Rights. Only 22% of students from other states were taught that.
- 24% of responders from former Confederate states were taught that the Confederacy was a “noble lost cause.”
More than 2/3 of all respondents were taught “brother fought against brother” while only 25% of respondents were taught about African American soldiers fighting in the war. Only 9% were taught stories that centered African Americans.
Perspectives on evolution are evolving.
The teaching of evolution used to be highly controversial, but that has changed. 88% of respondents under age 45 were taught evolution in school. This is up from 75% for older respondents. Evolution was less likely to be taught in religious high schools.
Sex Ed – has changed over time.
Results from the survey show that more topics are covered in Sex Ed. Older respondents were far less likely to have covered topics like Consent, Masturbation, and Gender and Sexual Orientation. Only 15% of those over 55 covered Abortion in their Sex Ed classes, while 39% covered Abortion in their Sex Ed classes.
The increased coverage of these topics is positive, but it is shocking that half as many Sex Ed courses cover abortion as do abstinence – even for more recent high school graduates.
Notes on responses and methodology.
We were thrilled to get over 3,000 responses to this survey. While the information we gathered is fascinating, we do know that it is not representative of the country at large. Given that most responses came from emails to CREDO members, this is not a representative sample in terms of geography or political leanings. Additionally, the respondents were extremely well educated, with 50% of respondents having a graduate degree.
We were very glad to get so many responses from educators. 41% of respondents were teachers of some sort – with 25% teaching in elementary school through high school. Their perspectives were valuable.
Other quotes we just had to share
There were many, many insightful, personal responses. More than we could possibly share, but we wanted to share a sample of some of them.
“History classes must study and discuss historical facts even if those facts are a painful part of our history. How will we keep from repeating history of we do not?”
“So much progress is being erased by a few very conservative people. I would not want to teach now nor have a child in public school.”
“Teachers need better pay and greater respect.”
“I feel really grateful that my child’s school here in Chicago is doing a much better job with these topics!”
“Only as others my age have said – “I can’t believe we are still protesting this shit”.
“It’s taken me years to realize how white, Euro-centric and male-oriented my whole education was. We need to balance this out and also be honest about our country’s history.”
“Thank you for helping dig through the musty memories and all you do to raise awareness of the degradation of education today.”
“Teachers touched my life forever. They were excellent role models and outstanding individuals.”