Skip to Content

Professor Rebekah Modrak’s New Book and Video Series: Trouble in Censorville

Testimonies from teachers across the country about the challenges, politics, and attacks they are facing are the foundation of a new book and website by Stamps Professor Rebekah Modrak.

Trouble in Censorville: The Far Right’s Assault on Public Education – and the Teachers Who are Fighting Back gives voice to teachers who are dealing with the effects of “ a well-funded, well-connected far-right campaign to destroy public education.” Modrak is a prolific artist and writer who analyzes and critiques consumer culture, including the COVID-era privatization of public education as parents began to refer to teachers as public servants,” subsidized by their tax dollars and therefore answerable to them as consumers. The book is published through Disobedience Press, an imprint of Michigan Publishing.

Modrak began to think about public education and consumer culture after attending local school meetings during the pandemic, where she witnessed people using emotionally manipulative language toward teachers, including trying to force teachers to return to the classroom before being vaccinated, questioning their love” for students, referring to them as public servants.” She studied the use of language and found linguistic similarities to the types of comments made during union-busting activities and right-wing political rallies. 

Rejecting the democratic ideals of public education and scorning the expertise of teachers, unions, and school board representatives,” said Modrak, they tacitly embraced the corporate paradigm that regards public schools as purveyors of goods and services, beholden to customers.”
Trouble In Censorville J

“The majority-white middle-class taxpayers, many of them Democrats and a good number of them avowed liberals, were part of an effort to strip power away from a female superintendent and a majority female and non-white local school board and bully underpaid public-school teachers back into their classrooms,” said Modrdak, “a manifestation of winner-take-all capitalism, naked class interest, and white privilege.”

Since then, Modrak partnered with the Marsal School of Education at the University of Michigan events, where teachers tell stories of what they have endured, including reprimands and terminations, for a variety of reasons, including resisting attempts to ban books because of LGBTQ+ themes or teaching students about racism and racial justice in the U.S.

The seed for the book started when Modrak connected with Nadine M. Kalin, a Professor in the Department of Art Education in the College of Visual Arts and Design at the University of North Texas. Over a period of two years, they interviewed public school teachers from Florida, Texas, Kentucky, New Jersey, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Washington, and other states. Those testimonials comprise the foundation of Trouble in Censorville, published on July 1, 2024, in book and video versions. In the book and on the Cen​sorville​.com website, 15 teachers describe being threatened, ostracized, smeared as pedophiles” and Marxists,” placed on leave, and fired for teaching the historical truth of the struggle for racial justice, in one case, for wearing insufficiently” feminine attire. The video series was overseen by Devon Redmond, who co-edited scripts and directed the set and actors during filming.

“These are intimate, first-hand reports of teachers’ and teacher-librarians’ daily lives in the current political climate. They describe the administrative support or sabotage of their work, the havoc wreaked on their health from stress, their fears and hopes for students’ futures, and strategies of resistance. We learn, for example, from high school librarian Martha Hickson that her administrator derided her for going “way overboard” in supporting LGBTQ+ students by fighting to protect books like Juno Dawson’s “This Book is Gay.” Devastatingly, in the midst of the firestorm of conservative outrage at her refusal to purge the library of books with LGBTQ+ characters, one of Hickson’s students, who had been proudly out, died by their own hand.”

Trouble in Censorville also documents how the teachers are facing these attacks and, in many cases, fighting back against the harassment they have received from administrators, parents, and political groups.

Already, the book has received praise from Annalee Newitz (Stories Are Weapons), Alison Bechdel (Fun Home), and Juno Dawson (This Book is Gay), whose work has been saved from censors by librarians in this book. It was also recently highlighted by PEN America, an organization dedicated to freedom of expression.