Millions of children and adults across the U.S. and worldwide are heading back to school this month as students or educators. While we may not be joining them in a physical classroom, we can still show our commitment to everyone’s right to learn — children and adults have fundamental rights to education and to access complete and accurate information.
For many adults, lifelong learning means engaging in professional development opportunities, which can build our knowledge, improve our skills, and ultimately help us to make a difference in our communities. AIDPH is proud to support such development through programs such as our Veteran Oral Health Action Collaborative, Dental Public Health Leadership Academy, Rural Health ECHO Program, and Federal Service Immersion Program, to name a few. Through these offerings, we show our commitment to investing in dental public health learners.
At the same time, we acknowledge that in 36 states, there are proposed or enacted laws that may interfere with the right to learn. These laws restrict education about racism and other discrimination, including against LGBTQIA+ people; and that distort or omit accurate history and contributions of specific racial or ethnic groups. Across the country, educational institutions’ efforts to remove books that address painful aspects of U.S. history also seek to eliminate knowledge about the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in our society. We’ve witnessed attacks on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and have seen culture wars being waged against diversity and equity efforts not only in K-12 schools, but on college campuses and even in professional development environments. These attempts to instill fear continue to be stoked at the expense of learners who are not able to access the education they need to grow and be successful.
With censorship, students lose access to critical information and are left to educate themselves about important topics. Not educating students about sexuality, racism, and sex education can be detrimental to their physical and mental well-being. By ignoring or suppressing history and materials representing marginalized voices, we cannot work toward equity, including equity in dental public health. AIDPH’s recent publication Improving Knowledge, Comfort, and Attitudes for LGBTQIA+ Clinical Care and Dental Education shared that nearly one in five oral health professionals reported a desire for increased interaction with the community in order to better understand the oral health needs and challenges of LGBTQIA+ individuals. It recommended that licensing and accreditation bodies should require substantive curricula and continuing education associated with the clinical care of this population. While this example is for one population, we know that an investment in general is needed to create inclusive curricula that ensure effective dental care delivery by current and future oral health providers.
For its part, AIDPH provides opportunities for current and future oral health professionals to work toward oral health equity by amplifying community needs, supporting marginalized and minority populations, and lifting up the needs of historically excluded groups. As an organization committed to disrupting systems of inequity, we know that in order to continue improving, we must continue learning — all students should have access to authors, ideas, and concepts that can help them make sense of history, the current moment, and the future.