There is a drama playing out in Indiana that is a microcosm of tragedies occurring all over the US right now. Indiana is currently in a fight over public education, much like many states in America. But today the spotlight happens to be on Indiana and Senate Bill 167.
Senate Bill 167 is a sweeping and restrictive education bill that would radically alter education and the way teachers do their jobs. Education professionals are doing everything they can to fight its passage, but Republicans are pushing to get it passed, regardless of what educators and professionals have to say on the matter. It seems these days that we are requiring more and more education, training, and credentialing of our educators just so we can ignore what they have to say.
Let us not mince words. This bill is designed to strip educators of their agency, to take control of education, to restrict content, to whitewash curriculum, to propagandize to students, to instill conservative dogma in educational curricula, to eliminate critical thinking, and to maintain control over students.
Highlights from this bill include:
1 (b) A governing body shall establish procedures for the
2 curricular materials advisory committee to:
3 (1) have access to all curricular materials and educational
5 (2) review curricular materials and educational activities;
6 (3) make recommendations regarding curricular materials
7 and educational activities to the governing body; and
8 (4) present recommendations regarding curricular materials
9 and educational activities at a public hearing of the governing
It may sound great to have some oversight on curriculum, but what that does is strip educators of their autonomy. And educators are the professionals who are trained to educate. We demand that teachers get all this training and education to know how to educate our kids. They know what they are doing. Then to demand this oversight for their work undercuts their authority and makes it so they can’t do their job.
18 Sec. 4. (a) The curricular materials advisory committee shall be
19 comprised according to the following parameters:
20 (1) At least forty percent (40%) parents of students within the
21 school corporation.
22 (2) At least forty percent (40%) teachers and administrators.
23 (3) The remainder of the positions comprised of interested
24 community members who are not employed by the school
It’s great that there will be teachers and administrators on the committee. And some parents get some input. But why do people with no connection to schools need control over what happens in the curriculum? How are they supposed to know what is going on in the school and how it operates and what is best for students? How would they know what is best in terms of education? These decisions should be left up to educational professionals. That’s why we demand so much training and education from them.
33 a state agency, school
34 corporation, or qualified school or an
35 employee of the state agency, school corporation, or qualified
36 school acting in an official capacity shall not direct or otherwise
37 compel a school employee to affirm, adopt, or adhere to any of the
38 following tenets:
39 (1) That any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national
40 origin, or political affiliation is inherently superior or inferior
41 to another sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin,
42 or political affiliation.
1 (2) That an individual, by virtue of their sex, race, ethnicity,
2 religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation is
3 inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or
8) That meritocracy or traits such as hard work ethic are
26 racist or sexist, or were created by members of a particular
27 sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political
28 affiliation to oppress members of another sex, race, ethnicity,
29 religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation.
Maybe you think that sounds great. Maybe you think, “Yeah, teachers SHOULDN’T be able to tell students that anybody is inherently racist or oppressive.” But shouldn’t they? Shouldn’t they be able to tell students that Nazis are inherently racist and oppressive? Shouldn’t they be able to say that slave-owners were racist and oppressive? Both side-sing isn’t necessarily a good thing. There are definites that a teacher needs to be able to establish. And as for meritocracy – that’s an inherently conservative position. Meritocracy IS racist and sexist. Preaching meritocracy is just entrenching conservative dogma into the curricula which is ostensibly what bills like this are supposed to avoid. It’s blending ideology with education, which is exactly what bills like this are supposedly designed to eliminate. But lines like this highlight that these bills aren’t really about making education ideology free – but instilling the right ideology.
Not later than June 30, 2023, and not later than June 30 each
16 year thereafter, each qualified school shall post on the qualified
17 school’s Internet web site, in a manner accessible to parents of
18 students who are attending the school, all electronic curricular
19 materials and a summary of educational activities. In addition, the
20 Internet web site shall list all nonelectronic curricular materials
21 and provide instruction for a parent to review the nonelectronic
22 curricular materials. Each qualified school shall allow a parent to
23 visit a school during normal business hours in a manner prescribed
24 by the qualified school to inspect nonelectronic curricular
25 materials. The curricular materials and educational activities
26 must, at a minimum, be disaggregated by grade level, teacher, and
27 subject area.
) The qualified school’s Internet web site described in
8 subsection (b) must include a functionality that allows a parent of
9 a student to opt out of or opt in to curricular materials and
10 educational activities as defined by statute or as approved by the
11 governing body under IC 20-26-12.5-5.
12 Sec. 5. A student who has opted out of curricular materials or
13 educational activities under section 4(e) of this chapter must
14 continue to:
15 (1) receive instruction during the time period during which
16 the student has opted out; and
17 (2) remain compliant with the instructional time requirements.
This, once again, aims to strip teachers of their autonomy. If the entire curriculum is online available for the world to assess, then the assumption is that the curriculum won’t change. This takes away the ability of educators to be flexible and respond to the needs of their students. And letting parents have the option of having their students opt out of any lessons they don’t like kind of nullifies the point of public education. If you’re going to only have your students learn lessons that you choose, then why are you sending your kids to a school for someone else to educate them? If you’re so concerned that your kids only learn curated curriculum that you approve, then you should be homeschooling.
Bills like this, that strip teacher’s ability to teach, indicate two important things.
One, people have forgotten who public education serves. The people who write these bills write them thinking that public education serves at the will and whim of parents. That education is there to be controlled and to satisfy the desires the parents of individual students. But that is not now, and never was the intention of public education.
Public education was mean to serve the public. It was mean to create citizens who would be valuable members of the society they would be a part of. Public education is supposed to impart the knowledge and skills that are necessary to be a working and active member of the public. Public education serves the republic, or the demos, not individual parents.
If individual parents have a problem with their children being exposed to the things that are required of a public citizen, they have the option of a more private education. And I recognize that sounds unfair – not everyone can afford a private education. But parents who are so concerned that their child not be a part of the public sphere have the option of homeschooling to keep their child away from the evils of the public.
Two, and this is related, it highlights the conflicting goals people have for public education.
Educators want to prepare students for the working world and for public life. They want to create critical thinkers and prepare them to be good citizens.
A certain subset of parents and politicians want education to create students in their own image. They want education to simply imprint upon students their own ideology, unchanged and unchallenged. Parents and politicians want the power to remove anything from education that might make their child think or might challenge their worldview.
It seems to me a worldview that fragile, that could be so easily shattered by something as simple as a junior high language arts lesson or an elementary school social studies unit, has bigger concerns than just what a child is reading at school.
I thought this week it might be good if you heard from somebody who is in the trenches, so I reached out to a K-12 teacher I know to get some input. I asked Gina Opdycke Terry, an English teacher in Spotsylvania County Public Schools in Virginia if she would like to share with us what it is like on the ground out there in public education. She sent me the following statement:
After book burning comments brought international attention to my county in Virginia, the Spotsylvania school board rescinded its blanket recall of “sexually explicit” books due to procedure violations. Despite public pressure and the morality of the topic of book burning itself, there has been no accountability, no reckoning, no apology. Instead, one of the members, Kirk Twigg, is now Chair of the School Board. His first act as chair was to fire the county’s well-respected school superintendent.
We are one county among many nationwide where fires are stoking regarding education. At first glance, the hot-button topic appears to be books, but books and education are intimately linked; indeed, English teachers will tell you that there’s a beautiful dance between texts and life, page and pencil. Actions in TX, IN, FL, and now in VA demonstrate that the book attacks are attacks on educators and public education itself, because education plays a role in change. And social change impacts perceptions of community identity. And identity crises are hard.
Bills that aim to attack Critical Race Theory, which is not taught in K-12 education, have a silencing effect on teachers, creating paranoia over curriculums that have over the decades become more diverse and more realistic in their depictions of American history and life. Such bills turn education upside down; “equity” and “inclusivity” – once noble goals of public education–are now spun as bad words, perceived threats to conservative agendas. With punitive measures now leveled at teachers for the mere perception of creating an “uncomfortable” classroom, the effect has been that the classroom, once a space of joy for many teachers, is a space of fear.
In Virginia, the Department of Education’s statement of equity calls upon educators to identify and dismantle “all iterations of racism and inequity” in schools; the VDOE states the need for a “culturally competent educator workforce” that maximizes the “potential of every Virginia student.” I have tried to live up to these goals in my classroom, but I head into a unit on race with nervousness for the first time. Virginia gets a new governor on Saturday, a governor who won in part by playing to parental fears about education and race. My county has no school superintendent; we have a new school board chair who sows chaos and has known ties to the local Tea Party. What do these local and state changes mean for my job? What do these changes mean for Virginia’s students, for my students, and for my own kids? As a teacher, I am worried; as a parent, I am terrified.
As a teacher, I don’t discount the role of parental participation in education. But teachers have a responsibility to reach a diverse group of students, and part of this responsibility includes an honest depiction of history and literature, and a recognition that while a students’ experiences may be individual, these experiences are nonetheless connected to communities outside the family unit. We are trained to help students with this process, and with the process of education itself.
Our professionalism is undermined by calls to ‘take back education.’ Take back what? The goal of public education is to serve, and to serve all, not just the voices of those brandishing torches. Our jobs are to give. To give space for students to find their voices, while also exploring the diverse voices of the world. To give students the academic and critical thinking skills to move forward into society as productive and responsible and perhaps even empathetic citizens. We are not state-sponsored co-parents; we are professional educators.
I don’t know how much teachers have left to give. We are worn down by the pandemic, by public, parental, and political hostilities, by low-pay and high-demands. We will do our best to uphold our obligation to our students and communities, but I know more than one teacher looking at their bookshelves with sadness and dusting off their resumes.
Thank you for your insights today, Gina. You’re a hero.
Gina’s testimony is one voice of many. Teachers are breaking beneath the pressures of the pandemic, political maneuvering, and the erosion of public trust.
Wherever you are, find out what’s going on in terms of your local school board. Make sure your teachers are getting the support they deserve. Make sure your local libraries are protected. This is where community and the public happen. If you value either, please work to protect them.
Music in this episode is “Fearless First” by Kevin MacLeod at https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/3742-fearless-first.
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