Indiana bill banning teaching of ‘divisive concepts’ lays bare the Republican war on public schools

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Bockenfeld expressed concern that the bill would prevent that teaching, saying, “Of course, we’re neutral on political issues of the day. We don’t stand up and say who we voted for or anything like that. But we’re not neutral on Nazism. We take a stand in the classroom against it, and it matters that we do.”

Baldwin took exception to that. “I have no problem with the education system providing instruction on the existence of” Nazism, fascism, or Marxism, he said. “I believe that we’ve gone too far when we take a position on those isms …  We need to be impartial.”

Impartial. About Nazis.

Baldwin’s bill repeatedly includes “political affiliation” as a protected category along with sex, race, ethnicity, color, religion, and national origin. As he scrambled to claim he didn’t mean what he said, now that it was making headlines, he claimed, “When I was drafting this bill, my intent with regard to ‘political affiliation’ was to cover political parties within the legal American political system.” As for what he said when he was directly and explicitly questioned about Nazis, “In my comments during committee, I was thinking more about the big picture and trying to say that we should not tell kids what to think about politics.” 

Sure you were, bud. That’s why you answered a question about Nazis by saying “we’ve gone too far when we take a position.”

But Baldwin’s bill doesn’t just ban teachers from teaching that Nazism is bad. It also allows parents “to opt into or out of certain educational activities and curricular materials under certain conditions,” potentially forcing teachers to constantly adjust the curriculum for multiple individual students based not on legitimate educational needs but on the particular prejudices of their parents. LGBTQ students are omitted from the list of protected categories that includes Nazis. Schools are forbidden to “provide or administer certain mental, social-emotional, or psychological services to a student” without parental permission. (Those last two things are related, since we know that many LGBTQ kids need support in part because of stresses they face at home.) It creates a “curricular materials advisory committee” to be comprised of 40% parents, 40% teachers and administrators, and 20% “interested community members.” It removes protections for libraries facing lawsuits if kids access materials considered harmful. 

Taken as a whole, this bill is an instrument of intimidation aimed at schools and teachers, to prevent the teaching of anything that any parent objects to. Any white parent, anyway. As we’ve seen, again and again, the concerns of Black and brown parents are very often sidelined, and students experience significant racism in schools, while the concerns of white parents that their white children might be uncomfortable at learning that racism is bad are being turned into law in state after state. But while the current Republican crusade against education is most directly focused on race (where “critical race theory” translates to “anything about race that annoys the average racist”) and sexuality (with LGBTQ-themed books being disproportionately targeted for removal from libraries), it’s bigger than those issues. This is about intimidating teachers, about making their jobs more difficult. About dismantling public education as a public good that serves all children. That it’s using bigotry as its cover is all too appropriate.





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