HISTORY Updated at 10:53 a.m., Thursday, February 24, 2022
Indiana teachers have gathered at the Statehouse for weeks to vent their frustration over legislation they say could drastically change the way they teach students.
House Bill 1134 pitted the Republican-controlled Indiana General Assembly and some parents against numerous public school advocates, including the Indiana Parent Teacher Association and Indiana State Teachers Association, which represent nearly 40,000 educators.
Proponents say it would increase transparency for parents of what is taught in the classroom, as it would require schools to grant parents access to classroom materials and allow for the creation of parent-led curriculum review committees. .
Opponents say legislation inspired by critical race theory could restrict classroom conversations about race, as it would prohibit the promotion of several different concepts centered on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, color , national origin or political affiliation.
The initial version of the bill was introduced in January and was significantly watered down last week before being passed by a Senate committee on Wednesday. For example, the original bill created a legal avenue for parents to sue for alleged violations of the law. This item has since been removed. And the bill initially included eight so-called divisive concepts, but that was reduced to three.
Yet some teachers still fear that restrictive and punitive terms could be added before the end of the legislative session next month.
Last week, Shelby Phelps, an AP English teacher from Evansville High School, was among hundreds of teachers willing to deliver a message to lawmakers about the legislation.
“It doesn’t need to pass,” Phelps said. “Actually, we should probably kill him. Let’s kill the bill.
Phelps worries that this bill will have a chilling effect on the way she talks to students.
“I would constantly be on eggshells,” Phelps said. “Can I say that? Can I not say that? Can I provide that social-emotional context not only to the curriculum I’m learning, but to the real issues these kids are going through? »
Phelps and other educators feel caught in the crosshairs of a nationwide wave of legislation inspired by debate over critical race theory, an academic framework intended to help explain how people of color are affected by cultural perceptions. race, inequality and structural racism. These inequalities include home ownership and life expectancy relative to whites. School leaders in Indiana and across the country have repeatedly stated that CRT is not taught in K-12 classrooms.
But that hasn’t stopped Republican lawmakers from crafting bills that target discussions of race. Some states have already banned certain race-related topics in the classroom.
PEN America, a nonprofit that champions open expression, found that more than 35 states introduced more than 150 bills limiting what schools can teach about race and politics during the year. elapsed.
Andrew Schaaf, professor of AP statistics at Westfield Washington High School, visited the Statehouse last week to deliver about 100 letters to Sen. Linda Rogers (R-Granger), the sponsor of House Bill 1134.
“I believe my professional judgment should be sufficient for me to determine which contexts are appropriate for students in my class,” Schaaf said. “And I accept if the students evoke a context which could be too controversial. It happened. It’s something that I can make that call and say, “That’s an important issue, but maybe it’s not an issue we need to raise now.”
It is unclear whether these letters had a direct impact on Rogers who said last week that she had revised the bill to increase interaction between parents and teachers and to reduce the workload that teachers should have faced in the original language.
In his comments to the Senate Education and Career Development Committee, Rogers praised the state’s nearly 80,000 educators.
“Great teachers. Now, do any of them cross the line? Yeah, they do. But it’s no different than any other profession,” she said. “This legislation will hopefully reduce them or move them to another area.”
Advocates for the legislation wanted parents to have more control and awareness of what happens in their children’s classroom.
In recent weeks, some have testified to the lack of response from school administrators or elected school board members to parents’ concerns about alleged inappropriate classroom instruction. Other bills have also been introduced by Republican lawmakers to try to address those concerns — one of which would have made school board elections, which are currently nonpartisan, become partisan. This bill died earlier this session.
Many teachers fear that HB 1134 is driving a further wedge between teachers, students, and parents.
“What we really need is to work with parents in the community and in administration and to work together with other teachers to create richer, more diverse, even more interesting contexts,” said Schaaf. “And I’m afraid it will take us the other way.”
The latest version of the bill does not allow educators to lose their license as a result of controversial classroom discussions. And it clarifies that nothing in legislation should be used to prevent teaching about historical injustices committed against different groups of people or “factual history.”
Even with changes, educators say the legislation and ongoing debate remain disruptive and politicize public schools.
India Johnson, principal of Thrival Academy, said the school, which has mostly black and brown students, incorporates activism and advocacy as part of its curriculum.
“It’s really important to me and to our students that teachers are equipped with an understanding of history and the impact that the history of this country has had and the impact that privilege and oppression have had. had on the people of this country,” Johnson said. .
Johnson is troubled by how some lawmakers want to control classrooms — the version of the bill passed by the Indiana House last month included a ban on talks that could make some students feel guilty. Even though the latest version of the bill says it does not restrict the teaching or discussion of factual history or historical injustices, Johnson, who is black, is still concerned.
“My people weren’t allowed to ban our discomfort,” Johnson said. “If we had been allowed to ban our discomfort, we wouldn’t have been through much of what we’ve been through. But emotional discomfort – it’s a crude exercise and an abuse of privilege to say, “What makes me uncomfortable, I will do against the law. It’s offensive.
The Indiana Senate could vote on the bill next week. It would be up to the House for the legislators in that house to decide whether or not to accept the changes that were made in the Senate.