Indiana lawmaker says curriculum bill doesn’t ban teachers from condemning racism

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Tony Cook

Two Indiana lawmakers got into a tense exchange Wednesday over whether a controversial bill would prevent teachers from condemning racism.

The bill, authored by Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, would ban teachers from promoting eight concepts, including teaching about race and racism in a way that makes students feel responsible for matters like slavery and discrimination.

In an education committee hearing, Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, asked Cook whether a “good citizenship” clause added to House Bill 1134 would allow teachers to say unequivocally that “racism is bad.”

In response, Cook said teachers could teach historical events, like the Tulsa race massacre, the Selma Civil Rights march, and the Japanese-American internment during World War II.

“(Those) examples would certainly talk about racism and how it was approached in a very bad way in our country at one time,” Cook said. “What this bill is meant to caution against is bringing in my own feelings and imposing or promoting those to students.”

Cook later clarified with Chalkbeat that the bill would allow teachers to condemn racism through the new language encouraging teachers to promote the values of the U.S. Constitution over other political systems. Racism, he said, is contrary to constitutional ideals, citing amendments that abolished slavery, offered equal protection and gave voting rights to Americans of color.

“I will say racism is bad. I would say that in a classroom under this bill,” said Cook, a former teacher.

Cook amended his bill after a national outcry over another Indiana lawmaker’s comments that teachers should be impartial when teaching Nazism.

Cook said he does not intend to ban teaching of specific historical events, and that he wouldn’t support lists of what would be allowed and what wouldn’t. Instead, he said the bill authors are seeking to ban the promotion of ideologies, and activities like role-playing that sort children into roles of the oppressor versus the oppressed.

Some of the ideas the bill would ban are that any student is superior or inferior to any other on the basis of their race, as well as the idea that they should feel guilt for the past actions of people who share their characteristics.

Smith said civil rights groups remain concerned that the bill would prevent teachers from taking a stand against racism. He called the answers he received from Cook “evasive.”

Smith said he believes Cook’s bill is intended to censor critical race theory, which states that racism is embedded in the policies of the United States.

“Anyone with an open mind would know that,” Smith said.

He said that by trying to protect students from feeling uncomfortable, the bill would deny them a chance to learn higher-order thinking, or the ability to analyze and evaluate ideas.

Its proposal to allow parents to remove their children from lessons they object to would create “academic bedlam,” as teachers try to reconcile parents’ requests with academic standards.

House Bill 1134 passed the House Education Committee on an 8-5 vote with all four Democrats and one Republican, Rep. Ed Clere of New Albany, opposed. It heads to the full House.

Similar legislation, Senate Bill 167, is awaiting a committee vote.

Other changes to the House bill approved Wednesday establish a 30-day limit for parents to file complaints about forbidden concepts in the classroom.

Educators could lose their licenses for violating the bill, but the amendment adds that those violations must be “willful” or “wanton,” to address concerns about frivolous complaints brought under the bill.

The bill also would not require teachers to submit lesson plans for a curriculum review committee to approve, after teachers testified in public comment that their plans were fluid and changed daily.

Lawmakers changed the makeup of those committees to specify that they must be composed of 60% parents, rather than 40%. However, no more than 50% of those parents could also be school district employees.

The committee also dropped the wording—the singular word “include”—that teachers feared could have prevented even neutral academic examination of controversial topics. But the bill still would ban teachers and schools from promoting eight banned concepts that it lists.

Chalkbeat is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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2 thoughts on “Indiana lawmaker says curriculum bill doesn’t ban teachers from condemning racism

  1. If our Republican super majority allows this bill to go through, this Republican will not vote for the Republicans in our state legislature again. This is bill represents a boogeyman that hard-right GOP ‘leaders’ nationwide have shaped to stoke fear and get votes. I know the left often uses racism as a manipulative tool and the far left loves to tell us we should hate America for all its sins. But this bill isn’t the answer – it’s a partisan bomb that would only serve to widen the divide in this state and country even more.

    1. I actually agree that this won’t achieve much and will make the good teachers (hopefully still a majority of them in the workforce) feel hamstrung.

      But what IS the answer? Who is initiating the division? Under what circumstances is it appropriate to bring graphic sex descriptions into the text of a 9th grade classroom? Part of the point of curriculum is to filter for what is age-appropriate, which is why most textbooks have included excerpts when the content is contentious (e.g., “Native Son” or “1984”).

      If you think the “hard right” represents anything close to the Yuri Bezmenov levels of subversion we’re witnessing, or that the leftist view of racism isn’t “Mein Kampf”-style racial essentialism (actually encouraging resegregation in some elementary schools, and getting rid of accelerated teaching because “progressive” teachers don’t think the children of color can handle it), then I guess you can go march with the window-smashers the name of racial justice, Eric, along with fellow “principled conservatives” like Mitt Romney. There might be a better middle, but if there is, it sure isn’t making itself obvious.

      I wish this weren’t a Sophie’s Choice, but this is absolute subversion and if parents who don’t want their kids to turn out like the face-tattooed basketcases on the Tiktok videos have to ally with the “hard right”, then the hard right it is. Amazing how “hard right” principles got Glenn Youngkin comfortably elected in a “hard right” state like Virginia, wouldn’t you say?

      My hope is the school boards who cater to this nonsense get walloped at the next election, and we allow the individual districts to sort out their problems. Outside of a few woke districts, there are very few places where the majority of constituents want this.

      My conservative district did a very good job at teaching that racism is wrong while I was there. Frankly, it didn’t need to be taught–the books we read and the basic relating of American history made it evident. CRT actually encourages racial fixation, and when we fixate on superficial differences as opposed to individual merits, there is simply no way it will lead to good outcomes, even if the point is to admonish people against racism. If you tell people to stop thinking about pink elephants, well, you know how it goes…