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The Fear of “Indoctrination” in Education

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There is a slew of legislation rolling out in state legislatures aimed at reducing “indoctrination” in education. Topics cited by legislators as dangerous in schools includes everything from critical race theory to the reality of pollution in the ocean. From Tennessee to Arizona to North Carolina, our lawmakers are concerned about education as a tool to tell the truth about our history, climate change and more.

In North Carolina HB 755, “An Act to Ensure Academic Transparency,” recently passed the state house and will move to the senate. The bill requires that all public schools under the control of The University of North Carolina submit: “an outline of all school activities held during instructional hours outside the classroom that includes a list of presenters and instructional materials; an outline of a teacher’s instruction in each course that includes a list of all instructional materials.” The materials would be made publicly available allowing citizens to comb through them for evidence of “indoctrination.” Essentially the bill would allow a “citizen police” to decide if what teachers taught was okay. While I like to think that the majority of the public trust teachers and schools, such legislation could open a Pandora’s box of critiques of curriculum to the point that everything from climate change to the Harlem Renaissance are deemed to be “indoctrinating” our children.

Another source of indoctrination, according to some legislators, is the use of “critical race theory” in schools. Critical race theory recognizes that racism is a systemic part of American society. In other words it suggests that racism exists and shapes both policy and opportunity in America. Tennessee recently passed a bill banning the teaching of critical race theory. Tennessee’s new law will withhold funding to any public school that teaches white supremacy. It is notable that as of this writing there was no concrete evidence that critical race theory is being taught in Tennessee’s public schools. Last week Idaho governor Brad Little signed into law a similar bill(H377) banning critical race theory from being taught in schools. According to the new law, teachers are prevented from “indoctrinating” students into belief systems that claim any group to be superior or inferior to other groups. Texas is expected to take up a ban on critical race theory in schools later this year. Arizona is also currently considering a similar bill that would allow schools to fire teachers for teaching controversial issues. If passed the legislature is endorsing a literal whitewashing of our curriculum.

Mike Jordan from The Guardian stated it well identifying how statehouses are pushing bills “that attempt to quell the momentum of teaching slavery and other such moments of American history as dark periods of the country’s past that continue to affect American life today.” It is as if the legislators are rewriting history to suggest that there wasn’t slavery or the Ku Klux Klan. These laws are clearly motivated out of fear and insecurity. The legislators seem to believe that if we don’t teach about reality, past and present, it will not exist.

The “indoctrination” cry has grown out of control. What about the truth scares these legislators? Is it that they fear that the next generation will realize that for decades policy has been passed not to support but to hinder future generations? Do they think if we don’t teach about Japanese internment camps then we all can just feel good about ourselves? We aren’t accountable for the actions of our ancestors but to not acknowledge the impact that those actions had is whitewashing the world for our students. It is irresponsible and counter to creating an educated population. And perhaps at bigger issue at this moment in time is to think about if this is the best use of any legislative sessions. Let’s be real. There are much bigger issues in education than what is any one teacher’s lesson plan this week.

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