Indiana teachers say the anti-CRT law would weaken lessons

Civil rights movement, Armenian genocide of 1915, evolution, human reproduction.

These are some of the lessons that Indiana teachers fear they would have to mitigate or eliminate altogether if the state adopts new comprehensive regulations on how they can address race and racism. Many objects.

“I refuse to be part of the history of whitening,” said Sondra Flora, a secondary school teacher at Elkhart Community Schools.

The proposed restrictions come as part of a conservative movement that responds to protests against racial justice by focusing on critical racial theory – although state leaders have said they do not believe K-12 schools in Indiana teach theory, an academic concept that examines how institutional racism is woven. into law and society.

But the legislature behind the bill wants to ban classes that could cause students discomfort or a feeling of superiority or inferiority to others.

“If people think it’s a small problem out here; is not, “said MP Tony Cook, a Chicory Republican and author of House Act 1134.

Senate Pro President Rodric Bray said on Friday that the Senate would no longer enforce the proposed curriculum restrictions. In the House, lawmakers tried to blunt the language of the bill after opposing the legislature’s proposal to keep teachers impartial about the Holocaust. They added a “good citizenship” clause, which, according to its authors, allows teachers to express their views on ideas that are contrary to the US constitution, such as Nazism and racism.

However, many educators said they were still against the bill because they said the ban could stop teaching a range of historical topics that could make the student uncomfortable.

Hammond Schools Superintendent Scott Miller told the House Education Committee that a history lesson on religious persecution during the Spanish Inquisition could lead to a complaint under the proposed law if, for example, a Catholic student felt uncomfortable.

“If we want to promote critical thinking skills, we can’t set a standard for violations that is at the level of comfort of an individual student,” Miller said.

‘Our children understand’

Teachers whose lessons cover American history have expressed perhaps the biggest concerns about a proposed law that they say seeks to undermine the teaching of racial discrimination.

Lillian Barkes, a secondary school teacher at Indianapolis Public Schools, said she relied on stories that provide examples of racism and segregation, including Separate Is Never Equal, a book on the California school desegregation; “The Girl with the Mind in Mathematics,” which tells the story of Ray Montague, a black engineer; and “The Youngest Marcher,” the youngest person arrested in civil rights protests in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.

“These books are mirrors for my students.” They are able to see themselves and are represented, “said Barkes. “I see my students shine and get involved as we discuss topics such as fairness. Removing these books would destroy much of my library. ”

Rosa Snapp, a sixth-grade English teacher at East Washington Schools, said that even historical sources such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “I Have a Dream” could be considered a violation of the law.

Snapp said after the lessons on the history of racism, the students did not express guilt or anxiety, but rather anger over the treatment of blacks.

“They have a right to make sure it doesn’t happen again in their lifetime,” Snapp said.

Kathy Wallace, an elementary music specialist at Randolph Central Schools, said she previously taught the musical “Hamilton” or the book “When Marian Sang” about an integrated concert by opera singer Marian Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939.

These lessons lead to equality debates, Wallace said.

“The easiest thing in our current climate would be not to teach any of that,” Wallace said. “But then this genre is lost to a group of students and they feel that their education has been deceived.”

Flora, a teacher at Elkhart, said she would refuse to stop teaching high school history classes, such as those of Ruby Bridges, who was similar to her students when she desegregated William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans.

“Ruby’s story helps students build empathy and find the courage to stand up for what is right and stand up for others,” Flora said.

She said the students had never blamed history anxiety or anxiety, but instead shared the shock that people could be so kind to each other. Others shared their own experiences of labeling racial insults.

“Every year I watch my students listen to each other and empathize,” Flora said. “It is their discussions, questions and reactions to these lessons that give me hope. Our children understand that. I hope that our state legislators will have it one day. “

Teachers are interested in lessons

Cook, the legislature behind the House Bill, said he did not intend to ban certain topics.

Instead, it wants to prevent teachers from forcing their opinions on students, and also to ban classroom activities that force students to declare their identity or play the roles of the oppressed and oppressors.

Former teacher Cook said that teachers, for example, should not focus only on the negatives of Catholicism when teaching the Spanish Inquisition. He said he would teach some of the early attitudes of the Catholic Church and examples of accusations of the Inquisition proving to be false.

“But you don’t condemn a group of sixth graders, you just point out the negatives that have occurred in their religion,” Cook said.

As for a more modern example, such as the practice of redlining, which blocked black Americans in owning a home, and its current effects, Cook acknowledged that discriminatory practices existed, but argued that the cause was questionable.

But many educators say they need to teach accurate history and oppose atrocities.

Ronak Shah, a seventh-grade science teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep Middle, said the bill would prevent teachers from describing the role of oppression in historical events.

“This language is so broad for every country and society that it prevents me from learning how Stalin used the idea of ​​hard work ethics to condemn political dissidents to Russian gulags, and to teach how Mao Zedong similarly used the idea of ​​hard work ethics. “meritocracy to uncover and subsequently crush conflicting views during the” hundred flowers “period and the cultural revolution,” Shah said.

He said the “good citizenship” clause in support of constitutional values ​​still raised questions about, for example, how to teach how the US government treats indigenous peoples and the Confederacy.

Troy Hammon, a teacher at Shortridge High School and president of the Indiana Council for Social Studies, said language changes did little to alleviate potential conflicts between educators and parents.

Hammon, a 25-year teaching veteran, said teachers had to lay the groundwork for difficult history lessons – that they could not teach World War II in the same way as a fifth-grader as an 11th grader – but that lessons were essential.

“Parts of the learning process can be uncomfortable for some. “Put me in math class and I’ll suffer from discomfort for most of the sessions,” Hammon said. “Good teachers keep communication open and work with students through discomfort to create such instructive moments.”

Concerns about teachers’ exodus

Other teachers said they would refuse to change classes if the law passed or would rather leave school altogether, exacerbating fears of a shortage of teachers.

Some expressed frustration at the state’s attempt to interfere with their classes and the relationships they had with their students’ families.

Michelle Fleischer, a ninth-grade English teacher at Elkhart Community Schools, said she would refuse to comply if the law became law.

“Most teachers would welcome any comments or concerns from parents (or legal guardians),” Fleischer said. “Most parents trust teachers to teach our subjects because, believe it or not, we know what we’re doing.”

Educators have professional training to guide students through necessary and painful discussions, said Kay Orzechowicz, who recently retired after teaching for 35 years.

Orzechowicz said she was always prepared with a justification when approaching controversial topics, in case she faced questions from parents, administrators or students.

When questions about vulgar expressions in The Hate U Give came up, Orzechowicz said she explained that her students felt reading a book about a black girl who witnessed a police officer shooting her best friend deadly. feeling recognized. . She would say that the point of teaching was his story – not his language.

Orzechowicz said Indiana’s proposed curriculum restrictions would not change the way we teach.

“But if I were a young teacher at the beginning or in the middle of my career, at a time when my parents had the power to question me, swear at me and harass me for the way I teach and question what I teach, I would have to look for a new career or profession, “Orzechowicz said.

Beth Niedermeyer, Noblesville Schools superintendent, added in a written statement that the bill “threatens to criminalize teachers, expels educators from a profession that is already underestimated and in the midst of a desperate shortage.”

“Education legislation is often written without any input from real educators and with little regard for how it will actually work in the real world,” Niedermeyer said.

Other teachers also expressed concern that the bill was increasing the already large workload.

Christiane Beebe, a Brownsburg teacher, told House of Representatives and Senate lawmakers that as an elementary school educator who teaches seven subjects, she will be responsible for publishing 75 educational materials online for just one week.

She also questioned whether she would have to seek the approval of the curriculum review committee each time she wanted to order a new workbook for her students.

“We should not discourage teachers from being innovative and planning engaging lessons that meet the specific and unique needs of their students,” Beebe said.

Paul Farmer, a 34-year-old teacher at Monroe County Schools, told the House Education Committee this week that the bill is likely to require more alternatives for students whose parents protest lessons such as evolution.

Farmer said the bill puts disproportionate pressure on new teachers.

“Will this law really reduce the number of teachers who go to school? The answer is yes, “Farmer said. “It scares them.”

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