Public education and educators are under attack.
The McMinn County, Tennessee, Board of Education banned Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel, “Maus.”
According to NPR’s Rachel Treisman, the “book tells the story of author Art Spiegelman’s relationship with his father, a Holocaust survivor, by depicting Jews as mice and Nazis as cats. The school board reportedly objected to eight curse words and nude imagery of a woman, used in the depiction of the author’s mother’s suicide.”
Also, the Florida legislature is pushing a “Don’t Say Gay” bill to limit discussions about gender and sexuality in schools, and a bill inspired by anti-Critical Race Theory rhetoric and aimed at limiting “divisive concepts” in classrooms is making its way through the Indiana legislature.
Such legislative initiatives are asinine.
What good will banning books do when students have access to the internet where they can view whatever they want even though such information might be inaccurate?
How dangerous is it to ostracize and minimize countless students at a time when teen suicide rates are increasing? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “the suicide rate among adolescents and young adults aged 10-24 in the United States increased 57.4% from 6.8 per 100,000 in 2007 to 10.7 in 2018.”
Why attack Critical Race Theory when, as the Brookings Institution pointed out, it isn’t taught at the K-12 level? Furthermore, as the Brookings Institution explained, “CRT does not attribute racism to white people as individuals or even to entire groups of people. Simply put, critical race theory states that U.S. social institutions (e.g., the criminal justice system, education system, labor market, housing market, and healthcare system) are laced with racism embedded in laws, regulations, rules, and procedures that lead to differential outcomes by race.”
I don’t have answers to these questions. None of this makes sense to me. These proposed bills attack education and educators, and by limiting the types of content in classrooms, the students will be hurt. Their learning will be hindered. They will not have a complete view of the world they will be entering. Historical facts and diverse viewpoints will be eliminated, and society will become more divided and unequal.
It’s insanity, and, of course, Kansas is in on the act too.
Lawmakers in our Capitol are debating a pair of bills — HB 2662 and SB 496 — that are being referred to as “parents’ bill of rights.” They aim to strip educators of their ability to teach by allowing oppressive interference of the curriculum and day-to-day operations of their classrooms.
As Tim Carpenter reported for the Kansas Reflector, these bills “restrain teachers from nimbly adjusting a student’s approach to learning, funnel tax dollars to private schools, abandon child vaccination programs, dive into critical race theory, incentivize teachers to boost student test scores, label library books for violent or sexual content, and allow virtual or homeschool students participate in public school sports and extracurricular activities.”
As Max McCoy wrote for the Kansas Reflector, the bills make one thing clear: “Teachers are the enemy.”
Rather than trust professionals who have gone through years of training and earned credentials that certify them to be educators, these bills open the door for parents to critique everything.
Parents could challenge books in classrooms and libraries and deem individual lessons inappropriate.
They’d have that information because these types of “parents’ bill of rights” bills could require teachers to post their lesson plans on the school’s website . . . a year in advance.
That eliminates the ability of teachers to respond to current events or even help students understand content.
For example, the Russia and Ukraine situation might create questions for students, but a social studies teacher couldn’t try to help his or her classes understand what is going on because doing so would be a deviation from the posted plans.
Likewise, if a student did not understand an important math or English concept, that’s too bad. They’d likely have to be left behind because there is no room for individualized or just-in-time instruction. Again, doing so would be a deviation from the posted plans, and that wouldn’t be allowed.
Such legislation is insulting to teachers.
These are the same teachers who many praised for adapting and still providing learning opportunities when the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered schools and altered society. The same teachers who parents considered invaluable because they realized they couldn’t do what teachers do on a daily basis.
In a guest commentary for the Wichita Eagle, Kansas Rep. Kristey Williams, R-Augusta, and Sen. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, claimed the bills were about transparency. That feels disingenuous, though.
As the Lawrence Journal-World reported, this type of legislation appears to be straight out of the conservative Heritage Foundation’s playbook, even using language promoted by the think tank.
It isn’t about transparency. It is about pushing political ideals.
The teachers will face the brunt of it, but the students will suffer.
We are better than this. We need to trust the professionals who live in our communities and work with our youth on a daily basis. They are the experts in the field of teaching, our neighbors, and our friends.
According to information released by the National Education Association and reported by Education Week in 2019, Kansas ranked near the bottom in terms of average teacher salaries. Only five states pay less than the $49,800 Kansas educators make on average, and Kansas is 31 spots below the national average of $61,730.
The pay is bad enough, and although most teachers don’t do it for the money, oppressive legislation such as that making its way through the legislature adds insult to injury.
If we aren’t careful, the teacher shortage that resulted in 18-year-old high school graduates being substitutes will only get worse.
We have to stop attacking education, and we have to do it now.
Todd Vogts is a native of Canton, a resident of McPherson County, and an assistant professor of media at Sterling College. He can be contacted with questions or comments via his website at www.toddvogts.com.