Rich Gotshall: Proposed bill does disservice to Hoosier educators, students

Indiana lawmakers are considering a bill that would require all school curricula to be posted online for parental review and would ban schools’ ability to implement concepts like critical race theory.

Both aspects are needless and counterproductive.

As to posting curricula online: This is another example of legislators – most of whom are not teachers and have not been in a daily classroom since high school – interfering with the work of Indiana educators. Classroom teachers have enough to do to prepare and teach lessons, let alone do all of the extra work mandated by out-of-touch lawmakers. Requiring teachers to post their curricular plans would effectively prevent them from reshaping daily lessons to meet the particular needs of their students.

The bill’s author, state Sen. Scott Baldwin, says the second aspect, banning certain topics, is designed to prevent certain “discriminatory concepts” from being taught in Hoosier classrooms. This is an example of a Republican legislator playing to his partisan base by firing another shot in an ongoing culture war.

Let’s call this bill for what is: The Don’t Make White Folks Feel Guilty Act.

The bill tells schools they can’t teach “that any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, responsibility, or any other form of psychological distress” on account of what the sponsor called the “divisive concepts” enumerated in the bill’s text.

Baldwin insists that nothing in the bill is intended to prevent the teaching of “historical facts.” But as we see in today’s vitriolic political climate, even the definition of “facts” is in dispute.

Let me offer some examples of what might happen under this bill — and I won’t even go into the part of the bill where a so-called aggrieved parent can sue the teacher over disputed coursework.

Example 1: A high school history teacher presents a lesson about slavery in America. Could telling students that the vast majority of slave owners were white make some white students uncomfortable or make them feel guilty for their race’s role in an inhuman practice?

What if the lesson is about the Jim Crow laws of the 20th century? Would watching a video of police beating civil rights marchers in the South make a child who grew up in Alabama or Mississippi but now lives here feel guilty?

Could a lesson about the Holocaust make a student of German ancestry feel anguish to think his forebears might have played a part in genocide?

Finally, in a discussion of the Capitol riot of Jan. 6, 2021, would Sen. Baldwin say it’s a “fact” that President Joe Biden “stole” the election and that the rioters were patriots seeking to defend the Constitution?

There is a keen desire in these turbulent times to return to those halcyon days of yore when Americans were united and there was no controversy. Columnist Leo Morris of The Indiana Policy Review regularly writes about how life was so much better when he was a kid.

I am roughly the same age as Morris, and I know from experience that life was not all roses and lollipops. The history books I was taught from often mentioned only two people of color – Crispus Attucks, who was killed by British soldiers in Boston before the American Revolution, and botanist George Washington Carver. There was no mention of W.E.B. DuBois or even the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. The chapter about the end of Reconstruction told the story in terms of healing the North-South divide and a return to normalcy in America rather than the beginning of a postwar white-dominated segregated South.

A sanitized view of history is of no use in a multicultural world. What’s wrong with helping students come face to face with some of today’s realities? We need students to learn from the past and how to think, not parrot intellectual pabulum so devoid of relevance as to be virtually worthless. If a frank discussion of racial injustice helps tomorrow’s leaders become more compassionate, then that should be encouraged, not penalized.

Columnist Morris bemoans the division in American society. He writes: “We need to rediscover our common ground. If not, we will end up with two separate paths – a public school system for one group and a private-home school combination for the other.”

I could not agree more. But the answer lies not in a return to a 1950s America where every kid is Beaver Cleaver and every mother is a stay-at-home mom who does her housework while wearing a dress and pearls. Children need to learn in a robust atmosphere that shows them not only America’s success but also its flaws and helps prepare them to address the blemishes.

Rich Gotshall is a retired journalist and a Franklin resident. Send comments to [email protected]