A report from a free speech advocacy organization has ignited debate about whether laws banning critical racism from schools are chilling free speech, or simply protecting children from politics.
The New York-based nonprofit PEN America reported Monday that 24 state legislatures introduced 54 bills from January through September to ban “divisive” concepts such as critical race theory from being taught in K-12 schools, higher education and state agencies.
Most 54 bills require that discussions of race and racism be limited, according to the report titled “Educational Gag Orders”: Legislative Restraints on the Freedom to Read and Learn .”
Eleven of the bills were passed in nine states. Nine of the new laws are for public schools. Three address colleges and universities. Six apply to state agencies or institutions. As of Monday, 18 of the bills were pending in the current legislative session and six were pre-filed for 2022.
” This report does not evaluate any ideology or viewpoint. It is, instead, a warning: This type legislation, which aims at banning even discussion of entire viewpoints and ideologies is censorship,” Jonathan Friedman (lead author) told The Washington Times.
Mr. Friedman described the legislation as “a slippery and censorious slope .”
“School boards and administrators need to listen to parents and address genuine concerns. But the answer to what some perceive to be a stifling debate cannot be more stifling,” said he.
” These bills are designed to silence academic and educational discussion and impose government directives on learning and teaching. The report stated that they are educational gag orders.
Parental rights activists disputed the PEN America report that said the laws were stifling freedom speech.
Tamra Faray, the executive director of MomForce, a non-profit Moms for America, stated that some teachers abuse academic freedom in order to “imbue [their classrooms] with the idea that society is divided between the oppressors and the oppressed,” confusing children and threatening parents’ educational rights.
” The critical race theory in schools is more of a culture than a curriculum. Parents and scholars who oppose it have nothing to do the stifling of free speech,” Ms. Farah said to The Times.
Sheri few, president of U.S. Parents Involved in Education disputed the report’s premise.
” In light of the censorship of social media platforms, and the leftist propaganda being pumped through mainstream media outlets it is absurd that critics of Critical Race Theory would suggest restricting racist education in government schools is a violation the first amendment to the U.S Constitution that protects freedom of speech,” Ms. Few wrote in an email. “On the contrary, CRT violates the Civil Rights Act and the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and we are so glad to see lawsuits challenging this racist, Marxist pedagogy.”
Developed in law and graduate schools in the s s, critical racism theory is an analytical tool that draws on Marxist critical studies. It asserts that racism is a fundamental element of American society, government, and is essential in understanding and evaluating U.S. policies, laws and programs.
The PEN America report was published in the wake of the November 2 elections in Virginia. In Virginia, parental involvement in education played a major role in Republican victories. Colorado saw parent-backed candidates win control of eight county schools boards after defeating candidates endorsed and supported by teachers unions.
Andrea Haitz is a Colorado mother-of-three who was elected to Mesa County’s school board last Wednesday. She stated that critical race theory had entered student “equity” clubs and that local teachers allowed them to present in their classrooms.
” I have a problem with this because it should be done after school. “From my perspective as a board member I believe we should stick with a curriculum which stays in the lane its subject,” Ms. Haitz stated.
Ms. Haitz will take the oath to office on Nov. 30, stated that parents voted for her as they want their children to learn about science, math, and history, rather than neoMarxist ideas .”
“Great teachers teach kids how to think, and not what to think,” she stated.
Although Colorado has not yet enacted a ban against divisive topics within the classroom, Texas did so in an effort to assist parents with vetoing objectionable content.
Jonathan Zimmerman is a University of Pennsylvania historian of education and said that the PEN America report confirmed that parents don’t trust students or teachers to talk about the “urgent” topic of racism and race.
” The real problem is that we don’t trust our teachers or our students enough to allow them to debate the issue of race in America,” Mr. Zimmerman stated to The Times. “Of course, reasonable people may and do disagree on this. The GOP-sponsored measures effectively remove the question .”
Free speech scholar Jeffrey A. Sachs is a Acadia University political scientist. He criticized the vagueness and inapplicability of state bans. According to Sachs, the study shows that parents, teachers, administrators, and students “on ground” are needed to find ways to talk about topics such as race.
” A total separation between education and politics is not possible or desirable,” Mr. Sachs stated to The Times.
” The problem with these bills is that they apply a generalized, one-size fits all approach to a state and then threaten harsh punishment by imposing this standard. He added that this is a recipe for paranoia, self-censorship and paranoia.
The American Historical Association’s executive director James Grossman said that the state bans mentioned in the report were “part of an ongoing campaign of radical propaganda to try and divide the American people through spreading lies about what is going on in our history classrooms.”
“An American Historical Associaton survey and Fairleigh Dickinson University found that schools are teaching the history of slavery, racism, and the impact of this on American society. This is essential content, and perfectly appropriate for school history classes,” said Mr. Grossman.
But Melanie Hempe (founder of Families Managing Media), said that it was better to leave sensitive topics to parents rather than trust schools to find compromises that satisfy everyone.
” “A lot of these items need to stay at home,” stated Ms. Hempe. She cited an “anchoring bias” which makes children more likely to listen to the first person to teach them about a topic.
“Kids have to be exposed to politics and other topics at an age when they aren’t ready,” she stated. They need their parents to help them navigate the information they receive on social media and at school .”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Jeffrey Sachs.