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Indiana Anti-CRT Bill Fails, Thanks To 'Balanced' Teaching About Nazis
Gosh that's too bad.
It seems that the great state of Indiana will not be joining the droves of Republican-led states that have passed broad, probably unconstitutional laws banning the teaching of "divisive concepts" and all that liberal indoctrination that public schools do. Indiana Senate Bill 167, which was aimed at banning "critical race theory," has been withdrawn after state Senate President Rodric Bray (R) said he simply "didn't have the votes."
Presumably this means Indiana teachers will now be free to indoctrinate children with Marxism, or at least to teach the history of the USA accurately, which we understand is pretty much the same thing.
As Judd Legum explains at Popular Information, public perceptions of the bill never quite recovered after a January hearing in which its author, state Sen. Scott Baldwin (R), insisted that it would be very bad if Indiana teachers expressed any particular judgments on historical facts, like for instance the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s. Yes, really!
High school history teacher Matt Bockenfeld pointed out that the bill's text, which specifies that all schools and teachers "remain impartial in teaching curricular materials or conducting educational activities," could very well be interpreted to ban how he and most teachers cover the rise of Hitler:
For example, it’s the second semester of US history, so we're learning about the rise of fascism and the rise of Nazism right now. And I'm just not neutral on the political ideology of fascism. We condemn it, and we condemn it in full, and I tell my students the purpose, in a democracy, of understanding the traits of fascism is so that we can recognize it and we can combat it.
Bockenfeld said that he didn't have a problem with discussing modern political issues from a neutral perspective, but that no decent teacher would teach the history of the Third Reich that way:
We don't stand up and say who we voted for or anything like that. But we're not neutral on Nazism. We take a stand in the classroom against it, and it matters that we do.
Baldwin, in a generous gift to opponents of bad legislation, insisted that teachers really should refrain from any individual judgments on history:
Baldwin said he doesn’t discredit Marxism, Nazism, fascism or “any of those isms out there.”
“I have no problem with the education system providing instruction on the existence of those isms,” he said. “I believe that we've gone too far when we take a position on those isms ... We need to be impartial.”
Baldwin insisted that while he agreed with Bockenfeld "on those particular isms," he thought teachers should "just provide the facts" and look at Nazis from both sides now.
“I’m not sure it’s right for us to determine how that child should think and that’s where I’m trying to provide the guardrails,” Baldwin said.
This is where we'll just jump in to point out that usually, your conservative culture warriors accuse liberal teachers of pushing "situational ethics" or telling kids that there's no such thing as right or wrong. So we have to say Baldwin's call for leaving the morality of a little light genocide up to the kids was a surprise.
Not surprisingly, Baldwin quickly tried to backpedal, explaining in an email to the Indianapolis Star that he hadn't explained his real position very well when he said teachers shouldn't be too harsh on literal historical Hitler-saluting goose-stepping Nazis.
Baldwin said his intent with the bill was to ensure teachers are being impartial when discussing “legitimate political groups.”
"When I was drafting this bill, my intent with regard to 'political affiliation' was to cover political parties within the legal American political system,” he said. “In my comments during committee, I was thinking more about the big picture and trying to say that we should not tell kids what to think about politics.
“Nazism, Marxism and fascism are a stain on our world history and should be regarded as such, and I failed to adequately articulate that in my comments during the meeting. I believe that kids should learn about these horrible events in history so that we don't experience them again in humanity.”
Our own very cynical translation: Fine, you can say the old-time Nazis were bad. But don't go talking about racism or slavery being bad, because there's no such thing anymore, Tucker Carlson said so. Also, be very careful not to condemn "legitimate political groups" of today, even if they're breaking into the US Capitol.
Oh, yes, and as Stephen pointed out in January, Rep. Baldwin himself turned up on a membership for the Oath Keepers anti-government militia, which he no doubt considered a very legitimate political group, although Baldwin took pains to note he was not an "active" member.
Following January's fuck-tussle over being kind to Nazis, the Senate Education Committee dropped plans to vote on the bill. But bad ideas have as many lives as a horror movie villain, so the state House speaker, Todd Huston (R), went on to resurrect the legislation, which passed on January 26.
Here's where Judd Legum and his muckraking blog come in: Legum reported in February that Huston actually had a paid position with the College Board, which paid him a tidy $460, 738 a year. Bit of a conflict there, since the College Board writes that SAT and the national Advanced Placement tests, and here's Speaker Huston pushing a bill that, as Legum noted, would place limits on "what teachers can say regarding race, history, and politics in Indiana classrooms."
The bill would effectively ban teachers, including AP teachers, from including diverse materials that would appeal to underrepresented communities. If the bill became law, it would be difficult, for example, for an AP Literature teacher to include works by James Baldwin that include candid discussions of race and societal responsibility.
Immediately after that, the College Board announced it could get along without Huston's services.
The bill, however, had by then moved on to the state Senate, although it still faced public opposition. The Senate tried to water down the legislation by axing some of the harshest bits, like a provision that would have allowed parents to sue school districts, and penalties that could even include revocation of teachers' licenses. Like if some teacher disparaged the SS, we'd assume.
A public hearing on the bill drew 200 people who wanted to speak, but committee chair Jeff Raatz (R) cut off public comment after two hours. Only about three dozen of the citizens had time to testify. The Star reported that roughly equal numbers of supporters and opponents of the bill had the chance to speak, although Raatz said that more than 90 percent of those who came to testify said they opposed the bill.
The amendment to gut the bill passed, but there simply wasn't much support for the weaker bill in the Senate after that, Legum reports.
Some Senate Republicans still thought the bill was "was too much of a burden on education and just not good policy" and others now believed it "didn't go far enough." Bray, who said he personally supported the bill, pulled the plug.
Moral of the story: Get involved, get noisy, and don't stand for rightwing efforts to whitewash and censor school curricula. And while you can't always count on one of the sponsors to openly endorse a laissez faire approach to fascism, some very pointed testimony may do the job to get these would-be censors on the record.
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