Vigilantes in Indiana
The following is an opinion piece by members of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, Phil and Joan Harris.
An article by Carson TerBush, published in Chalkbeat on December 15th, describes the Indiana legislature’s attempt in their next session to put in place multiple education bills to ensure that educational content for Indiana K-12 public schools is controlled.
This legislation is described as only intending to monitor public schools; however, the Curriculum Control Committees are designed to censor state-approved textbooks, professional instructional materials and books in school libraries.
If every school district creates an advisory curriculum committee, does that mean we will have 291 different curricula taught in Indiana schools? Will these “advisory” Curriculum Control Committees be reviewing all instructional materials including math, science, social studies and language arts? With committees composed of 40% parents and 20% members of the public able to control what is being taught in our schools, why would we need a State Department of Education and certified teachers?
According to the author, elected school boards will have the ultimate power to accept or reject the recommendations of the committee. If so, what purpose does the committee really serve other then to attempt to censor materials they may not agree with and to pressure their elected boards to override the thinking of professional educators?
Is the reference to obscene language in some books an attempt to further censure ideas that allow children to grow in their critical thinking skills? It seems more like an attempt to pretend the last 30-plus years of a coarsening of the culture didn’t happen and is a repeat of the effort from at least the 1980s.
Is this an attempt to prevent the teaching about the history of enslaved people and the racism that is deeply embedded in our culture?
If we ignore the role that race has played in the formation of our laws and policies, which Critical Race Theory addresses principally in law schools, nothing will change.
The attack is directed at every level of public education: school boards, curriculum decision committees, library materials, and what teachers say and do in their classrooms.
Teaching children to engage in problem solving and to use their critical thinking skills, and providing them with the tools they will need to be able to make judgments regarding the wide range of social issues they will encounter, is essential to preserving the health of our democracy.
This proposed legislation raises the most fundamental question with regard to our public schools: What is the purpose of our public education system? One answer appears clearly in our state's constitution:
Knowledge and learning, generally diffused throughout a community, being essential to the preservation of a free government; it shall be the duty of the General Assembly to encourage, by all suitable means, moral, intellectual, scientific, and agricultural improvement; and to provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all.
Elsewhere, that same document refers to a "general and uniform system of common schools." The education bills currently festering in the legislative chambers of the Hoosier State will in no way meet the aims our state's founders sought for their schools and will instead hamstring that most democratic of institutions, the local school board.
“But what can I do?” you say. Contact your local elected representatives by phone or e-mail. Write letters to your local newspaper. Attend your local school board meeting and ask questions about how curriculum materials are selected. Support Indiana Coalition for Public Education-Monroe County and local parent-teacher organizations even if you don’t have children in school. Democracy depends on your participation.
Indiana Coalition for Public Education–Monroe County (ICPE–Monroe County) advocates for all children to have high quality, equitable, well-funded schools that are subject to democratic oversight by their communities.
We are a nonpartisan and nonprofit group of parents, grandparents, caregivers, teachers, and other community members of Monroe County and surrounding areas.
During the last days of the Trump administration, the Office of Management and Budget, citing the nefarious influence of Critical Race Theory (CRT), banned all government agencies from any “training or propaganda effort that teaches or suggests either (1) that the United States is an inherently racist or evil country or (2) that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil." In a later speech from the National Archives, Trump called CRT “a Marxist doctrine holding that America is a wicked and racist nation.”
Now conservatives across the country are sounding the alarm and trying to shackle teachers and ban books that introduce any aspect of CRT into schoolrooms. In Loudoun County, Virginia, conservative activists shut down a School Board meeting with shouting, physical intimidation, and singing the national anthem. As the Loudoun School Board stated itself, there is little evidence that CRT, as such, is being taught anywhere in their schools. What is being taught, more likely, is a narrative—and active discussion—of U.S. history that acknowledges the terrible evil of slavery and its ongoing effects in U.S. society. It’s possible that CRT informs some of this teaching, but it is likely only one of several possible conceptual frameworks used.
Conservatives call this “indoctrination,” not education. What they seem to prefer is a bland patriotic history that papers over all conflict in the name of “national unity.” Oxford defines indoctrination as “the process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.” This seems closer to what conservatives want than what they assert is really happening in schools. They believe that CRT is divisive and pits Americans against one another, putting all the “blame” on Whites. They carry protest signs that derisively interpret the acronym as “Creating Racial Tension.” Yet the racial tension in our country was established long ago, kept alive through ongoing policies and practices, and exacerbated recently by the open license given to expressions of White supremacy. CRT encourages all of us to take responsibility for coming to terms with this.
CRT does not argue that the U.S. is “inherently racist or evil,” or that Whites are such either. Nor does it have much to do with Marx. Rather, CRT provides an honest, empirically verifiable set of concepts for understanding how and why racism has become so deeply embedded in our society and psyches. The evidence for structural racism in all of our public institutions—in law, housing, policing, education, and public health—is overwhelming, and now accepted by the vast majority of social scientists.
Hardly a study exists that does not confirm what CRT insightfully documents: Blacks face forms of discrimination and brutality—even when they have economic wealth—that Whites will likely never encounter. They also face a huge generational wealth deficit, compounded by the fact that their free labor quite literally created much of the wealth of colonial and Independent America that launched us on the road to becoming a superpower. Other variants of CRT (TribalCrit, LatCrit) extend these historical insights to America’s Indigenous and Latinx peoples. This is not a “Marxist” doctrine, which would emphasize class exploitation over race. Calling it such is a pathetic attempt to conjure one of the age-old bogeymen of American political demagoguery.
And when you hear CRT associated with another common target of the conservative worldview, “identity politics,” you must remember this: the original dividers, those who birthed identity politics in this country, were those who created the caste system under slavery and perpetrated the genocide of Indigenous Americans. They divided the nation into the “worthy” and “unworthy,” the “civilized” and the “savage,” the “human” and the “subhuman.” The Irish, Italians, even the Jews—they were all considered inferior races until they embraced their whiteness (alas, the benefits of Jews’ whiteness remain precarious, it would seem). Contemporary identity groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys perpetuate this deeply un-American story of “us” and “them.” Is it any wonder that those whose identities have been racially oppressed now try to garner some dignity and hope from the same?
CRT is part of an educational effort to reckon with these foundational divisions, to examine how they continue to vex our efforts to fulfill the American dream of justice and liberty for all (see R. Delgado and J. Stefancic’s Critical Race Theory). In most versions of CRT, racism has indeed become a “permanent” feature of U.S. society, but it is neither inherent nor inexorable. It is permanent only until fully recognized and transformed. The point of CRT is to encourage analysis and discussion, not indoctrination. Again, from Whites we seek not blame, but civic responsibility, and a sense of solidarity.
Even a cursory glance at the remarkably rich corpus of writings that has come to be known as Critical Race Theory should convince you of one thing: this is a deeply American scholarly endeavor to come to terms with the way racism continues to manifest in our society. I hope that more Americans will explore the insights CRT has to offer. I invite more Americans into our schools and our university classes to witness the hopeful conversations, and the hard reckoning, that CRT—among many other forms of anti-racist scholarship—has helped to inspire.
—Bradley A. Levinson
Board member of Indiana Coalition for Public Education–Monroe County and Professor of Education at Indiana University, Bloomington.
Public Education Unites Us
The following post is the opening statement given by Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer, President of Indiana Coalition for Public Education at the annual all-member meeting on August 21, 2021.
"We are living in a very divided time, a tumultuous time. We are so polarized as a nation. Racial inequality, social and economic injustice has been exposed--not for the first time, of course, and not because it was not here all along, but because this pandemic has heightened our awareness of these inequities, exposed the extent to which we are divided in a way that has been deeply disturbing-- if not traumatizing.
Throughout history, a national crisis has often meant that we rally together to support one another, look out for each other and work to overcome. This pandemic, with more than 600,000 Americans dead, has seen us falling short of that unity and common purpose.
We are so divided.
A few years ago, during the debate over health care and the ACA, an author (Lauren Morrill) tweeted her utter frustration over the polarization and politization of this issue and she said, “"I don't know how to explain to you why you should care about other people." How do we teach this?
Educators know. How do we teach people to understand and trust science and scientists? How do we teach people to know what reputable sources of information are? How do we teach people to be critical thinkers? How do we teach people the skills to get along with one another, to have respect for each other, to disagree in a civil way and articulately debate one another, express one’s opinion in an inside-voice, find compromise and cooperation and basically the ability to get along in a pluralistic society working toward the Common Good?
The mission of public education is to take each and every child and educate him, her, or them to not only achieve academically, but find their passions, interests, and continue to be curious about their world, care about their world and contribute toward making it better long after graduation. Public education is where children learn side-by-side with those who are different than they are, believe and think differently, and in their interactions, they learn to find common ground and to respect and care for one another. Where else do children from all walks of life have the regular ability to be together?
PUBLIC EDUCATION UNITES US.
IT IS THE ULTIMATE GROUP PROJECT ON WHICH OUR ENTIRE SOCIETY DEPENDS.
While this is the premise or foundation of Public Education’s mission, it has also been a promise unfulfilled for all. We must recognize where we have failed to serve all children well. We must recognize the systemic ways in which historically marginalized people have not been served as well and work to overcome this. Our public schools have been actively doing the difficult work of removing barriers to learning for children. This is not some diabolical plan to make Marxists of children or to brainwash them into an ideology with a hidden agenda as those loud extremists at school boards across the state and country would have some believe. This is about creating a country where all children can thrive regardless of circumstance. If we believe in “liberty and justice for all” than we must look at where we have failed to provide that so that we can do better. We can be better.
The latest wedge issues are nothing new. It is the latest attempt to politicize public education and make it about party politics. Party politics has no place in our schools. It should not be a partisan issue to get a vaccine—it is science. It should not be a partisan issue to wear a mask—it is public health. Scientists, not politicians, should guide us. And it should not be a partisan issue to work on barriers to learning, to do the work of fulfilling the promise of public education. Educators, not politicians, should guide us. When they create fear and distrust of authority and experts, they divide us. If they succeed at making people believe that public schools exist for only one political ideology, they divide us. We must not allow this to happen. We must unite.
Our work to support public education is vital now more than ever. ICPE needs you to get ten of your friends to join us now on our tenth anniversary. We need you to help us form more chapters around the state and to develop relationships with your legislators so that we can keep public education in public hands with public funds for all children. The future of our country depends on the success of our public schools."
Why should schools teach about race and racism? To equip students to work toward justice in public life
In school districts across Indiana this year, some loud voices are objecting to schools teaching students about race and about racism. Ten states have gone so far as to pass laws that ban the teaching of "divisive" subjects, in an effort to control ideas and confine the teaching of history to what they find to be ideologically palatable—in other words, to substitute propaganda for history.
In this guest post, the grandfather of two students expresses support for our local school district to continue to teach about race and racism. Keith Barton is a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and coordinator for the Doctoral Program in Teacher Education and Curriculum Studies at the Indiana University School of Education.
I encourage MCCSC to continue teaching about race and racism, both in history and in the world today. Preparing young people to become members of a democratic society requires that they understand difficult and contentious issues in the nation’s past and present. Omitting, ignoring, or downplaying such issues would undermine their ability to work toward justice in public life—an effort that represents the very foundation of U.S. social and political ideals.
As a grandparent of two elementary students in MCCSC (one now, the other a year from now), I want them to learn, in regular and systematic ways, about the forces that have shaped the nation—and this includes racism and white supremacy. I want them to learn about the many people—Black, White, Asian, Latinx, LGBTQ, and of differing religions—who have struggled to bring about a more just nation and world, but they can only understand these achievements if they understand the problems that created the need for struggle in the first place. And I certainly want them to learn how these problems continue to plague our society, not just in the form of personal prejudice, but in racially-motivated institutions and practices such as mass incarceration, housing and employment discrimination, and systematic violence against minorities, among other issues.
My wife, our daughter, and I talk with the children about these problems. Being of mixed races themselves, they are well aware of the importance of race. Schools should further equip them—and all students—with a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the role of race in U.S. life, and of ways to bring about a more just society. This is not simply our personal preference as parents and grandparents; it a responsibility of schools, as reflected in state academic standards, in national curriculum frameworks, and even in human rights documents. Students deserve to learn about these issues, and without the work of teachers and schools, their learning is likely to be haphazard at best, and more likely to reinforce the racist practices that schools should be working against. Part of the mission of MCCSC is to prepare “responsible global citizens,” and this cannot occur if students do not learn to face social issues—even the most difficult ones—honestly and thoughtfully.