An Indiana Senate bill that’s drawn national ire and scrutiny after its author said it would require teachers to remain impartial on Nazism is on hold, but a similar House bill moved forward Wednesday despite continued concerns that it may limit what students could be taught about race, history and injustices, such as slavery.
Similar bills recently have been proposed in about 20 states, and many of them utilize language directly taken from an executive order regarding race former President Trump signed while he still was in office.
Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray said that Senate Bill 167 was pulled from the chamber’s education committee schedule, where it had been slated to be amended and voted on Wednesday, while the bill’s author continued to work on the language to address concerns it would require teachers to remain impartial when teaching about historical injustices and atrocities.
During that committee meeting Wednesday, its chair, Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond,said the bill was taken off the calendar because the author, Sen. Scott Baldwin, was isolating after a COVID-19 exposure.
Baldwin, R-Noblesville, became the target of national outrage and late night television ridicule earlier this week after an exchange he had with a teacher over the bill went viral.
“Of course, we’re neutral on political issues of the day,” Matt Bockenfeld, a history teacher in Fishers, said at a committee hearing Jan. 5. “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 responded at the hearing that may be going too far and that teachers need to be impartial and stick to the facts in their teaching of concepts such as Marxism, Nazism and fascism. He later walked back the comments in a statement to IndyStarand condemned those ideologies.
What do the bills say about slavery?
Nazismwas not the only issue that has critics of the bill concerned, though. During another exchange with Baldwin, Bockenfeld asked how he was supposed to prevent students from feeling upset when learning about slavery and Jim Crow.
“How do I tell my students that they should not be distressed to discover that the library of Monticello, where Jefferson began our great experiment in democracy, rests on a foundation riddled with the imprints of the fingerprints of the people who built the building?” Bockenfeld asked. “My fear is this bill would have us teach 250 years of slavery and 90 years of Jim Crow and then tell students that those years say nothing about who we are as a nation, that the million of souls lost to this barbarity were just regrettable bystanders on our march toward justice but their lives were so meaningless they don’t define our story in any way.”
Baldwin said that he should not teach students that they should or should not feel anguish. Instead, he said, teachers should just give students the facts the let them come to their own conclusions.
“This is preventing teachers from telling kids how they should feel good or bad, not preventing them from the feeling,” Baldwin said. “I totally expect that these types of teachings will evoke a wide array of emotions. We should expect that. When we are anything other than impartial, we’ve risen to the level of a violation of the intent of this code.”
While advocates say this section of the bill was written to address concerns raised by parents — primarily of white children in suburban communities — over the last 18 months about how schools are teaching about race, racism, sex and more, members of the Black community say they’re afraid what the impact will be on Black children and other children of color.
“The idea that someone is impartial about slavery is highly problematic,” Marshawn Wolley, public policy director for the African American Coalition of Indianapolis, told IndyStar. “We are not impartial about slavery. This is not a situation where there are two sides.”
The AACI, Urban League, Indiana Black Expo and NAACP have all come out against the bill.
And if some parents were the driving force behind the bill, others are now coming out against it.
“How could you attempt to create a law that tells my son’s teachers they cannot teach how systemic racism has negatively impacted societies of color in Indiana and in this nation to this day?” asked Chiquela Banks, parent of a Warren Township student, during a recent committee hearing. “Where does it stop?”
But the uproar over SB 167 hasn’t slowed the progress of a similar bill in the House, House Bill 1134. It was voted out of the House committee on education Wednesday. The bill differs slightly from its Senate counterpart, but contains the same language prohibiting divisive concepts. It was amended Wednesday to clarify that teachers can condemn concepts such as Nazism in the classroom, said Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, author of HB 1134.
Language was added to the bill that says schools should teach “the ideals and values expressed or enumerated in the Constitution of the United States compared to forms of government that conflict with and are incompatible with the principles of western political thought upon which the United States was founded” and expanded the list of things that the bill does not prohibit to include “ideals or values that conflict with the Constitution of the United States,” in addition to “historical injustices committed against any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation.”
Still, questions linger about what the bill would allow, how it would be interpreted by teachers and parents and what it’s impact on the classroom would be, ultimately.
“Can we discuss that racism is bad?” asked Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary.
Cook, a former teacher and school superintendent, responded by saying that the new language makes it clear that schools can use facts to teach about events such as the “Bloody Sunday” civil rights march from Selma, about segregationist Jim Crow laws and Japanese internment camps.
“Facts is different than theory,” Cook said. “Teach the facts. The facts will talk to students. Students will make and form and fashion their opinions about those. What we’re trying to caution against is bringing in my own feelings and imposing or promoting those to students.”
Cook said that is happening in the state.
When Smith said that Cook wasn’t answering his question, Cook responded this way:
“I gave you examples which certainly talk about racism and how it was approached in a very bad way in our country at one time.”
After the meeting, Smith said he still felt like he didn’t get a clear answer on what teachers would be allowed to say in the classroom about racism.
He and the three other Democrats on the education committee opposed the bill. One Republican, Rep. Ed Clere of New Albany, joined them.
The bill was approved to move out of the committee and onto the House floor by the other eight Republicans on it.
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The divisive concepts, while far from the only proposal educators have objected to, have been the most controversial portion of the bills. And while lawmakers say the bills are addressing concerns from Hoosier parents and constituents, similar bans have been proposed in at least 20 other states over the last year. Nearly a dozen states have passed some version of a bill limiting what teachers can say about race, sex and similar issues.
The concepts themselves were clearly inspired by or, in some cases, lifted almost entirely, from an executive order issued by former President Donald Trump in September of 2020.
Trump’s executive order listed these “divisive concepts:”
- one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex
- the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist
- an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously
- an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex
- members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex
- an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex
- an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex
- any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex
- meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a particular race to oppress another race.
The divisive concepts banned by both SB 167 and HB 1134 are:
- That any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation is inherently superior or inferior to another sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation.
- That an individual, by virtue of their sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.
- That an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of the individual’s sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation.
- That members of any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation should not attempt to treat others without respect due to sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation.
- That an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by the individual’s sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation.
- That an individual, by virtue of the individual’s sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation.
- That any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish responsibility, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation.
- That meritocracy or traits such as hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by members of a particular sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation to oppress members of another sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation.