Education Faces Dangerous New Censorships

By Jillian Stigge

A student in Florida, Jack Petocz, was recently suspended from his school for giving Pride flags to his peers in retaliation to the “Don’t say Gay” bill that was passed. He responed to them saying “You’re silencing a queer student standing up for what he believes in, in his rights, and you’re disciplining him for challenging you on the allowance of pride flags in a gay rally?” This is just one story from a student who’s been affected by the new wave of bills being proposed and passed around the United States recently that all have one common theme. These have been disguised as allowing parents a say in their child’s education, but in reality these bills distract from the multiple different topics that are being censored primarily in K-12 schools. The topics that some people are trying to censor are things that both students and teachers alike should be able to discuss in a safe environment like Critical Race Theory, matters involving the LGBTQ+ community, and any other topic that could make a student feel uncomfortable or guilty. Banning these topics in education could both hinder and hurt children. 

Researcher Jeffrey Sachs looked into how many states have had bills on censoring education. He found “35 states have introduced 137 bills limiting what schools can teach with regard to race, American History, politics, sexual orientation and gender identity.” One of the most well-known bills of these is the The Parental Rights in Education bill in Florida. However most don’t know it by this name. They know it as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. As said in the bill public schools would be banned from “encouraging classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” This could be very harmful to those students that are in the LGBTQ+ community. With bills like this it could teach those students in the community that they are seen as inappropriate simply due to their sexuality or gender. It would also force the teachers to immediately stop any discussions on any issues involving the LGBTQ+ that could mean a lot to a student to discuss with their peers, especially if it may affect them. School also oftentimes is seen as a safe place for students where they should be able to discuss these topics that they may not feel safe to discuss at home. Not only that but as Fung says “it could hurt children who are still figuring out their sexual identity.” It could keep them from trying to figure out their sexuality if they can’t ask about it. If a teacher would allow students to discuss anything involving the LGBTQ+, even if it was brought up by a student, another student could sue the teacher for allowing it. This wouldn’t only hurt those students. It would also hurt those teachers in the LGBTQ+ as they wouldn’t be able to talk about that part of themselves to their students as well. 

There have been multiple responses to this bill. Some of those responses are of support and others are of opposition. Of those that oppose are the students themselves. After the bill was passed a student by the name of Jack Petocz organized a protest that ranged across the state on March second. Student walked out and protested the bill exclaiming “We say gay!” Another student in Florida counters the argument made by Rep. Joe Harding said teachers would still be allowed to teach about things like the Pulse nightclub shooting, but only not allow teachers to teach about LGBTQ+ topics with her own experience as someone in the community themselves. They said “I feel like it should be taught in schools because it will help other people just like me know that it’s OK to be gay.”  It’s not only students who have expressed their disapproval of the bill but Chasten Buttigieg who is the husband of Pete Buttigieg, the U.S. Transportation Secretary. He said “I don’t think this is really about parents’ rights. Parents’ rights to do what? Tell LGBTQ kids they don’t belong? To push LGBTQ families away and into the closet?” With this it can be seen how most students and many others feel about the bill being passed and the fears it causes many people that it would directly affect. 

One of the other topics that is oftentimes included in these bills is Critical Race Theory. Critical Race Theory in its essence says “race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.”  This could be extremely difficult for teachers when teaching about racism. It could even hinder how they are able to teach about the darker parts of America’s history with the racism that was ingrained into its society as a whole. They would also have to be careful when discussing the laws about slavery as well, especially the Jim Crow Laws as they were based on racist beliefs. This would also force the students to not be able to learn the full history of multiple parts in the U.S. history. Teachers wouldn’t be able to teach the full story about how slavery was so ingrained into society and the south, that if they were to get rid of it at the time, the economy would most likely crash. They would also have to be careful when teaching about the Civil Rights Movement as well. The same thing is asked by Rep. Phil Christofanelli “How do you teach about the civil rights movement without classifying people into groups for any purpose whatsoever?” The parents fear that talking about these topics will make their children feel guilty for what happened to African Americans. However the fact that the child may feel guilt isn’t something that should be seen as bad. Being able to feel what someone else feels or understand their feeling is what having empathy for someone is. This trait is important for children to learn especially for future social situations.  

One of these bills is Missouri’s House Bill 1474. The two aspects of this bill is the banning of teaching Critical Race Theory and the lists out the rights that parents have on being given the information their child is being taught. The aspect of a parent being given the information that is being taught to their child could become a bigger problem in the future for this bill. If the bill were to add the aspect that parents could veto a lesson or topic like in Utah’s Parental Rights in Public Education bill, this could put even more pressure onto the teachers than there already is. In these types of bills teachers usually have to give the parents their lesson plans months in advance. And then they would have to worry about whether a parent may deem what they are talking about inappropriate. They would then have to have to make multiple different backup lessons for when a parent may deem something “objectionable” (S.B. 157). However this term is extremely broad. What one parent may deem as unacceptable may be completely acceptable to another, so teachers would always be ready to come up with a lesson replacement (S.B. 157 ). This would cause the job of a teacher to become much harder than it already is. Especially now, teachers have to know how to teach completely online and in person, and teach those select students that may be in quarantine at the same time. Adding the fact that they would have to have all of their lesson plans done months in advance but then backup lessons would make teaching a lot more time extensive and anxiety inducing. However they don’t only have to give all of their lesson plans but every single piece of material they may use as well. Not only that but there is already a shortage of teachers across America and this could potentially increase that shortage and teachers are having to cover those roles that are unfilled as well causing them to be extremely overworked.  

Then there are also bills that contradict themselves and how a teacher should teach certain topics. One of these is Indiana’s Senate Bill 167. It states that teachers should teach about “socialism, Marxism, communism, totalitarianism or similar political systems are incompatible with and in conflict with the principles of freedom upon which the United States was founded” and remain completely neutral when teaching them. However it goes to say that those were “detrimental to the people of the United States.” How are teachers supposed to stay impartial on said topics if  they were also to be taught as damaging? These are opposites that cannot be taught at the same time. This would cause teachers to never truly be able to follow this and allow parents to possibly sue them over this as well. Teachers would also have to be impartial when teaching about Nazism as well. That could become a problem since that ideology is extremely harmful and can be dangerous to some students as well. It could also unknowingly teach students that being a Nazi is acceptable which could harm their peers. It could then continue into their adult life if they are never taught that it’s wrong.  

  These bills all use the one idea to cover and hide the other topics that they are banning. That is allowing parents to have a say in their child’s education. The problem is most parents do have multiple different ways to have that control in their child’s education. One of these is simply choosing whether their child will go to a public or private school. In private schools they generally have more of a say in what their child would be taught. For instance a parent could choose to send their child to a Christian private school so they would be taught the Bible. However, how the bills are giving power to the parents is part of the problem. Parents would be able to excuse their child from any lesson they may deem inappropriate for their child to be taught even if the lesson were to be important for the child to learn. It would also give parents the power to false report a teacher as well on the guise of what they taught was inappropriate to them. Teachers would not be able to feel comfortable with what they teach in fear a parent may go against them. 

With these bills in place both a teacher’s job and the students academic career is hindered. The students aren’t able to learn about topics that may be difficult to talk about in a safe environment and teachers fear for their job and are overworked even more. Even though some parts may sound good to some, the other part of the content hurts those involved. It can already be seen the backlash from some of these bills like in Florida. If people disagree with these bills going into place, they should stand up against them for not only themselves but also those that would be in immediate danger of them. As someone in the LGBTQ+ seeing some of these bills passed, censoring being taught or being able to discuss topics that would directly impact me, brings me fear for those that are with me. I fear for those that are questioning their sexuality or gender and grow to think that it is inappropriate for people to be like this. That is why bills like these should be stopped so more children don’t have to think this way about themselves. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s