A House committee has advanced a bill pushing back on critical race theory, after some changes aimed at defusing a national uproar over comments in a Senate hearing.
Republicans say they’re trying to draw a line between teaching about the ugly parts of American history, and teachers telling today’s students they’re to blame.
The bill bans teachers from making students feel “discomfort or guilt” based on their race, sex, religion or political affiliation. But Noblesville Republican Scott Baldwin, the author of the Senate version of the bill, went viral after commenting at a Senate hearing that teachers taking a stand against Nazism and fascism in class “go too far,” and should be impartial.
The revised House legislation fleshes out a provision in the original version of both bills, specifying the proposal doesn’t bar teaching about “historical injustices.” House author Tony J. Cook (R-Cicero) summarized the added language as stating, “Schools can and should teach that Nazism is bad.”
Baldwin has issued two written statements saying he “failed to articulate” what he was trying to say, adding in the second statement that he “unequivocally condemns Nazism, fascism, and Marxism,” and agrees teachers should too. His office declined an interview request from W-I-B-C.
Cook’s explanation prompted Gary Representative Vernon Smith (D) to ask about adding a declaration that racism is also bad.
Cook demurred, arguing that teaching the history of Jim Crow laws, the assault on the Selma civil rights march, the massacres of Native Americans at Wounded Knee and of African-Americans in Tulsa, and the Japanese internment camps during World War Two inherently demonstrate the evils of racism.
The revised bill specifically references neither Nazism nor racism. It instead extends the description of “historical injustices by or against” any group to include any “political affiliation or ideals or values that conflict with the Constitution.” And it expands a discussion of citizenship instruction to require the teaching of constitutional ideals and values, in contrast with forms of government which conflict with “the principles of Western political thought upon which the United States was founded.”
The revised bill also includes changes to address concerns raised by teachers.
It still says schools must post class materials online, but not daily lesson plans. And it changes a provision allowing lawsuits if a school doesn’t respond to complaints about teachers, saying those challenges must show “willful or wanton” violations of the law.
Teachers’ unions and superintendents’ and principals’ associations say they support Republicans’ stated goals of transparency and parental input. But they argue the bill’s guidelines for how schools can teach racial issues are open to such wide interpretation that they invite chaos and long court fights.
Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents executive director Bob Taylor says even parents who testified in support of the bill didn’t agree on precisely what it covers. He says schools already have procedures for parents to review curriculum and raise complaints.
He warns the bill takes what he calls isolated incidents of teachers or parents going too far, and creates a sledgehammer approach that will cause more problems than it solves.
The House Education Committee approved the bill 8-5, with New Albany Republican Ed Clere joining Democrats in voting no.
The full House could consider the bill next week.