Don’t Say Gay legislation. Limiting classroom discussions of “controversial” topics, including many that we simply call “history.” Removing books from school libraries. Requiring online posting of lesson plans and instructional materials. Installing classroom cameras. Banning diversity training. Questioning social/emotional learning activities. Creating new avenues for parents to sue teachers and school districts.
State legislatures nationwide have debated bills and passed laws on these topics at such head-spinning rates that it is difficult to keep up. Legislators here in Arizona, vying for the title of “most ridiculous public education policymakers ever,” have taken on most of these. Now they’re pushing a bill that requires schools to make curriculum materials accessible to members of the public in three or fewer clicks. I am not joking; you can read it here.
Hidden behind terms such as “parental control” and “academic transparency,” these actions are backed by what Education Week described as “a complex web of individuals and conservative organizations that are writing model legislation and supporting these state-level bills.” NEA Today identified the dark money sources of this chaos, including the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council. This is not conspiracy theory, folks. It is not possible for state legislators to run bills with the exact same language on the exact same topics without coordination.
My initial question for the legislators supporting these bills is quite direct. What do you think will happen next?
Is this about transparency, or intimidation?
If you pass laws requiring every teacher to post online every lesson plan for the entire year, what do you think you’re going to find? Secret indoctrination plans and hidden curricula? Most school districts already have public reviews of curriculum and instructional materials. Many hold multiple readings of related policies at local board meetings before implementation. Most states already provide online access to curriculum; I wonder if you requested data on page visits to such sites to see how completely uninterested the public has been.
Parents have always been able to get detailed information on what is taught in their child’s classroom. They check online gradebook assignments, read newsletters, and ask questions. Parents have always been able to set up appointments to speak with teachers. The threat of lawsuits will hardly make such meetings more effective. What are these requirements going to do besides place unreal amounts of work on teachers who would rather spend their time responding to and planning for their students’ needs?
“If you mandate no discussion of “divisive” topics that could make a child feel ‘discomfort,’ do you think no children will ever feel discomfort? Have you met a middle schooler lately?” Click To Tweet
Do you think you can really ban “discomfort”?
If you pass laws limiting the classroom discussion of so-called controversial topics, what do you think will happen next? If you mandate no discussion of the acts of racism that permeate our country’s history, do you think that racist power structures will no longer affect us? Do you understand that guiding children to develop critical thinking skills is essential to their growth? And that those skills involve discussion of history, civics, and human interaction?
If you mandate no discussion of “divisive” topics that could make a child feel “discomfort,” do you think no children will ever feel discomfort? Have you met a middle schooler lately? They generally feel discomfort about everything! Do you think children will stop asking questions about race and gender? Have you been around any young children lately, who fling questions at teachers like pinball machines?
Will these laws actually make kids safer or happier?
If you pass Don’t Say Gay laws and insist upon no discussion of LGBTQ+ topics, do you believe that there won’t be LGBTQ+ children anymore? That children will have no questions about gender and identity? That all children will have access outside of school to caring adults, mental health support, and safe places to explore ideas and feelings?
If you ban diversity training, do you think there will be no more bias? No more prejudice? That everyone will demonstrate perfectly humane behavior toward all? That no one needs to examine and reflect on their human interactions?
If you limit social-emotional learning activities, do you believe all children will develop perfectly, able to manage emotions, make friends, and develop collaborative skills? Every preschool teacher knows that social-emotional development is a domain of human growth, right there with physical, linguistic, and cognitive development. And every teacher knows that we cannot ignore it as children age.
“These laws are not about ‘parent control’ or ‘academic transparency.’ They are about a wider political effort to dismantle public education as we know it.” – One Teacher’s Questions for Republican Lawmakers Click To Tweet
How do you expect teachers to respond?
If you provide procedures for parents and community members to sue school districts and teachers for the wrong books on shelves, materials and lessons you don’t like, or failure to meet that “three click” requirement, what do you think will happen? That there will be no more complaints? That there will be no more lessons or materials that someone finds offensive?
If you insist on classroom cameras, what do you hope to see? Teachers engaged in riotous acts of indoctrination? The thought of someone spending hours watching such videos is just pathetic. You could, however, wear body cameras themselves as you discuss these bills in caucus gatherings and lobbyist meetings.
I apologize if my tone here appears disrespectful. But imagine how educators feel! Who would want to teach under these conditions? These laws place absurd requirements on every step in the teaching and learning process. They incite disrespect for educators and their efforts to teach children. These laws are not about “parent control” or “academic transparency.” They are about a wider political effort to dismantle public education as we know it. What better way to accomplish that goal than to make every teacher fear for their job and ultimately quit.
But not all teachers will quit. We will attempt to change what happens next. We will ask these questions of our legislators. We will try to make them understand the honorable work that occurs in our classrooms every day. We will fight these misguided laws and strive to build support for a strong public education system, one that meets the needs of our students and our communities.
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Julie Letofsky taught young children in Arizona public schools for 33 years. She enjoys writing about the amazing things that occurred as she worked with children to become readers, writers, problem solvers, and decent people. She is a three-time National Board Certified Teacher, Early Childhood/Generalist.