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Debate over teaching social justice returns to Indiana Statehouse

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Days after a contentious Indiana Senate hearing, supporters and opponents of House Bill 1134 on teaching about social justice issues clashed Monday in the House of Representatives at the Indiana Statehouse.

Republican lawmakers in both chambers are sponsoring legislation that would regulate how teachers approach issues of social justice. Among other things, the bills would prohibit educators from teaching that an individual is inherently an oppressor by virtue of their race, ethnicity, national origin or political affiliation or that concepts such as meritocracy were created as tools of oppression. Parents would be able to review all course material for any school online and opt their child in or out of any class. At least nine states have already passed similar legislation.

The move has sparked an outcry from educators and their supporters, who say the measure would restrict their ability to teach about issues such as racism and discrimination, particularly as they pertain to present-day events. Laura Falk, diversity initiative specialist with West Lafayette Community School Corp., said the measure could stifle classroom discussion of the murder of George Floyd, for example.

“If that came up and children were concerned about it or had questions about it, I think teachers, at the time, where this discourse could be talked about, I think teachers would be more reluctant to talk about those moments,” she said.

The hearing in the House chamber came just days after a Senate hearing in which Sen. Scott Baldwin, a Noblesville Republican, said teachers should be “impartial” when discussing political ideologies such as fascism and Nazism. Baldwin later said he should have chosen better words. Baldwin’s bill is similar to the House’s version.

A number of parents lined up at Monday’s hearing to list instances of what they said were lessons by teachers that tried to slant course material toward social justice causes. Kyle Taylor, a father of two students in Westfield Washington Schools, said he was disturbed by, among other things, a teacher training course that included a section titled “Being Agents of Change Through Disruption.”

“We’re not trying to be activists, we’re not trying to change, we’re not trying to disrupt,” he said. “Our kids are in school for an education, an academic education.”

Neither the House bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, nor Baldwin’s Senate bill have yet been put to a committee vote. Cook’s House bill is currently scheduled for a committee vote Wednesday morning.

Statement

I unequivocally condemn Nazism, fascism and Marxism. When I said in the meeting, “I’m with you on those particular isms” that is what I meant to convey. As someone who fought to defend our democracy, I agree teachers should condemn those dangerous ideologies and I sincerely regret that I did not articulate that and apologize for it.

“We absolutely need to teach our children about the tragedies of the past, which is why the legislation in its current form specifically protects the teaching of historical injustices. I said Wednesday that we need to listen and be open to changes that can improve the bill, and we are working on amendments to that end.”

Indiana state Sen. Scott Baldwin, a Republican from Noblesville, on night of Jan. 10, 2022