NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — A mother of two students in public schools on Monday said schools should approach social justice topics in an age-appropriate way rather than avoiding them.
Jenna Stewart’s two children attend Noblesville public schools. Whenever social justice topics come up, she said both she and her children’s teachers address them using age-appropriate discussion and literature. She said it comes naturally to her since her family has a long tradition of discussing current events.
“I’m the ninth of 22 grandchildren, and so we are a family that has different views on issues but we all were able to get along because we knew that, at the end of the day, we are a family,” she said.
Stewart said that experience convinces her it’s possible to address controversial topics while preserving relationships. She said this prompted her to speak at a public hearing last week at the Indiana Statehouse against a bill to ban critical race theory from classrooms. A number of parents had come forward at the hearings to say teachers were actively trying to uncover students’ political leanings or trying to paint them as being inherently responsible for past injustices against racial, ethnic or religious minorities. Stewart said she doesn’t see things that way.
“If you have feelings that make you uncomfortable about things that have happened in the past to other people, that it is a natural sign of your being empathetic and compassionate toward those people and it’s not because of something that you’ve done, and then we can focus on how do we go about making things better,” she said.
The Indiana House of Representatives could begin debate as early as Tuesday on a bill to ban educators from teaching a number of concepts, including critical race theory. A House calendar posted Monday showed the bill would be up for a second reading on Tuesday.
The Senate was considering similar legislation, which drew nationwide attention after bill sponsor Sen. Scott Baldwin’s remark that teachers should be neutral in their approach to teaching about Nazism. The Noblesville Republican has since apologized twice and said he should have worded his comments differently. On Friday, Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said the bill was being withdrawn from consideration because Senate leaders did not see a viable path forward for it.
Stewart said the bill could deprive her children of valuable educational opportunities. As an example, she said her son’s history class had a Zoom call with Ruby Bridges, who was the first Black student to be enrolled at New Orleans’ then-segregated William Frantz Elementary School in the early 1960s. Stewart said her son thoroughly enjoyed the conversation with Bridges and she wished she could have joined in as well.
Bray has not indicated how he would handle the House bill if it reaches his chamber, and Gov. Eric Holcomb has demurred when asked what he would do if it reaches his desk.