The Journal Gazette
Friday, January 14, 2022 1:00 am

SB 167 'solution' in search of a problem

Abe Schwab

One of my favorite sections of text from Indiana Senate Bill 167 is where it prohibits the use of materials that suggest “that any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, responsibility, or any other form of psychological distress.” The text implies that having a responsibility is a form of psychological distress, perhaps accidentally telling us more about the authors' worldview than anything else.

Aside from this inarticulate use of the English language, there are good reasons to contact your state legislator to tell them to vote “no” on SB 167. For those unfamiliar with SB 167, it's part of the ongoing effort to challenge the teaching of concepts certain groups in the United States find offensive.

It does so by creating a committee of parents, teachers and administrators, appointed by school boards (usually) to review the curriculum offered in the school. It also dictates limits on the kinds of materials that can be included in the curriculum for post-secondary teacher preparation programs.

Here are a few reasons why you should tell your state legislator to vote “no.”

First, is there actually a problem in Indiana that this legislation will help us solve?

Purportedly, this will rescue students from situations in which they are made to feel inappropriate emotions by educational materials. Do you know students who this has happened to? Do you know someone who knows students this has happened to?

I've read stories in the national news about a teacher here and there being fired or getting suspended, but there's a difference between national news and local news, between national problems and state- or regional-level problems. This legislation seems to be solving a problem that doesn't exist in Indiana.

Second, the bill also appears to be an unfunded mandate by the party allegedly opposed to big government. That is, it creates a lot of work and provides no additional funding for that work.

The bill requires a committee for each school district that must be at least 40% teachers or administrators. As a result, schools routinely short on funds and staff, and particularly so now, will be required to do one more thing to solve a problem that doesn't appear to exist.

Third, even if the problem exists, having a committee to review the curriculum will do little to solve it.

Perhaps the most famous case of a teacher being fired over “critical race theory” is Matthew Hawn. But if you know the story, the final straw in his case was when he spontaneously showed a video about white privilege when a student brought up the issue in class. That is, it wasn't part of the formal curriculum.

And this points to the broader issue that no legislation will be able to solve: The most offensive events in education are part of the informal, not the formal, curriculum. It is not the books that are read or the notes that are handed out. It's the way in which a teacher or administrator is respectful (or not), the way teachers and administrators treat students' interests as meaningful (or not), and the way the teacher and school respect a student's individuality (or not).

As we all know by now, the best teachers don't go into teaching for the high pay; they do it because they want to help students learn.

If you want to keep the best teachers in our schools, tell your state legislator to vote no on SB 167. And, even better, tell them that if they are interested in improving education in Indiana, they would be better served by voting down unnecessary and additional work for our schools and, instead, start asking our teachers what they need to help them do their work.

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