As educators struggle with the implications of a new state law, a Texas school administrator made the news after advising teachers “that if they have a book about the Holocaust in their classroom, they should also offer students access to a book from an ‘opposing’ perspective” (NBC News, October 14, 2021).
Here in Arizona, a similar law was held unconstitutional on procedural grounds, but that hasn’t kept its affect from being felt. On a Phoenix neighborhood email list, a neighbor expressed dismay about what she heard had happened to educators at the neighborhood school: “A principal and English Department staff are going to be fired or placed on leave for giving the AP English class an option to read a book about public shaming that referenced sex and porn.”
Another neighbor responded with this post: “Let this be a lesson for high school AP parents. AP math and science should be fine as they are not nearly as corruptible, but AP English (and college English) can turn into a moral cesspool exposing children to every vile vice and attitude today. Time to take our children back.”
Even while some states are limiting what can be taught, others are expanding “education on racism, bias, the contributions of specific racial or ethnic groups to U.S. history, or related topics” (Chalkbeat, July 21, 2021). National and local news about K–12 makes me wonder whether any person or group is thinking and talking about the broader societal consequences of the contradictions and tensions over what can and cannot be taught in school.
Discussions about the fundamental purposes of education appear to be absent. There was a time when education discussions were about pedagogy, learning outcomes, core cultural values, and career competencies. There was a time when parents trusted teachers to deliver in these areas of expertise.
The contexts in which teachers work today will not only impede their creativity and initiatives, it will likely reduce their desire to teach at all. We should all fear the consequences of the current unsettling atmosphere regarding schools and what can and cannot be taught. These consequences include the creation of a society without social mores, common decency, or civic responsibility, and a generation of young adults with a devastating lack of skills to acquire and retain employment.
I get it that these actions at school board meetings may stem from one of the strongest motivations–to protect one’s children. What this generation of parents must hope is that their rage at schools and teachers will not ultimately and unintentionally sacrifice the futures of their children.