This week the House Education Committee killed a series of bills that sought to create new state laws governing how public schools teach certain issues surrounding race and gender. Though they never explicitly mention Critical Race Theory, they were widely seen as an effort to ban the use of that concept, even though it is not taught in Louisiana schools and is not part of the state’s new social studies standards. Putting that issue to rest is a positive thing for Louisiana.
Issues surrounding the teaching of race and gender are sensitive topics and have blown up into huge controversies in some state legislatures across the country. The concern on the one hand seems to be that some teachers might be “indoctrinating” students by teaching history and social studies from a politically-biased point of view.
Others see the laws reacting to that concern as a way to inappropriately squelch classroom discussion about difficult issues in the history of our state and country. Whatever your perspective, CABL believes tabling this legislation was the right thing to do.
There are a number of reasons for this that might not be apparent to the general public. One is that much of this legislation is overly vague, broad, and open to interpretation. For instance, the legislation asserts that nothing in it should be construed to prohibit “the impartial and politically nonpartisan discussion of controversial aspects to history.”
In the polarized political climate of today, that would be extremely difficult to define and any lesson on a subject that might be deemed controversial could be open to many conflicting interpretations with real-life consequences for teachers and schools.
The language in some bills also seemed overly proscriptive. One measure required the teaching of a certain approach to “federalism,” even though the precise meaning of that has been the subject of honest debate since the time of the founding fathers.
And some of this legislation would seem unenforceable while at the same time inviting the possibility of increased litigation and the involvement of the state attorney general and local district attorneys. One of the bills sets up a grievance process that appears overly bureaucratic, extremely complicated, and unlike anything else that currently exists in public education.
Finally, CABL has always believed that the responsibility for curriculum and teaching in our public schools rests with BESE and locally-elected school boards. BESE has recently adopted new social studies standards that have generally been well-received across the political spectrum. They will soon come before the House and Senate Education Committees for approval, which is the proper way to provide Legislative oversight. We should allow this current process to continue.
It should also be pointed out that Louisiana has an extremely strong “Parent Bill of Rights” for accessing curriculum and instructional materials. Legislation that will likely pass this session will make that information even more readily available than it already is.
We have much to do in public education in Louisiana, including expanding access to early education, improving early reading skills, and modernizing and transforming our high schools to provide students more access to college and career training opportunities.
Those are the areas where we should properly place our focus and to the credit of our state, the Legislature has agreed. That’s good for students and teachers across Louisiana.