Report sparks debate over ban on critical race theory

A new report by a free speech advocacy group has sparked debate over whether state laws banning critical race theory in classrooms chill free speech or simply allow parents to protect their children from politics.

New York-based nonprofit PEN America reported Monday that from January to September, 24 state legislatures introduced 54 bills to ban the teaching of “divisive” concepts like theory. criticism of race in K-12 schools, higher education and state agencies.

“This report is not intended to assess any particular point of view or ideology. Rather, it is a warning: this type of legislation, which seeks to prohibit even the conversation of entire points of view or ideologies, is censorship, ”Jonathan Friedman, one of the report’s lead authors, told the report. Washington Times.

Mr Friedman called the new legislation a “slippery slope and censorship.”

“Administrators and school boards need to be prepared to listen to parents and respond to real concerns. But the response to what some perceive to be a stifling debate could not be more stifling, ”he said.

Most of the 54 bills call for limits on discussions of race, racism, gender and American history, according to the report titled “Educational Gagging Orders: Legislative Restrictions on the Freedoms to Read, Learn and Play. ‘teach “.

Eleven of the bills have become law in nine states, nine target public schools, three colleges and universities, and six apply to state agencies and institutions. As of Monday, 18 of the bills were pending in the current legislative session and six were pre-tabled for 2022.

“These bills appear designed to cool academic and educational discussions and impose government dictates on teaching and learning. In short: they are educational gags, ”the report concludes.

Parental rights advocates have contested that the PEN America report qualifies the laws as stifling free speech.

Tamra Farah, executive director of MomForce at the nonprofit Moms for America, said some teachers abuse academic freedom to “imbue their classrooms with the concept that society is divided into oppressors and downtrodden.” which confuses the children and usurps the educational role of parents. .

“Critical race theory in our schools is more of a culture than a curriculum, and parents and academics who oppose it have nothing to do with stifling free speech,” said Ms. Farah at The Times.

And Sheri Few, president of US Parents Involved in Education, took issue with the premise of the report.

Amidst the censorship of social media platforms and left-wing propaganda spread by mainstream media, it is laughable that supporters of critical race theory suggest that restricting racist pedagogy in public schools is a violation. of the First Amendment to the US Constitution that protects freedom of speech. “Ms. Few said in an email.” On the contrary, CRT violates the Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, and we are delighted to see lawsuits challenging this racist and Marxist pedagogy. “

Developed in graduate schools and law schools in the 1970s, Critical Race Theory is an analytical tool based on critical Marxist studies. It postulates that racism is a fundamental part of American society and government and that it is important for understanding and evaluating American laws, policies, and programs.

“Radical propaganda”

The PEN America report comes in the wake of the Nov. 2 election in Virginia, where parental involvement in education played a key role in Republican victories, and Colorado, where parent-backed candidates won control of eight county school boards by beating approved candidates. by teachers’ unions.

Andrea Haitz, a Colorado mother-of-three elected to the Mesa County School Board last week, told The Times critical race theory has crept into student “equity clubs” as local teachers allowed to make presentations in their classrooms.

“I have a real problem with this because it should be done after school. From my perspective as a board member, I think we need to stick with an agenda that stays in line with its topic, ”Ms. Haitz said.

Ms Haitz, who will be sworn in on November 30, added that parents voted for her because they wanted their children “to learn math, science and history, not neo-Marxist ideas.”

“Great teachers tell kids how to think, not what to think,” she said.

While Colorado hasn’t banned divisive topics in the classroom, other states like Texas have done so as part of an effort to help parents veto objectionable content.

Jonathan Zimmerman, education historian at the University of Pennsylvania, said the PEN America report confirms parents do not trust teachers or students to discuss the “urgent” and “controversial” issue of race and racism.

“The real problem here is that we don’t trust our teachers – or our students – enough to let them debate the race issue in America,” Zimmerman told The Times. “Of course, reasonable people can and do not agree on this. But the GOP-sponsored measures effectively take the issue off the table.”

Columbia University professor and political analyst Jeffrey Sachs challenged the vagueness of state bans. He said the study shows the need for parents, teachers, local administrators and students “in the field” to figure out how to discuss topics such as race.

“A complete separation of politics and education is neither possible nor desirable,” Sachs told The Times.

“Where these bills go wrong is in leveling off a vague and one-size-fits-all approach to an entire state, and then enforcing that standard with threats of harsh punishment. It’s a recipe for paranoia and self-censorship, ”he added.

James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, said the state bans noted in the report are “part of a larger campaign of sweeping propaganda that seeks to divide the American people by spreading falsehoods about what takes place in the country’s history classes.

“A recent national survey, conducted by the American Historical Association and Fairleigh Dickinson University, demonstrates a broad consensus across partisan lines that what is actually taught in schools – the history of slavery and racism and its impact on the development of American society – is essential content and quite appropriate for school history lessons, ”Mr. Grossman said.

But Melanie Hempe, founder of the nonprofit Families Managing Media, said it would be better to leave the hot topics to parents rather than trust schools to find a compromise everyone likes.

“A lot of these things have to stay at home,” Ms. Hempe said, citing an “anchor bias” that makes children sensitive to the first person who teaches them a subject.

“Children are constantly exposed to politics and subjects at ages when they are not ready,” she added. “They need parents to guide them through what they hear on social media and at school.”

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