About That War On Education

Evidently, Indiana’s censorious legislature has company–ours aren’t the only lawmakers issuing “gag orders” to educators.

According to a January report from Pen America,

It has been an extraordinary month for educational gag orders. Over the last three weeks, 71 bills have been introduced or prefiled in state legislatures across the country, a rate of roughly three bills per day. For over a year now, PEN America has been tracking these and similar bills…

According to the Pen report, 122 educational gag orders have been filed in 33 states since January 2021. Of those, 12 have become law in 10 states, and another 88 are currently live.

Of those currently live:

84 target K-12 schools
38 target higher education
48 include a mandatory punishment for those found in violation

When Pen looked at the measures that have been introduced so far in 2022, it found “a significant escalation in both scale and severity.”

Forty-six percent of this year’s bills explicitly target speech in higher education (versus 26 percent in 2021) and 55 percent include some kind of mandatory punishment for violators (versus 37 percent in 2021). Fifteen also include a private right of action. This provision, which we analyzed in an earlier post, gives students, parents, or even ordinary citizens the right to sue schools and recover damages in court.

One final feature that is increasingly common to 2022’s bills is how sloppily many are written. Legislators, in their haste to get these bills out the door and into the headlines, are making basic factual errors, introducing contradictory language, and leaving important terms undefined. Given the stakes, the result will be more than mere confusion. It will be fear.

The Pen report then zeroed in on legislation from a single state, in order to help readers “appreciate” the chilling nature of the threat.

That state? Indiana. (I am so not proud.)

With eight bills currently under consideration, only Missouri (at 19) has made a greater contribution. Of the eight in Indiana, all target public K-12 schools, two target private K-12 as well, six would regulate speech in public colleges and universities, four affect various state agencies, and two threaten public libraries. All are sweeping, all are draconian, and few make any kind of sense.

House Bill 1362, sponsored by Bob Behning ( because of course it was), prohibits teachers and professors from including in their instruction any “anti-American ideologies.” What this means is never defined (because of course it wasn’t), but violators may be sued in court.

Pen tells us that House Bill 1040 is even more confusing. That bill requires teachers to adopt a “posture of impartiality” –but also contains the following language:

Socialism, Marxism, communism, totalitarianism, or similar political systems are incompatible with and in conflict with the principles of freedom upon which the United States was founded. In addition, students must be instructed that if any of these political systems were to replace the current form of government, the government of the United States would be overthrown and existing freedoms under the Constitution of the United States would no longer exist. As such, socialism, Marxism, communism, totalitarianism, or similar political systems are detrimental to the people of the United States.

As the report notes, this would be farcical if the consequences of failure to comply weren’t so dire. A teacher or school  that failed to navigate the whiplash mandated by this effort to ensure that teachers indoctrinate, rather than educate, would–under this bill– face civil suits, loss of state funding and accreditation, and/or professional discipline up to and including termination.

The linked article describes several other, similar efforts, and I encourage anyone who wants to wallow in despair over Indiana governance to click through.

The none-too-savvy legislators pushing these bills are evidently unaware that kids today can easily access multiple sources of information. (There’s this newfangled thing called the Internet.)

Ironically, these legislative efforts that display our lawmakers’ anti-intellectualism and bigotry also motivate young people to access the information they are trying to suppress. After a Tennessee school board censored a graphic novel about the Holocaust, it soared to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list. Young people (and a number of older ones) have rushed to form banned book clubs.

A few days ago, when I threatened to start an online class in “banned history,” the response was so heavy and positive I’m now seriously considering doing so. (Once I’ve done some research and figured out the logistics, I’ll let you all know.)

What we should be teaching students is how to evaluate the credibility of the sources they consult. Efforts to “shield” them from the uglier realities of the past are  likely to spark interest in exploring that past, and it would be helpful to give them the tools to separate sound scholarship from the propaganda produced by both Left and Right.

Several lawmakers could use those lessons too.


  1. Sheila,

    How about writing a column about the constitutionality of these proposed Indiana laws?

  2. I noticed fascism wasn’t among those things Indiana considered incompatible with American life. Of course it wasn’t. I get the sneaking suspicion that while most on the right ( and more than a few on the left too) have no clue what communism, socialism, Marxism or fascism are there are a few who do understand and recognize the current version of republicanism fits the signs of fascism like a slightly too small wet t-shirt fits a drunk co-ed but are just smart enough to not admit it, yet.

  3. This is a simple matter of a public sector union battling the private sector oligarchs at https://alec.org/issue/education/.

    The truth is neither of them could care less about educating our children.

    I could spend days educating folks on the corrupt teacher unions and who pulls their strings and even more days educating folks about Charles Koch and his motives, but let’s say neither one has a pure motive.

    We don’t need thousands and thousands of biology professors or English professors across the country. We also don’t need that many school buildings. The number of colleges in this country is crazy, and professors teach the same redundant classes. Is the college experience worth $45-65,000 in debt?

    Seriously? LOL

    Let’s look at who is profiting from education in this country and remove the profit motive first.

    Then design an education system built around the students.

  4. First, please include me in your “BBC”, (Banned Book Club).
    Second, I hope that the political forces continue along this path, and even increase their activities. This will be the only way to fully realize what America would be like under their oppressive thumbs. Then I hope that they are fully and utterly rejected by a large majority of Americans. Of course, I am always disappointed in my hopes for a “blue wave”…

  5. The book “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis should be required reading for anyone seeking public office. Thing is, it IS happening here. Right now.

    OF COURSE Republicans want to control what is taught in schools. Part of their pathetic and criminal strategy is control the narrative everywhere. Educated people with knowledge of history tend to vote for Democrats. Republicans, therefore, knowing they have no social or civic agenda that serves everyone but the elite who fund them, MUST consort to this strategy to win elections.

    That, of course, begs the question…again, Who votes for these fascist idiots? The answer is simple.

  6. Awesome thread this morning Sheila!

    You absolutely touched on it well, concerning the absurdity of controlling freedom of information.

    I thought government wasn’t supposed to make laws limiting free speech. Free speech would also include the educational system? The libraries? The churches? The public square? And of course private residence.

    If your beliefs are strong enough and desirable enough to be the preferred method of coexistence with government, then there should not have to be laws to force it down people’s throats.

    Fascism seems to have a huge fan club in religion. Christian nationalistic fascism which could be better known as Nazism amongst other things, tries to obfuscate reality with mind numbing conjecture. With the amount of absolute knowledge available, why is there any reason to speculate? When you have/allow speculation/conjecture on truth or better yet, definite and unconditional fact, or unarguable reality, uncertainty then surrounds reality and allows a sort of string theory of realities. Maybe you like a BOGO bag of reality, buy one get one. Choose your reality!

    The Nationalistic Fascists in Germany went after the educators and the press. If you can eliminate the heralds, you have won the battle and the war. After all, throughout history, the Jews were educators, they were bankers. Christians didn’t like to handle money because of some obfuscated and warped belief.

    Therefore, driven by untruthful beliefs, and to avoid the practice of usury, Jews were always used in the banking system and money changing. This along with being leaders in education, allowed the German fascists to attack and demonize the Jews even though they had lived in Germany for many many generations.

    And of course the Germans or the Nazi party, the nationalistic fascists had the perfect opportunity to posterize their new scapegoats.

    Sound familiar today? Colin Kaepernick, Dr Anthony Fauci, libertards, the squad, Barack Obama, and any other incarnations you can imagine. The vaccine and mind control are a perfect example also. After all, we would not all want to be morphed into the Chinese would we, LOL?

    The nationalists always talk about dumbing down, if you recall, during the Obama administration, everything was, your dumbing down the population or you’re becoming wimpy. So, what has happened? What they actually wanted to do, they projected on everyone else until they had enough power to dumb down everyone! Greasing the skids to a fascist regime without any resistance from their constituency.

    It’s just another form of Coup. And, someone better figure out how to grow a set like I said before. They better beat the nationalistic fascist to the punch or we’re going to be burying millions of bodies in this country, because the undesirables are going to be next on the list. The right is absolutely positively using Adolf Hitler’s playbook. And that’s not just me saying it, get on the old Google machine, or, there are some really good literary sources that are undisputable on the subject.

  7. I am somewhat comforted by the thought that forbidden fruit is always the most tempting. Please ban every book. We will see a run on reading like we have never seen.

  8. I should figure out a way to get all my books banned. Then, people would storm my website and Amazon to buy them, making them all best-sellers. Then, anyone can access http://www.vernturner.com for some very realistic and compelling stories. Enjoy.

  9. I would hate to wake up everyday and be cynical about everything.
    As Chris Sununu pointed out on an interview with Christiane Amanpour recently:
    Social media found out that fighting was good for business and made billions.
    Then the network news media followed the same business model. We have a choice not to
    participate. I limit myself to PBS and it keeps the me from the “chicken little”

  10. Sheila,

    Please let us know if you need any type of assistance creating your online banned history class. I am willing to donate both time and money.

  11. Vernon, In writing “It Can’t Happen Here” in 1935 — about takeover of the U.S. government by a dictator— Sinclair Lewis must have known about the actual 1933 “Business Plot” to overthrow FDR and install a dictator.

    The 1933 coup d’Etat was thwarted by Major General Smedley Butler who testified to a committee of Congress, disclosing the existence of the plot.

    A successful U.S. coup d’Etat occurred in 1963, and another attempt may have been avoided in 2022.

  12. This the fulfillment of the recommendations of the Lewis Powell Memorandum.
    Ronald Reagan eliminated free tuition at
    state supported California colleges and universities as a means of stopping liberal thought and philosophies

  13. This is the fulfillment of the recommendations of the Lewis Powell Memorandum.
    Ronald Reagan eliminated free tuition at
    state supported California colleges and universities as a means of stopping liberal thought and philosophies

  14. Of course today’s article has my head spinning because it comes close to home. I don’t usually track the Indiana legislative docket, but now the sadder but wiser granny will. I care a great deal about the education of my grandchildren and their generation, especially those who are in our public schools. Being actively engaged with their education outside the classroom, while being able to reference what is being offered via curriculum in the classroom, has been my strategy. We talk about what they are learning, all of what they are learning as they develop their minds and bodies. An inquiring mind is essential, no matter what the topic. In short, whether you are a neighbor, teacher, parent, or grandparent, we must needs engage with and for our young people. We all have a job until our last breath!

  15. Of the 6 purposes stated in the Preamble of the Constitution, 3 are there to protect us from these non-nonsensical wannabe dictators in the legislatures. And they are:
    A, insure domestic Tranquility (which has pretty well ceased to exist since 1994 when the House fell under control of Newt Gingrich and his Tea Party cohorts).
    B, promote the general Welfare (which DOES involved health care).
    C, secure the Blessing of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity (in which one of the blessing of it is defined elsewhere in the said Constitution as involving speech).
    How limiting what teachers are hired to do in the first place seems to me to be unconstitutional in itself. Because I find it hard to believe anybody would define education as just assigning the students a text approved by the Gen. Ass. to read and bar any discussion of it. But, of course, I’ve been out of the classroom for 17 years now, but I was seeing such things as are now be promulgated by Republicans coming in, one new rule at a time.

  16. Yes, JoAnn and John.

    Education and health should be free to society and in abundance. The fact the USA has commodified knowledge and health should be a red flag to all.

    The same goes for the discussion about “A GOD” or “THE GOD”.

    It’s quite silly for humans to argue over whose concept of GOD is the right one.

  17. I would love to be in your banned history class! I follow Heather Cox Richardson and your idea of Banned History would be a great addition!

  18. A 1963 Coup??? Hmmmm. Don’t need all those profs, etc.? Do tell. My, the things I “learn” on this site.

  19. The irony about the fact that HB 1362 does not not ban teaching about fascism is that it leaves teachers free to inoculate students against the wave of fascism sweeping the country.

  20. I’d love to see you tour the state and present a workshop on “banned books” and “banned history.” I’ll pay your way and provide a private venue in Southeastern Indiana.

  21. If a teacher wearing a mic utters a banned word such as “Darwin” and is sued by parents who object to the teaching of evolution under the terms of some statute and obtains a money judgment and the teacher takes bankruptcy, are taxpayers liable to pay the judgment, or was the whole thing just an exercise of power to prove a point and after bankrupting the teacher plaintiffs show a satisfaction of judgment?

    I discussed some of the issues that could arise with such political attempts at thought control and rewriting of history with my daughter (a federal retiree and a bit of a scholar) and we have concluded that such bills either have to be unconstitutional or we are doomed to fascist control of every facet of our lives. When I told her that all the school teachers would quit their jobs she quickly responded that “That’s what “they” want, so they can insert their people and their curriculum into teaching our children!” Indiana with its public school appropriations diverted to charter and religious schools is already well along the way; bills like these will complete the process as we head back to the cave.

    Our last hope is that such bills are to be found unconstitutional, or that we take a page out of their playbook and that of Catholics, i. e., fund our own private schools.

  22. Education is the foundation of the future for individuals, families, states, countries and the world. Trying to, first change, then embrace the past will trap whatever level of “we” there while the rest of humanity moves on.

  23. Apparently, Max hasn’t witnessed EdX yet.

    We’ve constructed an education system that mirrors widgets’ assembly line manufacturing process. Minds aren’t widgets. We don’t “learn” across a linear path.

    We are basically forcing all ten-year-olds to be the same.

    Snap out of it…

  24. You’re probably ahead of me, but for banned history, read of course “The People’s History of the United States”, by Howard Zinn (an others of his works), “Caste – The Origins of our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson, “A True History of the United States: Indigenouse Genocide, Racialized Slavery, Hyper Capitalism, Militarist Imperialism, and Other Overlooked Aspects of American Exceptionalism” by Daniel A. Sjursen (he retired from serving as a history instructor at West Point). “White Trash. The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America” by Nancy Isenberg, and “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States” by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. This is the better part of my reading list for last year and this.

  25. Isn’t our previous President–Lord Voldemort–an advocate for the overthrow of our government–aka January 6, 2020?

    I’m in for the “banned” class. Let me know if there’s anything I can do.

  26. New rule for Republican legislators: You can’t outlaw what you can’t define–without notes

  27. This epitomizes the GOP’s glaring hypocrisy of claiming to despise government over-regulation while they feverishly create a variety of new regulations.

  28. On the bright side, sloppy bills written by fools are easier to strike down and get rid of. Maybe stupidity will once again be a savior?

  29. Any parent who has unglue their kid’s eyes from a screen knows how this will go.
    Some geek searching for money will build an app that lampoons rightwing teachers, and sell a million copies.
    Banning/censoring the Internet is the next move by the goons.
    It will not just fail, but backfire. Ask Joe Rogan haters.

  30. Yes, Max, that is the future of education. The diploma mills are a scam and have been for decades. There’s more knowledge on Wikipedia for free than kids spend a fortune to buy in those textbooks.

    Makes you wonder who’s really behind higher education mills just like the “health” mills. Who benefits from all these nursing homes?

    Follow the money…

  31. Todd, you’re on a roll today!

    Abolition never took root, Prohibition never took root.

    Sure, it was loud and proud for a very short period of time, but in the end, when you tell people they can’t do something, they’re going to want to do it. And I mean really anything that you tell someone what they shouldn’t do they’re going to want to do it.

    Did the war on drugs work? Did making marijuana illegal work? Let’s face it, prohibitionist mandates just drive people in the opposite direction. Concerning all of this right-wing bally woo, will eventually happen probably more sooner than later. And, there’s going to be a great whining and gnashing of teeth, because the ‘debba’ is coming 👹

    Every self-sufficient and free moral agent out there, has the right to live their life as they choose. As long as it doesn’t inflict any harm on one’s neighbor. You can read what you want or believe what you want or become highly educated or not educated at all. You can believe every conspiracy theory you hear, or, make up your own. Just do not injure your fellow man with nincompoopery. When the poop hits the fan, there’s going to be a lot more sinking than swimming! And there will be no one to help.

    When that little voice in the back of one’s mind tells you to push the button that you were told not to push because of the dire consequences of that action, ahhh but the button was pushed! Now all they can do is blame the debba.

  32. Todd, you have a tendency to diminish/ridicule/squash/ anything you disagree with, never seeing nuances or grays. You snap out of it. The “Diploma Mills” are not a scam and have not been for decades; lots of competent, contributing graduates; lots of intelligent, Nobel prize winning faculties. Yes, lots of “knowledge” on Wikipedia, but speaking as one who has had to edit/clarify some of the sciencey entries there, not all of it is reliable, just like the rest of the web stuff. “Follow the money” is always good advice, and schooling is outrageously expensive (compared to when I was in college/grad school), BUT that doesn’t mean it’s worthless; exploitive probably, but not worthless, IMHO. LOL (see what I did there?) OK; I’m outta here.

  33. The Indiana State Legislature is coming to get your books! Obama is coming to get your guns! See how that worked out?

  34. Joe McCarthy would just LOVE this technology! So, of course, would Goebbels.
    Nancy, you ask some good questions, andI believe, are onto some good answers. If one sees one’s life
    as nothing but irrelevant, meaningless, and/or boring, one may just have to create meaning by destroying.
    This is reminiscent of James Dean’s character, in “Rebel Without a Cause.” When he is asked “What are you rebelling
    against?” He responds with “What have you got?”

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