Indiana’s Legislature Doesn’t Get It

I often post about education, about which I have some firm convictions. I began my professional life as a high school English teacher, and ended it with 21 years as a college professor. Now that I am an elderly retiree, my focus has narrowed to a simple question: What is education and why does Indiana do so badly at it? (Among other deficits, we rank 43rd among the states in the percentage of our population with a bachelor’s degree.)

Most of us have come across the concept of Occam’s Razor–the principle that the simplest answer is usually the right one–and I’ve concluded that the answer to why Indiana’s legislature is so bad at education policy is, indeed, simple: the World’s Worst Legislature doesn’t know what education is. Hoosier lawmakers don’t understand the difference between education and job training, and they appear entirely unaware of the critical importance of public education in forming a “body politic.” 

I have posted numerous times about the insanity of Indiana’s voucher program, which siphons resources from public schools, increases civic polarization, evades the constitutional separation of church and state, and has utterly failed to improve student academic performance. Recently, we’ve also learned that, despite early promises about benefitting poor children, most families taking advantage of vouchers are upper-middle-class or wealthy.

The legislative drive to privatize education and send money to religious schools at the expense of both poorer Hoosiers and the state’s public school system is reprehensible enough, but last session’s changes to academic requirements underscored lawmakers’ confusion of job training with the purposes of a genuine education. (We had already seen that confusion when the legislature passed a “workforce development” bill giving high school students credit for substituting an apprenticeship with local businesses for academic coursework.)

During its last session, lawmakers modified the requirements for what is known as the “core 40” that high school students must take to graduate.

As Chalkbeat recently pointed out, at a time when too few Hoosiers have college degrees,

A plan to refocus Indiana’s graduation requirements on work experiences would eliminate a diploma linked to college-going without providing a clear alternative for students seeking postsecondary education.

There’s a lot to dislike about lawmakers’ most recent cluelessness, but allow me to focus on just two areas: science and civics. 

The requirement for science instruction has been reduced to two classes from six, and there are now no required courses.

In a world facing the enormous challenges of climate change, determined efforts to deny the efficacy of vaccines (and medical science generally), and multiple other conflicts that are the result of a widespread lack of scientific literacy, this is insane. It’s bad enough that many voucher students will be taught creationism rather than science, but to dramatically reduce required instruction in the scientific method is to turn out even those desired “worker bees” with a lack of the basic knowledge they’ll need to function (including their ability to remain employed!) in an increasingly technological world.

Worse still, citizens who don’t understand the difference between a scientific theory and a wild-eyed guess will be vulnerable to the anti-scientific claptrap spewed by climate-change deniers and culture warriors. Absent a basic understanding of how science operates, they will certainly not be informed voters.

Then there’s the reduction in social studies requirements.

Students will no longer be required to take economics, world history or geography–only government and U.S. History. To belabor the obvious, without an understanding of basic economics, students will be unfamiliar with a major element of both governance and history. In an increasingly inter-connected world, they will be able to graduate without understanding the all-important context of American history, or the multiple influences of global interconnections.

Education has been defined as the development of reasoning and judgment–intellectual preparation for a mature life. That preparation will include–but be much more extensive than– job training, and it should include knowledge needed for effective citizenship. One of the major purposes of the public school was–in Benjamin Barber’s phrase–to be constitutive of a public. Public schools were created in large part to create Americans from children coming into the classroom from diverse backgrounds. We abandon that essential task when we privatize schools and limit required instruction to job skills. 

Gubernatorial candidate Jennifer McCormick–a life-long educator who previously served as Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction–left the Republican Party in part due to her profound and informed disagreement with the legislature’s super-majority over these issues. 

It’s one more reason to vote for McCormick. 

PS Another major reason to vote McCormick is her support for reproductive freedom. If you can, attend her Reproductive Town Hall in Indianapolis on June 11th, from 6:30 to 7:30 at IBEW Hall, 1828 N. Meridian Street #205.

18 Comments

  1. “I’ve concluded that the answer to why Indiana’s legislature is so bad at education policy is, indeed, simple: the World’s Worst Legislature doesn’t know what education is.”
    I must respectfully disagree with this conclusion. I think the World’s Worst knows exactly what an education is, and why it is important. That is why everything they do is intentional, from sucking funds away from public education and school lunches to “Creationism as Science” and a lack of liberal arts, history, and social science courses at every level.
    If a democracy depends on an educated public, the first thing an autocratic system must do is eliminate education for the young and replace it with indoctrination tactics. The next step will be “re-education camps” for those of us who were educated in civics and American history.
    Those who do not teach history intend to repeat it.

  2. I appreciate the Socratic nature of your question “What is education” and the definition you provide as a starting point for the inquiry: The development of reasoning and judgment–intellectual preparation for a mature life. It does seem that the primary purpose for education in Indiana has become job training and religious indoctrination. Its primary purpose is to perpetuate the patriarchy.

  3. “As Chalkbeat recently pointed out, at a time when too few Hoosiers have college degrees,…”

    Today’s national dilemma appears to show that too many with college degrees are the source of the current chaotic government at all levels and they are following a convicted criminal who didn’t graduate college so he created a pseudo-college in his name. The “blue collars” outnumber the “white collars” but most have followed the education scam that only college educated are qualified to rule.

    “Public schools were created in large part to create Americans from children coming into the classroom from diverse backgrounds. We abandon that essential task when we privatize schools and limit required instruction to job skills.”

    Public schools “create Americans”??? How does that work and what happened to our birthright of being an American; when the snobbery of “private education” is the most recent form of government backed segregation and defunding public education is funding private education?

    As a high school dropout with a GED I did not need a college degree to recognize Goldsmith’s beginning of the destruction of the local Republican party and the scamming of the public till his own lies brought him down years later in New York City. Education is learning at other levels than in colleges; the college educated in Indiana’s Legislature are part of the MAGA legislation at the federal level. And the reason Trump has sworn to leave all decision making up to the state levels with Indiana placed high on that list of supporters. The Indiana Legislature DOES get it and they use it tenaciously to maintain their control.

  4. I don’t think the state legislature is smart enough to ask “what is education?”. As Republican politicians, they’ve checked their brains at the door and groups like ALEC are telling them what to think. The only creative thinking is spinning lies as to why this garbage is good policy.

    I think James Todd is closer to the truth.

  5. In a plutocratic White Christian nationalist theocracy, beyond blind faith in whatever myths the autocrats peddle to keep the system going, the masses aren’t deemed to need anything more than job training. They certainly don’t need anything remotely resembling critical thinking skills (ooh- the “critical” word. We know what it means when people not on board with the authoritarian program start throwing THAT word around).

    If Trumpism is the opiate of the masses, political nihilism and false equivalencies are the fentanyl. Protest voting, or not voting at all, have never had their intended outcomes. If you’re not part of the solution, you really ARE part of the problem; both sides are not the same, there is no “lesser of two evils,” and your vote really DOES matter (especially for state-wide offices).

  6. I most respectfully must disagree. They know exactly what they are doing. From “right to work” to the dismantling of our public education system it’s been a long slow but somewhat predictable road to creating slave labor. Smart people argue when you tell them to do a stupid thing. People with 0 critical thinking skills do not.

  7. We already have far too many adult Indiana citizens that are “vulnerable to the anti-scientific claptrap spewed by climate-change deniers and culture warriors”, compliments of Fox news and their oligarchic corporate sponsors.

    Hoosier businesses connected to Indiana’s Chamber of Commerce want taxpayers to train new worker bees for their production forces at no cost to them. They’ve been complaining for several years that they can’t find enough workers that are trained for their specific needs. They do not want to have to spend their own money to train potential future employees, but even more importantly they want people that are willing to work for low wages.

    Our despicable gop controlled state legislature is doing exactly what their campaign funders/major donors tell them to do.

  8. The GOP is leading us to the bottom. I’m not sure why, but I do know that once the downhill run begins, it’s nearly impossible to stop. The diminution of education is part of the plan and has a big part of the Koch consortium for over 40 years. Any university that has a “foundation” or a “think tank” that has a clear tilt to the right, is part of the plan. Sounds like paranoia? Maybe, but it’s true.

  9. It’s hard to follow Nancy and the other posters today. Regarding school choice at the state level, the mention of ALEC was 100% correct. Indiana has already implemented ALEC’s educational program, but their goal is to have 25 states adopt their choice program by 2025.

    https://alec.org/model-policy/the-hope-scholarship-act/

    https://www.in.gov/doe/students/indiana-choice-scholarship-program/

    Also, ALEC has model policies where the states can fill in their name and send it out of committee for approval.

    https://alec.org/issue/education/#model-policies

    It’s important to understand that ALEC is driven by the oligarchy or donor class. These are the ones who hold the purse strings and, naturally, the state politicians are inclined to do their bidding. It’s a system that’s hard to break, especially when the focus is on ‘choice,’ a narrative that can be challenging to counter for parents.

    What’s ironic is their whole “free market” argument is it brings out the best in innovation, efficiency, etc. Instead of throwing money at education, they believe competition will bring down costs. However, once the Chinese started kicking American oligarchic asses at solar panels and EVs, the federal government responded with massive tariffs and sanctions. So much for competition, free markets, and all that jazz! 😉

  10. As stated repeatedly above the GOP knows exactly what it is doing. An uninformed polity is easily manipulated with fear and blame. That is why it is critically important for us to get out and support Democratic candidates at all levels of government in Indiana and the US. Democrats are not perfect but the vast majority of them have their hearts and minds in a good location. Donate. Call. Canvass. Organize. Attend. VOTE like our liberty depends upon it!

  11. Absolutely correct here Shiela. Primarily parents are causing problems, its the culture and neglect kids receive before they get to school. Then there is the political distractions in social engineering, sexualizing the kids… wrong focus, 1619 project… false history, Critical theory wrapped up in race… 100 million died due to socialist / communist governments. Actually is being promoted instead of being critically being discussed.
    George Washington stated when the people realize they can borrow against themselves its the beginning of the end.
    So inflation up 22% in 3 years, this is the governments back door tax because Obama Trump and Biden have added $26 trillion in debt… never taught in schools.
    We don’t care about our kids, they will figure it out and get rid of social security or worldwide they will simply have to wipe away the debt.
    How do we get them to understand anything if we do not have any since of conservation in economics?

  12. John S. Inflation is way down in the last 3 years and the rest of your claims are equally wrong. And it is authoritarian governments that kill hundreds of millions of people in order to seize and keep power.

  13. Simple, yes: What James Todd said.
    And, Florida is trying hard to catch up…or down.

  14. Well, I really have to agree with JoAnn today.

    There was a huge issue with education and such after the second world war in the divided Germany. Now I am discussing Germany right now, and how they progressed in their educational fight.

    In Western Germany and later on after the reunification, the unions and government bought into vocational training with side courses in civics and such. In Germany today, the students who come out of their process of learning choices, are much better equipped to work in a well-paying job, also, to understand the history of Germany, and to be tolerant as much as that can happen today. They do not siphon money away from public education for private schools. The choices are available, the unions buy in, the corporations buy in, the government buys in! They have a much better quality of future productive citizens with an understanding of what’s necessary to not repeat the disasters of the past.

    Of course it’s a battle, the right wing nationalists never give it a break, and the thought of white nationalistic superiority over all others is a hard nut to crack. That being said, it seems that Germany and some of the other industrial first world countries have a better handle on education than we do here.

    When your schools become nannies, or the social media, take your pick, is THE biggest influencer and educator, you have a problem. Parenting is not for the faint of heart, and you have to be staunchly protective of your children with all of the stuff that’s floating around out there. But, if you have really poor viewpoints on the world, your children are going to have the same.

    And, another issue is, it doesn’t matter if a person believes in evolution or creation. It should have nothing to do with how one interacts with their fellow citizen, ie their neighbor. It doesn’t affect compassion or empathy. It doesn’t affect the love you have for your fellow man. It doesn’t affect your belief in contraception, at least it shouldn’t. It shouldn’t affect physics, mathematics, reading, comprehension, history, especially the portion of history that concerns The conflagration of war, or, basic human and equal rights. It shouldn’t affect oceanography, it shouldn’t affect microbiology, it shouldn’t affect cosmology, and the like! It shouldn’t affect civics at all. That’s why that separation of church and state is so important. Once you become educated, then you can decide, if you want to practice what you’ve learned and what you know. Anyone can be a productive and desirable citizen, no matter what they practice and believe. The key, is to prevent hatred and ignorance. And a government that’s tolerant of hatred and ignorance is doomed to fail. That’s historical fact!

  15. For investors to continue to enjoy the privileges of wealth, they need workers lightly educated so that they know how to use the tools of wealth production but little beyond that. Investors live off of the production of wealth creators who monetize their capabilities but if educated beyond that capability workers can start thinking for themselves and competing with, rather than supporting, the investors.

  16. John S

    You can’t promote something, without discussing it! And the number is much higher than 100 million. The boxer revolution in China, the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, the German genocides, the Cambodian Khmer Rouge and the millions they murdered, people like to claim these authoritarian governments and others that are not mentioned here, did this to wipe out certain religious enclaves. But the source of the hatred was also religious. And, the authoritarians who murdered their citizens had a huge bent towards religious beliefs. They cherry picked what worked for them in their own minds, and wiped away the rest. So yes even though the communists and socialists and nationalists for that matter claim they’re fighting overly liberal and lenient insurgencies, they are just wolves wrapped up in sheep’s clothing. They have their own religious beliefs and leanings, and those beliefs are not tolerant, not compassionate or empathetic, and instead of loving their neighbor, they hate their neighbor. These are the men of lawlessness that is discussed in second Thessalonians. Because these things have been going on for millennia.

  17. Jo Ann Green. First, kudos to you for continuing your education without getting a college degree. That takes dedication and we should all pursue education as a lifelong activity. Second, I agree that a diploma says little àbout one’s fitness to rule or lead.
    I interpreted the statement about schools creating Americans to mean that public schools should have the mission of creating good American citizens, i.e. citizens who understand and appreciate American ideals and are prepared to participate in our government and society in positive ways. However, I do reject the arguments sometimes made that “college educated elites” are somehow destroying our country. I hope you do not believe that.

  18. Sharon,

    I absolutely don’t think that JoAnn was doing any denigrating of college students. The whole basis of America was to be inclusive, at least that was the thought process. But it really didn’t begin that way in the first place. Women were possessions, slaves were claimed subhuman possessions, Chinese were persona non grata, native Americans were animals.

    The thought process of education, was to bring to light the inhumanity of human thinking. And to learn how to be compassionate, to learn how to be empathetic, to walk in someone else’s shoes. Readin, ritein and rithmetic can make a person functionally literate, anything past that, is a bonus. Every one is not going to be the brain surgeon or rocket scientist. But there still will be those who are naturally intellectual who will make discoveries and be prolific inventors. That’s part of the human brain magnificence.

    People look to separate themselves, they call it tribalism now, and, this country was really founded on tribalism. When they came across the Atlantic Ocean, they weren’t the first ones here! There were other explorers from the Middle East, the Germanic tribes, far Eastern nomads, we’re all here before.

    All of these explorers were trying to get away from something, and to start a better life for themselves. Unfortunately, they just did to the others they encountered like what was being done to themselves.

    There has to be something much larger than self, I really enjoy associating with those that I might not even be able to understand without a translator, but the affection shown by genuine interest is something that’s addicting. And there’s much more that binds us together than pulls us apart.

    And those instigators that are perpetually stirring the pot and sewing tumult, should be ostracized and cast out of society. They don’t deserve understanding because these are the sons of destruction.

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