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