As Hoosiers anticipate the upcoming session of the General Assembly–an anticipation tinged with trepidation for many of us– we would do well to focus on the harms our Lords and Masters at the Statehouse intend to visit on public education this year.
This will be a budget year, and education is a huge part of that budget. I should note that, despite the pious concerns about taxes and spending voiced by Republican legislators each year, Indiana lawmakers have thrown millions of dollars into efforts to privatize education via the country’s largest voucher program, sending those dollars primarily to religious schools while routinely shortchanging the needs of our public schools.
According to the Indiana Capital Chronicle, the state is currently short 2300 teachers, a shortage undoubtedly exacerbated by inadequate pay levels and the legislature’s obvious disdain for the profession, demonstrated by its persistent efforts to dictate what can and cannot be taught in the classroom. In the upcoming session, a don’t say gay bill will be introduced, along with one purporting to keep Critical Race Theory out of the classroom. (The fact that actual CRT has never been in the classroom is irrelevant to the culture warriors, most of whom couldn’t tell you what it is if their lives depended on it.)
Classroom teachers and school board members I’ve talked to are exhausted by the constant assaults by Rightwing parents–the uninformed demands that they teach (or omit) certain materials, efforts to ban books or remove them from school libraries, and hysterical accusations about education perceived to be “woke.” These high-decibel accusations are front-page news, despite the fact that–according to research–the great majority of Americans who actually have children in the public schools are satisfied with the education those children are receiving.
The harassment of teachers and school board members has little to do with what actually goes on in the nation’s classrooms; instead, it is one of the more visible battlefronts in the GOP’s culture war.
The linked study, done by Pew prior to the midterm elections, underscores the fundamentally partisan nature of the assault.
As the midterm election approaches, issues related to K-12 schools have become deeply polarized. Republican and Democratic parents of K-12 students have widely different views on what their children should learn at school about gender identity, slavery and other topics, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
They also offer different assessments of the influence parents, local school boards and other key players have on what public K-12 schools in their area are teaching. Republican parents with children in K-12 schools are about twice as likely as Democratic parents to say parents don’t have enough influence (44% vs. 23%, including those who lean to each party). And Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say school boards have too much influence (30% vs. 17%). These parents also differ over the amount of input they personally have when it comes to what their own children are learning in school.
At the same time, Republican and Democratic parents – including those with children in public schools – are equally likely to say they are extremely or very satisfied with the quality of the education their children are receiving (58% each) and that the teachers and administrators at their children’s schools have values that are similar to their own (54% each).
The large differences between what Republican and Democratic parents believe their children should learn are illuminating.
When it comes to what their children are learning in school, U.S. parents of K-12 students are divided over what they think their children should learn about gender identity: 31% say they would prefer that their children learn that whether someone is a boy or a girl is determined by the sex they were assigned at birth, and the same share say they’d rather their children learn that someone can be a boy or a girl even if that’s different from their sex at birth. A 37% plurality say their children shouldn’t learn about this in school.
There is also no consensus when it comes to what parents want their children to learn about slavery: 49% say they would prefer that their children learn that the legacy of slavery still affects the position of Black people in American society today, while a smaller but sizable share (42%) would prefer that their children learn that slavery is part of American history but doesn’t affect the position of Black people in American society today.
The self-appointed education experts in Indiana’s General Assembly should take note of another Pew finding: more parents say that state and federal governments have too much influence on what goes on in the classroom–and complain that teachers and principals don’t have enough.
Perhaps if legislators respected teachers–and compensated them accordingly–we wouldn’t be frantically searching for 2300 more of them.