Nazi or not, bill is still bad

Update: The House approved HB 1134 Jan. 26 by a vote of 60-37, sending it to the Senate. The previous day, the House amended the bill to remove references to higher education. Restrictions on K-12 schools and teachers remain.

The supposed denazification of Indiana House Bill 1134 didn’t make it better. It’s still an ill-advised bill that will tie the hands of teachers and prevent students from learning American history in all its complexity.

The Senate version of the bill, SB 167, ran into trouble when its lead author, Sen. Scott Baldwin, R-Noblesville, suggested teachers should be neutral when they teach about Nazi Germany. Baldwin tried to walk back the comment, but too late to avoid being mocked on late-night TV by Stephen Colbert.

That was apparently too much for Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, who put the kibosh on the bill. But HB 1134 is still alive. Its author, Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, has said he will bring it to the House floor for second reading and amendments, possibly today.

Supporters claimed they fixed the Nazi problem with an amendment to the bill in the House Education Committee. They didn’t. Instead, they added a few lines to a separate section of state law dealing with “good citizenship instruction” that is supposed to be integrated into the school curriculum.

Along with traits like respecting authority and not stealing, the instruction now should include “the ideals and values expressed or enumerated in the Constitution of the United States compared to forms of government that conflict with and are incompatible with the principles of western political thought upon which the United States was founded.”  Whatever that means.

The bill still takes aim at a long list of “divisive concepts” having to do with race, sex, religion, political affiliation, etc. For example, it says teachers can’t teach that any group is inherently superior or inferior, which would seem to prohibit teaching that political affiliation with Nazism is bad.

The House panel also tinkered with the language in the teaching restrictions. It’s now apparently OK to “include” the concepts in a class, but teachers can’t use materials that “promote” them. Regardless of the language, the bill would have a chilling effect on classroom discussions of important topics.

Colleges, universities also restricted

Nearly all debate on HB 1134 and SB 167 has focused on their impact on K-12 teachers and schools. But key sections of the bills – including the restrictions on divisive concepts – also apply to higher education.

One says a “state agency,” a category that includes state colleges and universities, shall not promote the prohibited concepts “as part of a course of instruction or in a curriculum or instructional program.” Another section, which applies to college and university teacher preparation programs, is even more explicit. It says the concepts can’t be promoted in a course, curriculum or instructional program and faculty can’t use “supplemental instructional materials” that express the banned ideas.

This would seem to outlaw the use of important primary-source material in teaching history: for example, showing the film “The Birth of a Nation” or sharing copies of the Klan newspaper the Fiery Cross in a university unit on the rise of white and nativist supremacy in Indiana 100 years ago.

It seems like a clear attack on academic freedom, which university professors and administrators are supposed to treasure. Why have they been so quiet about these bills?


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