Even in its amended form, House Bill 1134 is still nothing more than a blatant attempt to insert government censorship into classrooms. People testifying said the bill is necessary to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory, despite the governor and Indiana Department of Education leaders saying this graduate-level course isn’t taught anywhere in Indiana K-12 classrooms.
HB 1134 has been a waste of General Assembly time since it was scheduled to be heard; and, it’s another example in a long list of examples of backward priorities being adopted by a Legislature more interested in culture wars than solving real problems impacting families.
We’ve heard hours of testimony in committees about how this legislation would stifle education on horrific historic events such as the Holocaust, target our teachers who speak on the importance of not repeating history and limit our students’ education.
Do you know what we weren’t discussing as we debated dumbing down our student’s education and censoring history? The learning loss, mental health struggles and life skills our students need assistance with after two years of disruptions to their education due to the pandemic.
We weren’t talking about ways to address Indiana’s teacher shortage, which is only getting worse. According to an annual survey, 96.5% of participating Indiana school districts reported teacher shortages. That’s the highest it’s been in seven years and over 800 open positions are listed on the Indiana Department of Education’s job bank.
It’s baffling that, at a time when we’re struggling to get enough teachers in classrooms, our Legislature would introduce a bill creating a pathway for our teachers to lose their license for simply doing their job. While parents and teachers are fighting to keep our youth safe and healthy, we ignore the bills proposing services to improve mental health and reduce teen suicide. Instead of finding solutions to real issues, we’ve forced teachers to take days away from teaching to come down and plead with members of the General Assembly to stop working to criminalize them. We’ve heard testimony from youth who were saved by school counseling services to not take these opportunities away from them.
The irony that we’ve done all of this during Black History Month while celebrating Black excellence and Black figures in History, has not been lost on me. In the Senate Education Committee this week, I offered an amendment to HB 1134 that would have made teaching Black history in Indiana a requirement, similar to how we mandate education on the holocaust. My amendment was defeated 6-7.
The fact that my common-sense amendment was rejected speaks volumes about the intent to white-wash history with bills like HB 1134, despite disingenuous claims otherwise. Black history is American history, and it’s disappointing that our state is actively working to conceal parts of our past just to ignite certain demographics and gain political support.
As a Black man, a legislator and a father, a move like this disturbs me. Because there will always be points in our history that make us uncomfortable. Whenever we reflect on the less glamorous realities of American history, there will be moments of discomfort. And there should be. Slavery was an evil practice. Jim Crow laws were intentionally harsh and discriminatory. Practices like red-lining were implemented to cripple Black communities and their economic potential for generations.
Although HB 1134 has been amended, its intent remains the same and the necessity of the legislation remains in question. The conversations and fear that it conjured up have already impacted teachers and classrooms. And for what? To further unproductive culture wars? All these discussions around HB 1134 have done is move Indiana backward in yet another area. When the Executive Director of a Holocaust Museum testifies against a bill, it should be a warning sign we are moving in the wrong direction.
As it’s said, “If you don’t know your history, you’re doomed to repeat it.” Let’s do better for Indiana students. Let’s continue to push back against efforts to censor our classrooms and keep the truth of history from our kids. A true and robust education is how we give our children the tools to succeed and ensure they aren’t doomed to repeat the intolerance and cruelty of our past.