Battle for the future of America
Students and teachers discuss the implications of House Bill 1134
February 17, 2022
If House Bill 1134 is passed, life in school can change as we know it. Teachers will leave, books will disappear from shelves and curricula will change. HB 1134, currently being voted on by the State Senate, proposes that all public school curricula must be accessible by parents and that a curriculum advisory committee could be adopted if requested. If a committee is set in place, lessons and materials could be omitted if found “inappropriate” or “biased”—neither words are defined and both are left open to interpretation. English classes, history classes and libraries are at most risk.
“The politicians and legislators who are trying to push these bills through really need to become part of the public school setting to understand what teachers and students deal with on a daily basis,” Mrs. Brook Lemon, English teacher, said. “I think if they understand then they can make some suggestions to help us. Coming up with some ideas and writing new laws in without resolution will only hurt public education. Unfortunately, if this passes many teachers will quit the teaching profession and public education is in real trouble.”
Legislators and supporters of the bill argue that it provides curricular transparency. According to Representative Tony Cook in an interview with WBIW, the bill empowers parents by allowing them to change school curricula. According to Bill Thorner, junior, he believes the general idea of the bill has potential pros.
“It’s up to the people who pay the taxes,” Bill said. “It’s up to the parents, they pay for this, they should decide. I think the students should be given the facts and the opportunity to form their own opinions based on them, with regards to many of the issues this bill plans to cover. I think to some extent this bill intends on stopping teachers and schools from imposing their own viewpoints on students, but I could also see it being somewhat harmful in many cases.”
Those in opposition to HB 1134 argue that neutral stances are not what an education always needs. Their argument is being able to have students’ ideals tested and new theories brought to the table is what makes a well-rounded person and prepares students for the real world. Therefore, educators who oppose the bill are anxious to think how future generations may be affected with this form of teaching.
“Part of being a well-rounded student is having a belief tested and seeing if you can defend your beliefs or if you have to change, and education is all about change,” Mr. Ryan Ridgley, President of the Munster Teachers Union, said. “I don’t know if this bill is going to necessarily do that. I think it’s going to limit what students can be exposed to and what they can actually then grow from.”
Although original language was removed that required schools to be impartial when teaching historical events and the entire curricula of a class will not have to be posted, censorship may still be prevalent in classes. With parents able to appeal to the Indiana Department of Education for administrative action, teachers may censor lessons in order to avoid legal fees and their licenses being possibly revoked or suspended. According to Charlie Morton, senior, without the acknowledgement of all sides, full discourse won’t be achieved.
“Even things that you might want your children to learn to the full capacity, they won’t be allowed to because someone else’s children in the couple desks next to yours, might not want to hear it,” Charlie said. “If everyone doesn’t know about a subject then you can’t really talk about it. And then that kind of just leaves to censorship which is really bad for discourse and creativity.”
Some worry that neutralizing the classroom will lead to a form of censorship, as discussions will be limited. With
discussions constricted, some are anxious that education will be misleading and that it can have major impacts in the future.
“When we are comfortable with history, two things are happening: we’re not receiving an accurate education of history, which means we can’t have an accurate understanding of the present.” Anushka Majety, senior, said. “Every injustice we see today is a product of history, so creating change and revolution is dependent on an uncomfortable and accurate history education.”
A concern of the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) is that bills like HB 1134 are not constitutional. This is shown in a lawsuit brought by the ISTA who were against the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program—a bill that would give students financial aid to leave public schools and enter private schools—on the basis that it would fragment the state’s education system. Some argue that HB 1134 violates Indiana’s duty to provide a uniform and tuition-free common school since it allows parents to change syllabi by school. However, the state’s scholarship program was sued in 2013 on the same basis and held up by the state Supreme Court with a 5-0 decision. With little legal stance to help teachers if the bill passes, some begin to question how legislators see teachers.
“I think that if it gets passed, then it says something about our state and what they expect from teachers,” Mrs. Kelly Barnes, English teacher and Secretary of the Munster Teachers Association, said. “They don’t want kids to really learn about things and to think critically, they just want us to babysit them and that’s all they care about.”
Some students are worried that HB 1134 will limit the chances of ideas like Critical Race Theory to be taught in schools. CRT addresses social and systemic issues that HB 1134 blocks since all topics taught in class may not teach “One group is inherently superior or inferior to another.” According to Kendall Thomas, Nash Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, one idea that CRT teaches is “institutionalized racial disadvantage and systemic racial inequality.”
“I do think critical race theory should be taught in schools because it’s so important to understand that race disproportionately impacts different races,” Emily Sun, senior, said. “Our country was founded on these ideas that harm certain races even to this day. Teaching kids about that and making them realize their privilege, or lack thereof, is really important to foster this idea of growth within our country.”
Several teachers feel that the bill is a trial of their already tested degrees. Teachers are underpaid, Indiana ranking as “one of the lowest paying states in the Midwest” and “the worst in the nation in salary growth,” according to a December 2020 report from Governor Eric Holcomb’s Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission. Now, with HB 1134, they would be given even more work: creating alternative assignments and being at constant risk of losing their teaching license if a parent finds something “inappropriate.” Though teachers are not officially subject to this, it is important to recognize that legislators wish to see this as law. Oftentimes, they will take sections of rejected legislation and put it into other pieces of legislation that have a higher chance of being passed. According to Mrs. Barnes, these types of precautionary measures are unnecessary.
“I want people to realize that teachers are not trying to put their personal agenda into things,” Mrs. Barnes said. “We want our kids to be well informed, to be decision makers in their lives and be able to explore things. We’re not trying to make them believe or not believe something, we want to give them the information that they need. I think if you’re afraid that your kids’ teachers are harming them, then you’ve lost faith in the education system.”