OPINION: Indiana HB 1134: Proposal for Compromise

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After heavy pushback, Indiana Senate has voted down the watered-down revision of Indiana House Bill 1134. This bill, more commonly referred to as the “Anti-CRT” or “Anti-Teacher” bill, has been subject to public scrutiny. The original bill reworked the Indiana public education system to accommodate right-leaning Republican and Libertarian parents via applying pressure on teachers through policy.

Among the most notable removals for the amended bill was the original proposal for teachers to submit a teaching plan at the start of every school year. Still retained in the bill are regulations on how and what is taught in sensitive categories. Most of these remaining stipulations pertain to concepts or subjects involving oppression, racism, and sexism.

Opinions regarding the bill seem to largely remain partisan, with most Democrats supporting racial education and the incorporation of what they understand Critical Race Theory to be. Similarly, the Republican majority represents the inverse position, from what they understand. What is largely argued by those more left-leaning is that this bill will greatly damage the capabilities of educators in the classroom. UMass Amherst professor and political poll director, Tatishe Nteta, argues that “The reality of systemic racism has become apparent to the nation’s residents, as clear majorities of Americans recognize the existence of white privilege and the pervasiveness of racial problems, and express anger that racism still exists in the United States.” This is not the concern across the aisle, however, as many Republicans in polling raise concerns about political agendas in education. This, reflected by polling from The Hill where 81% of Republican respondents highlighted educators “pushing a political plan” as their greatest worry.

When considering all of this from an outside perspective, both sides seem to share some overlap that should be noted. Each cares passionately about education and both are unsatisfied with the state of Indiana education. When considering both arguments, Democrats want teacher freedom and the ability to speak negatively about groups deemed unjust or indefensible (ie. Nazis, slave traders, Chinese labor) in their class lessons. This argument holds that more left-leaning parents want to put an end to these things by directly confronting them in the classroom, as is their right under the First Amendment. By allowing for positive or negatively charged conversations on a given subject, they argue this helps teach the good and bad of history and how it applies today. 

Republicans want to feel comfortable placing their children in education yet worry about ulterior motives via these negative conversations and what is categorized as such. To specify the argument, more right-leaning parents are concerned that a fixation on race will inherently lead to the production of more racism or racial divides. Further, the concerns become louder for parents of younger children out of the concern that these concepts are too complex or emotionally charged for their child to process. For the left, it is about the right to discuss and criticize these injustices in our history. For the right, it is not about what but how or when it is taught. These two concerns need not be contradictory.

The approach of the initial HB 1134 draft seemed to imply distrust upon educators, which has created the existing pushback. This hurts House Republicans because their policies did not articulate the existing concern. To offer a proposal, it seems prudent of the Indiana Senate to revise HB 1134 in a way that incorporates parents in a more meaningful way without inherently punishing educators or mandating language for difficult topics. Instead, this could be achieved by creating direct lines of communication between parents and educators. To successfully incorporate this would allow for more diplomatic ways to resolve future issues on a case-by-case basis by placing the burden of proof on parents. This way, parents have access to the involvement they want without implied punishment or adjustments to a learning plan for a reasonable teaching plan. To better accommodate Democrats, the Indiana Senate should consider additional tact and specificity when discussing what it is they expect educators to restrict or modify. The concerns of right-leaning voters largely regard lessons that teach superiority or inferiority of racial demographics and should be reflected as such in the bill. This should leave room for clear exemptions like education on the Nazis, who have been unanimously recognized as being monstrous for over 80 years, or the ability to recognize racial injustices in our history. Simultaneously, this gives parents, teachers, and the state some room to discuss more modern controversial topics in order to rationalize what stays and goes, or how specifically it is handled. 

Teachers have the right to teach just as much as parents have the right to care about and be involved in their children's lives. Neither side should be punished or censored simply for trying to play their part. Educators who are guilty of doing what this bill is trying to protect against are a sub-demographic. Yes, there are educators who have improperly handled conversations about race and did so in racist ways. This is a leap to assume, however, that individuals justify the initial bill’s reach. As mentioned previously, there is still work to be done in order to come to a palatable bill, because it should reflect the articulated concerns. Give parents the capability to see and call out bad educators, but make it something they do so that you are giving educators good faith until proven otherwise. This is a resource that can and should be used apolitically when needed but can also be a positive force between exemplary parents and educators. 

We exist in a country divided and it has become increasingly clear that most everyone is firm in their beliefs. An argument I’ve yet to hear though is the importance of a relationship between teachers and parents. Each gets to see different parts of our lives and cooperation between them can help greatly with how we are shaped. This also means that the relationship between them shouldn’t be strained. This is not to say it should be an invasive relationship on either end, but that there is a trust and communicative flow between them. A shared interest in students should’ve been the driving factor of this bill instead of politics. Concerns in modern media turn to arguments just as quickly but that doesn’t mean the core of each argument lacks merit. The Indiana Senate should be commended for responding to criticisms of the bill and making significant overhauls. This has been a difficult subject to navigate and it will take time to properly implement. The quote “Perception is reality” should be considered as well when discussing ways in which to find common ground. This is to say that even if you do not perceive something to be a problem, roughly half of the country would disagree. The only way to create any resolution about this is to meet and discuss ways to alleviate concerns through policy or increased involvement. It appears that this methodology had impacted the final draft of Indiana HB 1134 for the better, but not completely. The concepts and concerns surrounding this subject should continue to be explored as we find ways to improve public education.

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