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The GOP War on Teaching History


The teaching of history is central to the culture wars. Like much about the culture wars, conservatives spend a lot more time and energy on this than liberals, which means they often win. So as history professors and writers are increasingly telling stories about injustice, conservatives seek to limit or outright ban the teaching of these new stories in the K-12 classroom, obviously hoping to move on higher education as well. A decade ago in Texas, the state Board of Education was taken over by hard-line conservatives and ever since, they have sought to eliminate teaching anything but ra-ra patriotic stories that backs up conservative talking points, a process that continues today. Now we have this bill out of Arizona:

State Rep. Mark Finchem wants to ban public and charter school teachers from spreading “controversial” political, racial and religious messages in their classrooms.

The Oro Valley Republican introduced House Bill 2002 in the Legislature last week. If it passes, teachers could face consequences as severe as losing their jobs for engaging in any “political, ideological or religious” advocacy or discussion with their students.

The bill would mandate that teachers follow a strict code of ethics and complete three hours of annual ethics training. The code would prohibit them from introducing any “controversial issue” unrelated to the class subject at hand and from endorsing, supporting or opposing any legislative, judicial or executive action.

In addition to prohibiting political, ideological and religious discussion, the bill would bar teachers from obstructing a military recruiter’s “lawful access” to campus and from blaming one racial group of students for the “suffering and inequities” experienced by another racial group.

Finchem said in the bill that spending time on political and ideological topics in school can lead to student “indoctrination” and that teachers should focus more on teaching students how to think, not what to think.

Ah yes, so if I teach about Japanese internment and even mention locking Guatemalan babies in cages today, I could be fired. Gee, what could go wrong? And of course right-wing politics, white history, and Christianity are never “controversial.” That’s just Real History. This guy is a real peach all around. Arizona teachers have been part of the struggle of teachers for good school funding, better pay, and labor rights. Finchem’s response:

Finchem, though, does consider #RedForEd and teachers’ support of it at school inappropriate and inherently political, according to the Republic article. He considers wearing a #RedForEd T-shirt at school, for example, a political act that shouldn’t be allowed.

“If there’s a political agenda behind it, leave it at home,” Finchem told the Republic. “Simple request.”

Rachel Johnson, the Arizona Educators United teacher representative at Mansfeld Middle School, disagrees with Finchem. She said the bill feels like a targeted attack on #RedForEd.

“I don’t understand why he would come up with this bill,” she said. “Any response to what teachers may say or may not say — I think they’re very threatened by us at this point,” she said of lawmakers.

Johnson, who has taught for 10 years, added that the majority of teachers she knows and works with don’t “indoctrinate” their students with their personal political and ideological views.

She, like most of her colleagues, doesn’t advocate for either side of potentially controversial issues when her students bring them up in class, she said. Instead, she helps her students research, compare and contrast the topic — so they can figure out how they feel about it on their own, with the evidence in front of them.

Whoa, whoa, whoa–critical thinking? Can’t have that! Your GOP, ladies and gentlemen.

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