February 25, 2022
When it came to the senate, the original bill focused on three main parts: parental review of curriculum, restrictions on mental health services (for example, social emotional learning) and new guidelines for talking about eight outlined divisive concepts.
The most controversial section of the bill was that which dealt with the divisive concepts. This section contained eight tenets that surrounded how sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin and political affiliation should be approached in schools.
One common misconception about the original form of the bill was that it prohibited teaching about certain topics. The bill never included this type of wording. However, it did say that no student “should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish responsibility, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation.”
Because of this line, many teachers became worried that if the bill passed, they wouldn’t be able to talk about some issues, such as racism or slavery, in the classroom anymore. Teaching those subjects can be uncomfortable, but for Luers, this discomfort is essential for student development.
“If you look at the history of any nation, it’s full of stuff that anybody could say it’s divisive, anybody could say it’s uncomfortable,” Luers said. “I am a believer that the only way we get change is from that discomfort. If we’re always comfortable, we’re never changing, we’re never growing, we’re stuck in the status quo.”
Many teachers were fearful of what could happen if the unamended version of the bill passed. Because the bill had the power to revoke teaching licenses if teachers “wilfully and wantonly” disobeyed it, some worried that lines from their lessons could be taken out of context, misunderstood and put into that category.
“What I’m afraid is that a lot of teachers, fearful about these lawsuits, don’t even let students have certain conversations in the classroom,” Bockenfeld, the Fishers teacher, said, “and so students have less rich experiences, less meaningful learning, less relevant conversations, because teachers, through no fault of their own, are afraid of this bill.”
Not only could the threat of lawsuits affect what teachers cover, but so could the parental curriculum review committee.
To Luers, it doesn’t make sense to let parents decide what their kids are and are not allowed to learn.
“I’ve never had a parent who has studied this material longer than I have,” Luers said, “so the idea that someone else who doesn’t know this material can tell me what I can and can’t do with this material, that’s problematic.”
Several teachers were also concerned that this bill could stifle some voices and perspectives, and lead particular students to feel unrepresented in their classrooms.
“If I’m not allowed to teach a certain something, then there might be some perspective or a voice that’s missing,” English teacher Sara Kohne said.
Another worry was that as teachers attempted to avoid the eight divisive concepts, they would have to choose less compelling topics to teach about. English teacher Julie Breeden said that these types of concepts are at the heart of literature and thinks that an unintended outcome of this bill passing could be less student engagement.
“If you want to have students reading works of literature that are interesting and thought provoking, there needs to be something happening in them,” Breeden said, “and I think there’s a risk that teachers will feel pressured into choosing works of literature that are as non-controversial as possible, and I think that then you could find students reading things that are not interesting.”