Molly Parker

Keep policymakers with no teaching background out of the classroom

February 22, 2023

Every day, it seems like there is more news coming out about a new education bill.

As an elementary education major, I often find the language in these bills doesn’t make any sense. Simple child development terms are being twisted to fit whatever agenda policymakers want to push, and it seems like those who don’t know what these terms mean are blindly following.

Policymakers who have no background in education should not be passing laws that will determine a child’s entire future.

Many states are beginning to propose legislation that will ban certain terms and ideas from public schools in their state. One hundred and thirty-seven of these bills were introduced by thirty-six states in 2022 alone, according to PEN America.

Wisconsin introduced a list of dozens of words that Republicans believe should not be allowed in schools, according to an Oct. 4, 2021 WUWM 89.7 article.

One term on this list that took me by surprise is “social-emotional learning.” Surely such a basic child development skill couldn’t be banned from an entire state’s curriculum.

Social-emotional learning allows students to build critical skills for interacting with others and managing their own emotions that they will use throughout their lives, according to the Committee for Children.

“From effective problem-solving to self-discipline, from impulse control to emotion management and more, SEL provides a foundation for positive, long-term effects on kids, adults, and communities,” according to the CFC.

This list led me to realize that policymakers clearly have no idea what these educational terms actually mean. 

Without SEL, students wouldn’t be able to complete tasks as simple as sharing, resolving conflict and respecting their peers. It has nothing to do with any kind of progressive agenda—it just simply teaches a child to grow into a kind human being.

At this point, policymakers are weaponizing any educational term to see what will stick. It seems like they are doing anything they can to get their followers to push for their ideas, despite not knowing what they are actually rooting for.

Others terms on this list include culturally responsive teaching, equity, intersectionality, racial prejudice and white supremacy. 

Anyone who has taken an education class at UVM knows this makes up a significant portion of our curriculum. I have taken six different classes in the College of Education and Social Services alone that discuss all of these topics.

Without culturally-responsive teaching, educators would not be able to allow students to discuss their home lives, characteristics or experiences, according to an April 18, 2022 Education Week article.

Banning some of these terms wouldn’t allow even basic social studies topics to be taught.

Without terms like “racial prejudice” and “white supremacy,” which are also on Wisconsin’s list, teachers essentially couldn’t discuss the Civil War or the Civil Rights Movement. Entire periods of history would be left out of curriculums, regardless of whether they were taught in a conservative or progressive manner.

This is not the only time politicians have left out critical pieces of the story to push in favor of a certain politicized education narrative.

Conservatives have shifted the meaning of critical race theory to sound alarms to concerned white parents.

Critical race theory is a framework of legal analysis developed in the 1970s arguing that race is a socially constructed idea and is rooted in law, according to a May 18, 2021 Education Week article. However, it is being used by policymakers to describe anything related to diversity and inclusion, according to the article.

Despite not being taught to most until the graduate level, policymakers are weaponizing the theory and believing that it is being taught to elementary school students, according to Small Town American Media

Altering the meaning of terms to create panic that impacts the learning and development of children, when it is not something that regularly occurs, is morally wrong.

Additionally, the new Advanced Placement African American Studies course has become controversial in Florida due to its teaching of Black queer theory and the Black Lives Matter movement, according to a Jan. 31 Politico article.

However, the course also covers topics such as the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Harlem Renaissance, which are already taught to some extent in Florida high school history classes, according to the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards

The AP course will approach these topics through an interdisciplinary lens, including history, art, music and literature, according to Politico, rather than the typical state standards that just focus on history.

Additionally, the course seeks to develop students’ writing, analytical and argumentative skills, according to the article.

The course is doing exactly what any AP class does—it looks at typical high school topics at a deeper level. These are skills that prepare students for a college education and many different careers.

Because of the pushback from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the College Board got rid of many of the original course topics, including Black Lives Matter and many queer and feminist writers, and instead added Black conservatism as a topic, according to a Feb. 1 New York Times article.

It seems ironic that teaching about conservative movements were alright with DeSantis, but progressive movements were off-limits.

DeSantis also believes queer theory is not relevant to Black history, and that discussing it in this course would push an agenda on children, according to a Jan. 23 interview with PBS.

Of course, Black gay people do, historically and presently, exist. DeSantis is living proof that a deeper education on non-white history is needed in schools.

Additionally, Florida’s law HB 1557, nicknamed the “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” bans discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in kindergarten through third grade classrooms, according to an April 22, 2022 Washington Post article.

This policy was created despite the evidence of benefits from creating inclusive curriculums for LGBTQ+ students, according to GLSEN’s 2019 National School Climate Survey.

LGBTQ+ students who had been taught an LGBTQ+-inclusive curriculum reported experiencing less discrimination and harassment and felt more accepted than those who had not, according to the survey.

Those who experienced discrimination were more likely to miss school, had lower GPAs, were less likely to plan to pursue post-secondary education, were more likely to be disciplined in school and had lower self-esteem and high levels of depression, according to the survey.

Forty-five percent of LGBTQ+ youth considered suicide in the past year, according to The Trevor Project. It is necessary for schools to be a safe space for LGBTQ+ students, for the sake of their access to education and their mental health.

While it may not be feasible for policymakers to avoid education policy altogether, as it is a large part of what governments do, there are ways to ensure that policies will benefit students.

Both those who are making policies and people who are voting for them should do the research to learn the actual meaning of the policies they are trying to implement, and what the impacts on education will be.

Teachers are fighting back against policies that are controlling what they can teach, and are tired of having their autonomy stripped from them and the full picture held from their students, according to a July 28, 2022 article from the National Education Association.

Sixty-one percent of principals and 37% of teachers reported being harassed due to pandemic policies and teaching about racism in only the first few months of the 2021-22 school year, according to an Aug 27. 2022 Huffington Post article.

Thousands of teaching positions have also opened up without people to fill them in states where education is being attacked, according to the article.

So many of these educators are furious about the future of education that policymakers are attempting to create, according to the article.

Policymakers should consider consulting people with education experience on what will help or hurt students. 

Policymakers should read the latest educational literature by experts in the field to determine the best practice in schools, or research mental health data to determine the potential impacts of the policy they are looking to create.

Additionally, voters should think about the potential impacts on their own children—if their child was gay or Black, how would these policies affect them? Would these laws be creating a school that they feel safe and welcome in, or one they can’t wait to leave every day?

All education policies should be focused on helping children. It is morally wrong to twist the actual meaning of words to fit an agenda that will hurt the lives and well-being of children.

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