Indiana Republican State Sen. Scott Baldwin is walking back comments about the need for history teachers to remain impartial in their classrooms, even when teaching the history of Nazism. This comes as another state considers legislation that addresses unfounded claims ranging from the teaching of Critical Race Theory to white students being taught self-hate in light of the history of slavery and white supremacy.
It goes without saying that very little of what is being discussed in school board meetings and legislatures across the country has anything to do with what takes place in our k-12 history classrooms.
But what really has me reeling this morning is the provision in the Indiana legislation that would allow parents to form committees to review school history curricula. As a history teacher with 20+ years experience I find this to be absurd.
The proposal rests on an unstated assumption that parents are in the dark as to what their students are learning or that they have no contact with their children’s teachers. Of course they do. Many school districts now post assignments, grades, and other useful information online. At my last school parents could spend hours reading through history assignments as well as the wide range of resources that I use. Schools hold back-to-school events at the beginning of the year and there is always a way to schedule a parent-teacher meeting.
The most obvious problem with this proposal, however, is that the vast majority of parents have absolutely zero qualifications to assess their school’s history curriculum. That does not mean that they don’t have the right to ask questions or ask for clarification re: certain assignments and lessons. In fact, the vast majority of teachers welcome a healthy relationship with parents, but teachers need to be acknowledged and respected as professionals. I’ve always appreciated parents who are interested in what their students are learning and I welcome their input and their right to contact a department chair or other administrator, but I would never agree to work with parents hovering over my shoulders.
Indeed, many of us have advanced degrees in education, history, and related subjects. We continue to take advantage of opportunities to deepen our content knowledge through regular reading and professional development workshops. Parents have none of this training. It is an insult to expect trained professionals to have to answer to parents, who have been driven into a frenzy as a result of the overly politicized rhetoric from elected officials like Baldwin and many others.
Unfortunately, this–along with ongoing COVID pandemic–is contributing to teachers leaving the profession and too few college graduates considering a career in the classroom.
Right now parents across the country should be finding ways to say thank you to their local teachers, not because they need it, but because they deserve it.