Christian Education

Lawmakers push to muzzle teachers. Kansans who like straight facts need to back off.

Teachers are the enemy.

That’s the message sent by a pair of bills being debated in back-to-back hearings Wednesday in the Kansas Legislature. The proposed laws, which stemmed from GOP-controlled education committees, would stifle the ability of K-12 teachers to teach historical facts and diverse viewpoints, eliminate the affirmative defense of educators, and expand the ability parents to challenge books and just about everything else in school libraries and classrooms.

One of the bills would make it a crime for teachers to use material deemed “obscene” under the Supreme Court’s longstanding definition, which uses a three-part test that includes current community standards.

This last part is redundant, because it is already a crime to expose minors to obscenity. But that sows suspicion, right? What are these teachers showing our children? It could be porn with no social or artistic value, according to the Miller Test, and we need to stop it!

The bills, HB 2662 and SB 496, appear to be modeled after other bills from the conservative Heritage Foundation, according to reports by Kansas Reflector’s Tim Carpenter. The Washington, DC-based think tank has a nice logo — a Liberty Bell — and has been influential since the days of Ronald Reagan. Until recently his primary mission was climate change denial, but lately he has jumped on the critical race theory fire truck. He claims that American institutions aren’t inherently racist because, hey, wasn’t that settled in the Civil War?

Only seven people testified on Thursday in favor of the “parental rights” and “transparency” bills, while more than 100 opposed them. The helm of Team Christ was taken by Brittany Jones, an attorney with Kansas Family Voice, a Topeka team who says her vision “is a Kansas where God is honored, religious freedom flourishes, families prosper, and life is darling”. Jones said the bill would give parents the ability to protect children from objectionable content. An opposing voice belonged to Chapparal High School senior Mattelyn Swartz, who plans to become a teacher. She said the Senate bill would limit educational opportunities for students, tie educators’ hands and prevent an “engaged and individualized learning environment.”

But really, that’s the point.

These hardcore GOP poohbahs would love to inject themselves between you and all aspects of civic and cultural life. They have been largely successful here in Kansas. They succeeded in stripping the governor of her emergency powers to deal with the pandemic; rammed through legislation in a historic special session to resist federal vaccine mandates; and prescribes penalties for employers who refuse to grant vaccine exemptions based on a statement of faith. One of the education bills being debated on Thursday would protect conservative teachers from consequences, such as negative evaluations or job loss, if they refuse to teach ideas contrary to their religious or moral beliefs.

These people talk a lot about freedom, but what they really mean is the ability to do exactly what they want while forcing others – teachers, professors, medical boards – to bend to their will. And it almost goes without saying that when they talk about God, they’re referring to the white Christian ideal, a kind of favorite long-haired uncle standing in a wheat field who understands that sometimes the temptation is just too strong. .

The tone across a wide range of laws has been consistent, that government (except its own brand) must be restrained, expertise is not wanted, and any statement of religious faith is enough to remove you from any shared civic or social responsibility. At this rate, it won’t be long before a baptismal certificate is accepted instead of having a valid insurance card in your Kansas-registered vehicle.

The proposed legislation probably won’t pass, at least not this time, but that shouldn’t make you feel any better about the Statehouse theocrats trying to control our public schools. They are anti-education, just as the Tennessee Board of Education was when, in 1925, it passed a law banning the teaching of evolution, which led to the Scopes lawsuit. At the trial, a young high school teacher named John Scopes was sued by William Jennings Bryan, a three-time Nebraska presidential loser, an authoritative orator and America’s leading Christian fundamentalist.

Supporters of the bills could have used Bryan’s testimony in Thursday’s hearings, if only he hadn’t died days after the verdict in the Scopes trial. His accusation rested on the assertion that the law prohibiting the teaching of evolution was necessary to defend parental rights, did not try to impose religion on anyone, was not bigoted. He defended miracles and attacked science. He rejected expertise, appealed to patriotism and recited a Robert Burns poem of rustic and simple pleasures.

“What right does an irresponsible petty oligarchy of self-proclaimed ‘intellectuals’ demand control of the schools of the United States, in which 25 million children are educated at an annual expenditure of $2 billion?” Bryan asked the jury during his closing argument. “Evolution is not the truth; it’s just a guess – it’s millions of guesses chained together.

It took less than a minute for a jury to convict Scopes, who was fined $100.

In 1968, the Supreme Court finally ruled, in an Arkansas case, that banning the teaching of evolution in public schools was unconstitutional because it violated the Establishment Clause. The First Amendment guarantees Americans the right to practice a religion — or not — but it also prohibits the government from establishing a religion. In the case of our theocrats, they demand privileged and deferential treatment, pass laws to provide the broadest possible shields for political allies and true believers, and say hell with the rest of us. We already have religious exemptions from mask wearing and COVID-19 vaccinations granted only by a claim from a serious (I’m sorry, Cordially) had a belief.

It’s not how it’s always been.

Until the 2014 Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court had weighed the sincerity of belief, from a 1905 smallpox vaccination case to conscientious objectors to the project during the Vietnam War. In Hobby Lobby, the court said a for-profit company could deny its employees medical coverage for contraception based on the owners’ religious objections, and the issue of sincerity was not challenged.

To all the parents who are really concerned about dirty books in your schools, let me say this: there is a book that can be found in every school library across the country, and it contains some of the most disturbing stories that you would never want to read. There is a story where this old man offers his daughters to strangers, and another where the girls get the old man drunk and sleep with him, and father children with him. There are tales in which it is difficult to keep an accurate body count. There are passages in which innocent people are slaughtered and the punishment for a supposed sin is passed on from generation to generation.

“It’s full of interest,” observed Mark Twain. “There is noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and a bloody history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and more than a thousand lies.

Twain was referring, of course, to the King James Bible.

So here we are.

It is not possible to have a safe and responsible society when so many of us receive the equivalent of a “Get Out of Jail Free” card in the form of unchallenged religious exemptions. What is in the hearts of men and women is known only to themselves, and perhaps to their gods, but it is unreasonable that the declared but unproven belief should be the shield against any form of responsibility, whether it’s helping fight a global pandemic by getting vaccinated or teaching students that the scientific consensus says evolution is a real thing. Same with human-caused global warming. For an educator, to do otherwise is irresponsible.

It is not discrimination. It’s an existential test for our species.

And we fail it.

Almost every element of the bills debated Thursday, from parental rights to transparency, are already on the books in Kansas. When asked for evidence, parents were denied access to teaching materials, Kansas Policy Institute lobbyist Mike O’Neal spoke to each other in a knot before finally admitting that he had no proof, other than a few anecdotes and a “hint of what is going on”.

The public has an extraordinary public contribution to local school boards, so much so that it is sometimes difficult for boards to function these days. Teachers are vetted by universities and accredited. The vast majority are professionals who take their jobs seriously, strive to give the best to their students, and would never think of using the classroom as a vehicle for personal or political goals.

So why the rage?

Because some Kansas lawmakers would like to not only micromanage classrooms, but whitewash American history. Racial inequality is ingrained in the system, no matter what the Heritage Foundation says. The bigotry didn’t end with the Civil War, or when the Ku Klux Klan was banned in Kansas, or when Barack Obama was elected president. It persists as an appalling fact in American life and an urgent problem that must be solved before it poisons us all.

Ignorance is not the answer.