We reported on the wave of new laws targeting what teachers and administrators can say both in K-12 and in University classrooms. A PEN America report identifies this growing trend as politicians (mostly republicans) struggle to respond to the cultural shift around CRT and transgender acceptance. It seems that often the conclusion is that school teachers and universities are polluting the childrens’ minds and convincing them that all white people need to feel guilty.

The assumption seems to be that the acceptance of trans rights, the BLM movement, and any other left leaning cultural shift has either had its origins or has been shepherded along by schools. Given the amount that the average student pays attention in class, it seems far more likely that young people are changing their worldview because of what is on TikTok or what their friends say than what classroom teachers lecture about.

But dubious efficacy has never stopped politicians before, so they have been plowing ahead introducing bills left, right, and… really just right, to keep censoring teachers and administrators, and PEN America has started tracking all the bills or executive orders that restrict speech. And they point out that while only 7 of the proposed bills have become laws, the total number of proposed bills rose dramatically over last year’s total in only the first 7 months of this year, citing that “lawmakers in 36 different states have introduced a total of 137 educational gag order bills, an increase of 250 percent over 2021”. 

It is also something that is mostly happening at the state level. This is likely because the state representatives themselves are more likely to be radical and because with a democratic majority for the past two years, no educational gag laws would have had any likelihood to pass.

While the report goes on to enumerate the fears that PEN has about this destroying democratic institutions and free speech, it is not clear what the actual impact on the children in classrooms would be. Children absorb much more of their social awareness from the internet and their peers, so banning a teacher from talking about gender or racial discrimination doesn’t mean that they hear about them anymore. Although, much like we saw with the election of Donald Trump, laws that reinforce previously held hateful beliefs could stoke certain kids to higher levels of discriminating acts towards their peers.

This undoubtedly makes things worse for teachers. The bills will sometimes punish teachers who violate them with fines, sometimes paid like the bounties that southern states were putting on those seeking abortions. At a time when the teacher shortage is still at a roiling boil, it seems like a poor decision to make their lives harder.

But then, maybe this is a broader strategy. The Florida bill allowing veterans to become classroom teachers prior to completing their bachelors might be the first step to removing the requirement for a bachelors to be a teacher, in turn justifying the chronically low teacher salary and reframing it like a factory job that simply requires them to follow the prescribed actions precisely. This is pure conjecture and there hasn’t been any leaked strategy to do this, but it would line up with several goals that the right seems to have for education these days.

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