Rep. Prescott has introduced HB 1040 which has a little bit of everything: red-baiting, CRT panic, pro-COVID measures, sex. All in a school setting! This has at least elements that show up in other bills that are circulating through the General Assembly. So, even if this bill doesn’t advance, the likelihood is that you’ll see at least pieces of it moving in other legislation.
It repeals IC 20-19-5 which requires the Department of Education in cooperation with the Department of Child Services, Department of Correction, and the Division of Mental Health to develop and coordinate the children’s social, emotional, and behavioral health plan that is to provide recommendations concerning (A) comprehensive mental health services; (B) early intervention; and (C) treatment services. The plan is supposed to include, among other things:(1) procedures for the identification and assessment of social, emotional, and mental health issues; (2) procedures to assist a child and the child’s family in obtaining necessary services to treat social, emotional, and mental health issues; (3) procedures to coordinate provider services and interagency referral networks for an individual from birth through twenty-two (22) years of age; (4) guidelines for incorporating social, emotional, and behavioral development into school learning standards and education programs; and (5) that social, emotional, and mental health screening be included as a part of routine examinations in schools and by health care providers. The cynical part of me says he wants to get rid of this because “social, emotional, and mental health aren’t *real* issues.” Hopefully I’m doing the Representative a disservice and there’s something more innocuous and sensible going on with this repeal.
Next, we’re on to the Critical Race Theory part of the bill. (The Wikipedia entry makes it clear that the definition of CRT is pretty fuzzy. That entry has it as a cross-disciplinary and intellectual movement based on critical legal studies holding that, among other things, “racism and disparate racial outcomes are the result of complex, changing, and often subtle social and institutional dynamics, rather than explicit and intentional prejudices of individuals.” In common discourse, the definition can get even fuzzier. But as I discuss a little below, I don’t think the debate club objections to the definition or lack thereof end up being very persuasive.) In any case, the bill prohibits schools from promoting the following concepts:
(1) One (1) race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.(2) An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously.(3) An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of the individual’s race or sex.(4) Members of one (1) race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex.(5) An individual’s moral character is determined by the individual’s race or sex.(6) An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.(7) An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, or anguish or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex.(8) Meritocracy or traits such as hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or designed by a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex.(9) Indiana or the United States was founded as a racist or sexist state or nation and is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist.
First of all, I don’t like the General Assembly dictating curriculum. Second, it contains a private enforcement mechanism which creates a bounty in the amount of $5,000 plus attorney fees for successful prosecution. Regardless of the merits or lack of merit of the substance of the law, it creates incentives that will be an absolute shit show and will very much disincentivize schools from teaching, for example, historical oppression of a particular group even though the law specifically permits such instruction. The boundaries between the permissible and impermissible will be permeable enough to lead to expensive litigation.
As to the substance of these provisions, I don’t want to #BothSides the issue, but I’m gonna #BothSides the issue. I think politicians and policymakers on the right-wing are cynically exploiting fears people have about their kids by turning a molehill into a mountain. I think the left-wing commentariat is disingenuously trying to tell people that the molehill doesn’t exist. When this came up in the context of the Virginia elections, folks on the left often responded by adopting a very technical definition of what constitutes Critical Race Theory and saying it wasn’t taught anywhere and/or claiming that this was an effort to, for example, eliminate teaching that slavery was part of American history. There was little effort to grapple with the notion that curriculum informed by Critical Race Theory or Critical Theories generally might be making its way into course work, school support services, or other aspects of the educational system — even if Critical Race Theory itself was not taught. (As it happens, in West Lafayette an anti-racist advocacy group has presented the school board with a demand to “add a course in critical race theory to the core curriculum.” The demand, presented in the Summer of 2020, predated the Virginia election campaigns.) On the right, there seems to be a deliberate effort to misunderstand how racism in the past can lead to structural inequality in the present. Caught in the middle are people who don’t have any particular interest in the power struggle but who are open to working with others to make things more equitable. As with so many things these days, there are some fairly loud people demonizing people on the other side, so it is easy to ignore people of good will quietly trying to figure out the best way to make things better. This bill will absolutely not be productive to people of good will. But, maybe it will help people screaming at each other to get elected.
And then we move on to the pro-COVID provisions. Basically, it lets anyone – student or teacher – opt out of a mask requirement. It also prohibits requiring a student or school employee to be vaccinated against COVID as a condition of attendance. The traditional move is to characterize this as a pro-liberty move. But, as Jeremy Bentham observed, “rights and obligations, though distinct and opposite in their nature, are simultaneous in their origin, and inseparable in their existence. According to the nature of things, the law cannot grant a benefit to any, without, at the same time, imposing a burden on some one else[.]” In this case, the right to be mask-free necessarily requires others to breathe more of the virus-laden air expelled by the person exercising that right. There’s always going to be tension when balancing individual rights with the well-being of the community. In the middle of a pandemic, this is not the right balance to strike. For the most part, we should leave these decisions in the hands of our public health officers who can respond in a manner that’s both better informed and more agile than what can be done by the legislature.
But, Doug, you may ask — does this bill fight communism? Yes, dear reader. Of course it does. This bill is a floor wax *and* a dessert topping. Students must receive instruction that socialism is incompatible with the principles of freedom upon which the United States was founded and that if it were to replace our current form of government, “the government of the United States would be overthrown and existing freedoms under the Constitution would no longer exist.” Never mind that most Americans wouldn’t know socialism if it deposited a social security check into their FDIC-insured bank accounts. This instruction isn’t limited to socialism but also applies to “Marxism, communism, totalitarianism, or similar political systems.” Not sure if this totalitarianism or ‘similar political systems’ would encompass fascist or nationalist ideologies.
Onto sex. A school has to get parental consent before providing instruction on (1) abortion; (2) birth control or contraceptives; (3) sexual activity; (4) sexual orientation; (5) transgenderism; or (6) gender identity. (Is being transgender an ‘ism’?) This is well-trodden area in the culture wars. I’ll just mention that the best way to reduce the need for abortions is to provide good sex education and access to contraception.
And now “transparency.” There’s an incredibly burdensome online posting requirement for books, lectures, and “all materials presented to students in connection with an educational activity.” This will require a great deal of effort on the part of the school, and very little of the material will be reviewed. Of the material reviewed, I suspect a good chunk of that will be associated more with political axe grinding than any real effort to engage with the school on improving the quality of instruction received by students. The cost/benefit analysis of these provisions is heavy on the “cost” side and light on the “benefit” side.
Finally, there is a prohibition on providing students with mental health services without parental consent. The legislation singles out counseling with respect to abortion and gender identity for special attention but seems to require consent even for behavioral evaluations, personality analyses, mental health surveys, and assessments for the purpose of providing multi-tiered systems of support and positive behavior interventions. Seems like this will hamstring schools seeking to adjust educational approaches based on particular behavioral needs of the students.