When I attended the LearnLaunch conference in Boston at the start of the year, a free copy of Education Week told of a Pennsylvania lawmaker who had proposed legislation that would ban the discussion of controversial political topics in the classroom, threatening teachers who ignored the ban with punishment such as revocation of their teaching licenses.
Given how I had just come off of a different event focused on how to improve long-ignored civics education in the country – not to mention general proclivities to reject restrictions on speech and restrictions on what teachers can do in the classroom – I was angered by the story, but also amused, given how much it seemed like the act of an ideologue shouting at the wind.
This attitude was shared by most of the people I talked with about the story, all of whom agreed that discussion of current issues was vital part of civics education, and that attempts to limit such discussions were anti-education, anti-teacher and anti-free speech.
Threats to principles one values tend to trigger hostility, defensiveness and outrage – a set of emotions that, while often justified, can lead to distorted judgement. This is why things that outrage us should still be considered worthy of reflection.
Might there be reasons someone in state office (who also had experience working on a local school committee) could have for proposing something as drastic as a law curtailing what teachers can and cannot say in the classroom? If anger alone drove my analysis, I would likely assume not, or at least that the reasons justifying such a ban were based on political dogma and ignorance.
Putting aside the desire to jump to a conclusion based on preferred beliefs is difficult, but doing so is one of the most powerful ways of controlling for bias, the great enemy of critical thought. With that in mind, might there be any reasonable justifications for a proposal to limit discussion of political matters in the classroom?