Breaking Through The Power of Censorship
Updated: Apr 3, 2022
In 2021, the state enacted Senate Bill 3 (SB 3), which has stirred controversy for its attempt to dictate how social issues and historical events should be taught in K-12 schools.
According to SB 3, teachers should not discuss “a particular current event or widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs.” If they choose to do so, they must “strive to explore that topic from diverse and contending perspectives.”
In a neutral political landscape, this language might seem innocuous. But we do not live in such times.
In October, Carroll Independent School District in Southlake, Texas made headlines when an administrator recommended offering students access to books containing “opposing” viewpoints on the Holocaust. Apparently, the administrator was concerned with complying with state law and avoiding the possibility of parental complaints.
Whether or not the Holocaust falls under SB 3’s intended scope is beside the point. The bill’s vague, open-ended language invites grievances based on complainants’ definitions of a “currently controversial issue” and what they consider “diverse and contending perspectives.”
The regressive implications of SB 3 have led to a chilling effect on free speech and intellectual freedom in our K-12 classrooms. And its far-reaching impact does not always make the headlines.
As a candidate for the State Board of Education, I met high school teachers in Hidalgo County who were hesitant to teach Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” – on MLK Jr. Day.
Why? Because SB 3 explicitly removes the speech as a required text in history courses. Teachers can still technically teach it, but in our current political environment they risk receiving complaints over failing to teach “both sides.”
Or, even worse, teaching “critical race theory.” When the term was brought up on the campaign trail, well-intentioned folks gave me radically different definitions, from “talking about race all the time” to “anything that makes you feel guilty for the color of your skin.”
Beyond the fact that critical race theory is a university-level concept not taught in K-12 schools, the term has become entirely decoded in our current political discourse. It means everything and nothing simultaneously, granting complainants a useful tool to enforce SB 3 on select subjects.
Faced with a looming teacher shortage, anxiety over high-stakes testing, and re-opening schools safely – why are we allowing our discourse on public education to be defined by a seemingly undefinable term?
Moreover, why are our elected officials so concerned with limiting speech in our schools, whether in the form of SB 3 or Representative Matt Krause’s banned book list?
For those seeking elected office, the answer is simple: Divide voters on issues that resonate culturally and emotionally to win elections.
Those who would otherwise vote against politicians who reduce the quality of our schools – whether it’s diverting taxpayer money away from public education or burdening our teachers with culture wars – might be swayed by arguments that our children are getting “indoctrinated.”
When our real issues are invisible to the naked eye – COVID-19, mental health, learning loss – it is easy to direct our fear toward the imaginary issue of indoctrination. If only the solutions were as easy as limiting or banning the topics that concern us.