Free Speech

Getting Back on Track

CRT, professional licensure, and teacher accountability.

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The temptation to use the K-12 classroom to enact partisan aims is eternal, and arguments about what should or should not be included are perennial. There is no shortage of people or organizations who think they know what educators should or should not be covering in school. After all, if one can convince young people of certain ideological viewpoints, while restricting their access to dissenting opinions, one can exert a tremendous amount of influence over the future of society.

The currently most talked-about iteration of perceived educator overreach — colloquially referred to as "critical race theory" or "CRT"— is but one example in a long line of curricular changes that have attracted concern and sparked a popular backlash. In previous eras, teachers were accused of inappropriately promoting a Christian-dominated worldview, or other non-secular aims, thereby violating the aim of separating church and state. Evangelicals have had to learn that they can't co-opt the classroom to promote their belief system in a secular school; so, too, now must passionate advocates of CRT, anti-racism, and other currently popular doctrines. We need committed teachers, not preachers, in American public schools.

Whatever the ideology in question, the essential issue remains the same: using the classroom and access to other citizens' children to promote or attempt to enact a preferred worldview. Of course, the state has its own aims that it is trying to achieve with the public funds that it directs towards the "government speech" that takes place in public school classrooms. This has traditionally been understood to be along the lines of promoting domestic tranquility that leads to desirable levels of shared civic identity and cultural bonds, promoting desirable levels of social cohesion—creating unum out of the pluribus. Violation of this expected norm is precisely what has led to the "divisive concept" bills that have been proposed or enacted in opposition to curricular shifts across the country.

Teachers in public schools are tested, certified, and licensed by their specific states in the same way that dentists, doctors, and even (more questionably) cosmetologists are, and for the same basic reason: they are all entrusted to serve in a capacity where they are in a position to do potential harm. In the case of teachers, they serve what is probably our most vulnerable and cherished population: children. They are also expected to conform themselves according to ethical standards of practice, which are clearly outlined by state boards of education, unions, and disciplinary organizations.

To cite but one example of clearly stated ethical guidelines, the National Education Association's own Code of Ethics for Educators says that their commitment to the student involves stimulating a "spirit of inquiry;" that they shall not "unreasonably deny the student's access to varying points of view" or "deliberately suppress or distort subject matter relevant to the student's progress."

While parents rarely know the exact contours of these standards, they know they exist, and are perplexed and disappointed to see educators behaving in ways that are clearly counter to them.

Fellow educators, of course, are also charged with policing the integrity of the profession by holding bad-faith actors accountable. How sad, then, to see that in many cases it has been up to students to document teacher misbehavior by resorting to filming encounters using their personal cell phones — a practice that itself fosters an environment of suspicion.

These ethical standards are in place in part to ensure that students are regarded as autonomous, self-directing ends in themselves, rather than merely as means or implements towards achieving others' goals. It is simply never appropriate to take advantage of the youth and immaturity of minors, who are compelled to be in attendance by law and deprived of the presence of parents or legal guardians who have long trusted educators to act appropriately in their place (in loco parentis) during school hours. Responsible and sometimes outraged parents who would have acted to prevent such measures had they been present are now coming forward to do so after the fact, as such incidents come to light, spurred on by the increase in remote-learning-driven parental awareness of classroom pedagogy. For a large group of parents, the broken trust caused by the violation of ethical norms will take years, if not decades, for the education profession to repair. This is the cost of failing to uphold professional standards.

Controversial topics can be handled professionally and effectively in a K-12 classroom. They can also be mishandled in a way that has the potential to mislead or misinform students. The difference lies in recognizing the freedom of conscience rights of students to reach their own conclusions without undue influence by those who hold authority over them.

FIRE has always been a college-focused organization. Yet we now hear regularly from distressed parents and students who feel that K-12 classroom teachers are bullying students into artificial compliance with preferred viewpoints, or into silence for fear of repercussions if they dare to voice dissent. For all the self-consciously professed concern over power and oppression dynamics embedded in critical race theory, it is impossible to overlook the irony at the heart of its heavy-handed implementation by certain overzealous, unprincipled actors: a near-total lack of recognition of the vast power differential wielded by a teacher over a student, and by an adult over a child. This authority must never be misused by a responsible, ethical, scrupulous K-12 educator.

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  1. If the aim of this argument is to persuade modern America to (return to a position in which it would) choose bigotry over inclusiveness, insularity over tolerance, superstition over reason, dogma over science and history, backwardness over progress, whitewashing over accuracy, and the like, it should and will fail. Even putting superstition and dogma on an equal footing with reason and science, or whitewashing with ‘traditional understandings,’ are losers these days, at least in advanced, modern, educated communities.

    1. Artie. Check yourself with your white supremacy. You are saying, people of color are inferior. They need special privileges to survive. That racist falsity has been rebutted by the performance of very dark skinned Africans in the 2010 Census. They are the new Koreans.
      One of my bosses had serious staff problems. I said, go African. Get in that network of families and of friends. Problems solved.

      1. Lawyer torts question. Does the violation of a private set of guidelines, a policy manual, a Code of Ethics make a negligence per se? These are, at the least, admissions of the standard of due care.

      2. In Oregon, because people of color will never be able to pass the tests needed to graduate, tests have been suspended for five years. The governor specifically named Native Americans, Latinos, and Blacks as the beneficiaries of this new law, notably excluding Asians and whites.

        1. Tests measure book smarts. They have street smarts. Artie was book smart. In my neighborhood, he would get his ass whipped every day.

      3. I want to thank Eugene for teaching me the phrase, check yourself before you wreck yourself.

        It is useful with a Boomer like Artie.

  2. “ We need committed teachers, not preachers, in American public schools.”

    Have you read your own website?

    1. Let me see if I can follow her argument here. She says

      ‘…the National Education Association’s own Code of Ethics for Educators says that their commitment to the student involves stimulating a “spirit of inquiry;” that they shall not “unreasonably deny the student’s access to varying points of view” or “deliberately suppress or distort subject matter relevant to the student’s progress.” ‘

      And then concludes from this that teaching students about what she incorrectly calls Critical Race Theory should be outlawed.

      This is some of the sloppiest writing I’ve seen on the main page of this blog. FIRE and EV should be ashamed to associate with this person.

      1. Teaching is paid speech. The words used by the teacher are the product paid for, and parents have at least some control of that product. If you went to McDonalds and asked for a Big Mack and were given a salad because the server said that is better for you, you would be upset.
        Of course, teachers can say whatever they want when they are not on paid time.

        1. Just say that then. Don’t claim you’re fostering a spirit of inquiry or trying to give varying points of view and then align yourself with one specific view and try to ban others you don’t like.

          1. But but but – we need to ban these ideas to “foster a spirit of inquiry”.

            WTF is this crap doing on a supposedly libertarian blog?

            1. Suppose you went to hear a jazz group, only to be met with country western and told that you had no choice but to pay anyway. All other venues were closed by the health board or someone.
              Schools work with teacher unions and heavily lobbied officials to set the discussion the way they want. All act to restrict any competition, so tell the parents to just shut up and take what is on offer. Pay for it too. Public schools are a monopoly and are in the control of unions.

          2. I align myself with the USA, USA, USA. I oppose the Chinese Commie Party attack on our schools to destroy our country from within. Zero tolerance for woke. All woke must be fired.

        2. “Of course, teachers can say whatever they want when they are not on paid time.”

          Not teachers at conservative-controlled, censorship-shackled, superstition-drenched schools, you bigoted clinger.

          1. Artie, check your self with that white supremacy. Boomer, consider retiring so a diverse can be hired in your place.

        3. Dinkle, has it even occurred to you that you fecklessly believe your preferred point of view is the default curriculum for real America?

      2. FIRE and EV should be ashamed to associate with this person.

        Agree. She is an ill-informed ideologue.

      3. Agreed. I’d previously thought FIRE to be a free speech advocacy organization, albeit one with a decidedly conservative bent. Now that Eugene has given them enough rope, I’m convinced that they’re just another demagoguery shop.

        The disingenuous nonsense Bonnie has left here really mesh well with Josh’s pablum and David’s polemic, though.

        1. I think the legal side is still alright.

      4. ” FIRE and EV should be ashamed to associate with this person. ”

        I sense you misunderstand Prof. Volokh profoundly.

    2. We need committed teachers, not preachers, in American public schools

      How many times in her previous post did she cite Judea-Christianity or Protestantism as the bedrock of the American Culture she wants schools to focus on?

      1. Right? And her undoctrinate website itself is filled with biblical exegesis.

  3. There is no shortage of people or organizations who think they know what educators should or should not be covering in school.

    Wow. Talk about a lack of self-awareness.

    Ms. Snyder is, beyond doubt, one of those who very definitely “think they know what educators should or should not be covering in school.”

    Does she really imagine that her ideas – “read Ayn Rand” – are not ideological?

    What a joke.

  4. From the “social cohesion” link:

    “This no longer secularization by subtraction. Now we see the affirmative indoctrination of children with a secular belief system and worldview that is a substitute for religion and is antithetical to the beliefs and values of traditional God-centered religion.

    In other words, purging schools of any trace of religion created a vacuum by eliminating the explanatory belief system undergirding moral values. Now, we are seeing the attempt to push into the schools an alternative explanatory belief system that is inconsistent with, and subversive of, the religious worldview.”

    Wow – that’s an odd way to go about social cohesion.

    By complaining that the current view is not in obeyance with the RELIGIOUS WORLDVIEW.

    1. By complaining that the current view is not in obeyance with the RELIGIOUS WORLDVIEW.

      Actually, I think her complaint is more along the line that a competing religion is being taught instead of the one that she prefers and that post-modern progressivism is a religion that fundamentally competes with Christianity. That point seems completely valid.

      1. My religious preference is USA, USA, USA. Zero tolerance for woke. All woke must be fired on the spot.

      2. But the point is she linked the argument under SOCIAL COHESION.

        She’s free to make any argument she wants but (as you alluded to), she’s only taking one side which (my point) is NOT conducive to Social Cohesion.

      3. It doesn’t seem valid to me, whatever “post-modern progressivism” is supposed to mean.

  5. Doesn’t there seem to be something of a contradiction in the missions of FIRE? On the one hand it supports the academic freedom of educators to teach what they want. On the other hand, it warns that teaching students the wrong things indoctrinates them and is harmful?

    Doesn’t this create an impression that FIRE here is using a sort of “Henry Ford” approach to academic freedom? Teachers should be allowed to teach anything they want, as long as it’s what we think is the right, non-harmful thing.

    1. I think the FIRE lawyers aren’t on board with Snyder’s position. Adam Steinbaugh has been posting about some of the craziest anti-CRT stuff which Snyder herself openly associates herself with. Wonder if there are internal divisions with the advocacy side and the legal side?

  6. One difficulty with the CRT debate is that it looks like it’s sometimes really used to mean anything that suggests that things aren’t perfect in our society. It’s not all that long ago when public achools were teaching that black people were happy as slaves because they got civilized and these days like being poor and prefer to live apart from whites, and once it stopped being possible to say that, that the Civil Rights Act made everything perfect the day it was passed.

    There seem to be cases where teachers and principals are getting fired simply for suggesting that there is a long history and there are serious remaining problems. And the whitewashing of history has been part of the problems. It is reasonable to look at that whitewashing critically.

    1. There’s an argument on the other side that the minute black people start complaining and talking about problems, white people get terrified that civilization is coming to an end. The kind of intense response suggested by the OP seems, in all candor, more to support rather than contradict this view.

      You need dialogue and nuance. You need to be able to consider a position in between the extremes that white people have been black people’s greatest benefactors, and white people are the epitome of all evil. You also need to be able to talk about problems without fear.

      1. I’m trying to remember what they said about the black experience in my school.

        I saw the earlier (1984) dramatization of 12 years a slave.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon_Northup%27s_Odyssey

        I saw a thing about the Chicago race riots which portrayed the black people as “more sinned against than sinning.”

        Really heavy stuff for students my age. Kidnapping, brutality, murder.

        Maybe I went to an enlightened urban district, and the rural districts were saying that the slaves actually got off on being whipped.

        1. Of course, this was the time when white families (or many of them, anyway) were sitting in front of the TV watching *Roots* – and not watching it ironically either.

          Enough white people did this that “I watched Roots” became a cliched white-people remark which many blacks rolled their eyes at. But compared to the “Sunny South” curricula, it looks pretty good.

          (Yes, I did see Song of the South, and remember debating whether “Uncle Remus” was a slave. He can’t be a slave, I commented, because when he got tired of plantation life, he got in a carriage in the middle of the day and rode away openly, rather than waiting for nightfall and fleeing into the swamp.)

          1. In those days the Song of the South was in theaters, not schools, just to be clear. Now it’s in neither. I presume Disney has put it in deep freeze.

            But when you get down to it, one of Disney’s “superhero” movies gave a sympathetic portrayal about a white witch who enslaved a whole village of people, including blacks. I guess it’s OK because the witch had childhood trauma and was an equal-opportunity slaver.

            1. Song of the South isn’t in the vault but does come with warnings now. The Joel Chandler Harris(writer of Uncle Remus) Library did get renamed, but many respected historians both black and white acknowledge that the stories were actually written not out of racial malice but with an honest belief of supporting and spreading the black southern culture. The library name is being changed out of current respect for others, not out an acknowledgment of past wrong.

              1. “The library name is being changed out of current respect for others, not out an acknowledgment of past wrong.”

                Sounds fair.

                Which library used to be named after him and what’s it called now?

  7. I may have missed it, but she seems to take a top-down approach – her objection to the course of study in public high schools is that they don’t teach the right stuff.

    However – it’s not up to outside organizations – even “cool” ones like FIRE – to tell parents what their kids will be taught or how it will be taught.

    That’s the responsibility of the parents. Likewise, if we go back to the old ideas that teachers act in loco parentis, and are accountable to parents for their teaching, then parents would decide whether they want union teachers, ed school graduates, teachers certified by some board or just competent and educated teachers without specialized “teacher training.”

    Many states have charter schools, vouchers and tax credits to expand the educational options parents have for their kids. The school boards who run board-supervised schools may not want to lose pupils to competing schools, but look at the silver lining – parents who leave the board-supervised schools are less likely to whine and fuss about what the board-supervised schools teach, thus leaving these schools more leeway to teach diversity, equity, and inclusion without backlash.

    And if we believe the supporters of board-certified schools, these schools are actually better, morally and academically, than charter and private schools. Let that superiority shine forth as these woke board-supervised schools pull ahead of the backward, clinger charter schools and private schools, graduating successsful, woke, liberal-libertarian, enlightened people who will have the knowledge base they need to stomp on the clingers who attend alternative schools.

    1. And I suppose we’ll hear the horror stories of entitled parents demanding that their students get good grades even if unearned.

      A school of choice could choose to kick out such parents. The other parents would be grateful.

      Or they could cater to the entitled-prick parents, and pay the cost of doing so.

      1. Part of society’s obligation (and opportunity) in this context is to enable children to overcome lousy parents and parenting.

        If a parent wants a child to be taught that five plus five equals eleven, or that Earth is a few thousand years old, or that vaccines are demonic, or that fairy tales are true, or that Canadians are lizard people, or that evolution is a satanic plot, or that the Civil War should be known as the War of Northern Aggression, or the like . . . the child deserves better, and better adults should provide better education to that child.

        1. And to keep the children healthy and educated, enroll them in the Red Guards where they exercise, sing songs, and inform on their parents’ counrrevolutionary views.

        2. No, Art, no it isn’t. It is not the place of a marginally competent public school to replace or even partially displace the parents.

          You’ve got your list of indoctrination bullshit that you falsely believe that American parents are teaching their children because you’re so horribly bigoted. But what about indoctrination bullshit from the other side? Although you’re almost certainly cool with it, most people aren’t crazy about having 7 year-old white kids being taught that slavery is their personal responsibility or about 7 year-old black kids being taught that they’ll always have a boot on their neck.

          1. Good luck changing the tide that is carrying my preferences to victory — including advocacy of strong (reason-based) public schools and child welfare rules that protect children against substandard parents — in the American culture war.

            You keep advocating for shitty, fairy tale-laced education, and we shall see whose ideas carry the day in modern America’s marketplace of ideas.

            1. Please show me where I’ve advocated for “fairy-tale laced” education you fucking idiot. One post.

              You can’t.

              And your preferences aren’t carrying anything because you’re nothing more than a hateful bigot.

              1. I wrote that if parents want a school — public school especially — to teach nonsense and dumb shit to children, society should override that parent’s preference.

                You disliked my position.

                If you aren’t defending a parent’s right to hobble children by having schools teach nonsense and dumb shit (customarily in the context of religion-infused education), including with public support (funds, accreditation, etc.), what are you trying to say?

                If you figure my preferences have not been prevailing in America for more than a half-century, against the wishes of conservatives, you either don’t understand my preferences or are delusional about recent American history.

                1. You blab incessantly about all these fine principles but you never personally demonstrate any of them.

                  And schools should absolutely not supplant parents in the life of their children. You talk about all these goofy things that you believe that parents are teaching their children, but in the vast majority of cases those things aren’t happening. It’s your own bigoted, twisted mingle that convinces you something is happening when it isn’t.

                  Goodbye, Art.

              2. And your preferences aren’t carrying anything because you’re nothing more than a hateful bigot.

                He certainly is, but I wouldn’t say that his preferences aren’t carrying anything. The President, for one, is fully in sync with him.

          2. . . . to replace or even partially displace the parents.

            Bevis, characteristically, right wingers presume, “the parents,” agree with them. Which is to say they expect agreement not only on particular views, but also on the cranky proposition that children are best served by inculcation of values chosen by . . . parents.

            My advice? Pay attention to what your children are being taught, but give them latitude. Hope against hope they will learn a lot of stuff you don’t know about.

            Of course, right wingers could even be in the minority. In school districts in many places in Massachusetts, New Jersey, or Maryland, and in many other states, they would be—in big parts of California, for instance, and even in some places in Texas. But whether minority or majority, education, as opposed to indoctrination, is best served with forthright presentations of a broad range of views—including a great many views which may have occurred to none of the parents, left or right.

            What kind of parents want their children trapped in exactly the intellectual universe which governs their home? What a lost opportunity that would be.

            One of my favorite books is Annals of the Former World, by John McPhee. In one long section it details the childhood circumstances of one of America’s great geologists, who grew up in the very early 20 century, on a ranch in central Wyoming. One point which stands out in that account is how hungry that entire lonely, dispersed, and isolated community was for information from the outside world. Whether we know it or not, that longing for the new and the unfamiliar is among the most important resources to cultivate for anyone. To keep children from that on purpose would be a terrible thing to do.

            1. “What kind of parents want their children trapped in exactly the intellectual universe which governs their home?…

              “…that longing for the new and the unfamiliar is among the most important resources to cultivate for anyone. To keep children from that on purpose would be a terrible thing to do.”

              I think Bevis wants the parents to prevail in a conflict with the school. But if they have such a desire for useful new information and learning, parents presumably would insist their kids be exposed to it rather than kept from it.

              Say, for example, there’s a great American novel which a school wants not to be taught (I didn’t say “banned”). The school doesn’t want to teach that novel, the parent wants it taught. The open-minded parent then sends their kid to a school where Huckleberry Finn is on the curriculum.

              Or suppose a school wants to restrict gifted education for reasons of so-called “equity.” Parents wishing to expose their children to the broader range of teaching available in a gifted class could then choose a more accommodating, pro-education school.

              And so forth.

            2. Stephen – I basically agree with you.

              My wife and I raised four daughters. They’re currently between 25 and 32 years old. We wanted them to grow up to be rational and independent. We (and the parents of most of their peers) were fine with them being taught whatever at school. We paid attention to what they told us about what was going on and whatever they were learning, and honestly I don’t remember them being taught anything all that controversial.

              All four have graduated college, and of course at college they were further from our influence, as it should be. Each chose their own school with advice from us, as requested. And now they’re all out there thinking for themselves. I’m not sure what my political philosophy actually is – sort of libertarian I guess, socially a little more liberal and fiscally a little more conservative. I think (best I can tell) two of them are fairly liberal, one is conservative/libertarian-ish, and the fourth I really don’t know. But whatever they believe is their own choosing, with whatever influence they got from wherever. But I’m comfortable that they were never truly indoctrinated.

              The problem, I think, is that now things have become much more polarized and extreme. The extremists are running the parties, the parties are running the government, and the government is running the school. So the extremism leeches its way all the way through everything. Parents should object if their kids are taught that they are guilty because of slavery that ended 150 years ago. Parents should object if their kids are taught that immigrants are evil criminals who are taking over the country. Or that America is an inherently evil place. Or that evolution is the work of Satan or whatever.

              I think that’s the problem now – the schools can’t be trusted like my parents could, or like my wife and I could. The extremists are substantially in charge and it’s very difficult to stop them. If I were a parent or school aged kids now I’d be doing whatever I had to do to offset that bullshit.

              1. The good news is school choice is expanding in many places. Which would often give parents options besides simply putting up with the district schools.

                School districts ought to be glad to get rid of the malcontents by having the latter go to (or set up) their own schools – if they want to keep those parents (and the money which accompanies them), they’d have to make concessions.

                1. …and concessions to racists are themselves racist.

  8. The temptation to use the K-12 classroom to enact partisan aims is eternal, and arguments about what should or should not be included are perennial. There is no shortage of people or organizations who think they know what educators should or should not be covering in school. After all, if one can convince young people of certain ideological viewpoints, while restricting their access to dissenting opinions, one can exert a tremendous amount of influence over the future of society.

    Basically, the principle of action urged by Lewis Powell in the Powell Memo. Except that Powell wanted a coordinated effort by every segment of society that government or corporate influence could control. Like Snyder, Powell was convinced it was called for, because dastardly others were conspiring to take away everything real Americans agreed upon.

    It doesn’t get more partisan, or less open to alternative views.

    1. “a coordinated effort by every segment of society that government or corporate influence could control”

      That somehow sounds familiar…

  9. “Anti-racism” is a “doctrine”? Wow. Not sure how this person ended up on what is normally a very informative site.

    1. Yup, a doctrine. A controversial one, too.

    2. Anti-Racism is absolutely a doctrine. And Stephen is right, it’s incredibly controversial.

      Don’t confuse Anti-Racism with simply declining to be racist. Most people (unfortunately not all) don’t have any problem with the latter.

      1. Stephen just looks at the bright shiny package, and if it says “magic anti-racism beans,” that’s all he needs to know, he approves!

        1. And, of course, if you refuse to buy these “magic anti-racist beans,” you are, by definition, racist!

        2. I couldn’t tell if Stephen was answering that straight or being sarcastic. Since what he said was true i decided he was being sincere. But on the internet who knows?

          1. Who knows? Here’s a definition from a source sympathetic to the doctrine:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-racism

  10. Culture matters. Over decades cultures can increase living standards and even % of folks with superior math or critical reasoning skills. Or the opposite. Race is irrelevant..culture is supreme

  11. Evangelicals have had to learn that they can’t co-opt the classroom to promote their belief system in a secular school…

    That’s funny. The link she provided was to portion of the ACLU website that deals with religious proselytization in public schools. It links further to two cases in the last few years that the ACLU has been involved with. The most recent one alleges:

    The unlawful activities reported by the families span several school years and include, among other practices, school-directed prayer during mandatory assemblies; the distribution and display of Bibles during classes; Bible verses posted in hallways and shared in notes from school staff to students; prayers broadcast through loudspeakers at school sporting events; coaches leading or participating in prayer with student athletes; and a large cross painted on the wall of a school athletic facility.

    Christian evangelicals have not learned the lesson that they were supposed to as Snyder claims they have. At least, there are still plenty that blatantly violate the Constitution in the name of Jesus.

    I think that this is why so many on the religious right refer to various ideas that they oppose as being the “religion” of the left. Climate science, evolution, atheism (even though atheists are certainly not a large enough group to constitute “the left” in any broad sense), and now CRT. They want to push their religion on everyone else, so it must be that their opponents think the same way. Hmm, there’s a term in psychology for this, right?

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