May 17, 2023

Paul Bowers: Against teacher censorship

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Paul Bowers blogs at Brutal South, and he’s concerned about currently working its way through the South Carolina legislature.

South Carolina House Bill 3728, the “Transparency and Integrity in Education Act,” is first and foremost a teacher censorship bill. If signed into law, it would threaten teachers’ careers for straying from the hard-right party line on matters of race, history, and gender.

That fact alone would be enough to oppose the bill, particularly at a time when the teacher shortage is beyond the point of crisis. But the bill would do much, much more than that.

House Bill 3728 would bury entire school districts in new layers of bureaucracy to enforce the speech codes. If it passes into law, expect an onslaught of litigation and mandatory internal investigations triggered by “parent advocacy” organizations that would be deputized into action as speech police.

Bowers lays out some of the unfortunately-familiar aspects of the bill.

Like any speech code drafted by a single political party to silence its perceived opponents, this bill demands ideological purity. Section 59-29-620 includes a long, vaguely worded list of “prohibited concepts.”

The concept of “meritocracy,” which is not defined in the bill, would be enshrined in law as an unquestionable fact. Teachers would face punishment for suggesting that “an individual … is privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously.” Library books would need to be vetted as “age appropriate” according to new criteria to be established by the State Board of Education, and not by the criteria of media center professionals.

As punishment for a perceived infraction of these vague and arbitrary speech codes, the State Board of Education would have the authority to strip a teacher of their teaching certificate. The board would also punish offending school districts by withholding up to 5% of state funding.

Entire new departments and unknown staffing hours would be required to enforce the speech purity codes in this bill. Each school district would have to establish procedures for parents to review and challenge instructional materials and provide “alternative educational instruction” for students whose parents object to any part of a course for any reason [Section 59-29-650(A)(5)].

This bill would lead to a pile-on of lawsuits against school districts. We know this because many of the bill’s sponsors in the South Carolina Freedom Caucus have used similar reasoning to sue the school districts of Lexington 1 and Charleston County for alleged insertion of “critical race theory” into a successful literacy curriculum. They are doing this after releasing a doctored sting video of a curriculum provider talking about “culturally relevant pedagogy.”

And the bill includes one of the most damaging features of this kind of gag law.

The bill would create a “private cause of action,” a common provision in the wave of censorship bills introduced in state legislatures across the country. It would allow any parent or guardian to sue any school district for a perceived violation of the censorship rules. These self-appointed censors would have the authority to sue schools without even attempting to bring their concerns to the district first, and districts who lose these lawsuits would have to pay their accusers’ legal fees. [Section 59-29-680]

That means any person who wishes to may make themselves a nuisance to the district. While some may argue that lawsuits brought without merit will simply be lost, even being on the winning side of such a suit costs the district valuable time and money. 

The point of course is the chilling effect. Expect districts to instruct all teachers to avoid possible problem topics entirely as a precaution against lawsuits.

There’s more to this. Read the full post here. 

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