April 17, 2023

Steve Nuzum: “Freedom Caucus” Types Abandon Pretense

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Reporting from, teacher Steve Nuzum marks the rightward lurch of his state’s Freedom Caucus.

When South Carolina “Freedom Caucus” chair Adam Morgan (Greenville, SC) visited my classroom last year, he had a (relatively) nuanced take on what he wanted to accomplish by supporting language that would prohibit teachers from addressing/ requiring certain concepts. He was against banning the discussion of concepts, he claimed. His only concern, supposedly, was coercive “indoctrination” of students, where teachers told students they had to adopt a specific interpretation of policy or historical events. Morgan even said he didn’t think parents had historically “had a problem” with teachers who had differing beliefs than their kids, and that he, himself, didn’t really care a whole lot about specific ideas being taught or discussed: “It’s when it becomes ‘and if you disagree with this you’re a bad person’.”

Flash forward a year, and unsurprisingly, the bill Morgan and his fellow South Carolina “Freedom Caucus” members are pushing, which they heavily amended and voted to pass last month, does not actually stop at prohibiting “indoctrination” and does not allow for the open discussion of ideas, regardless of whether students are punished for thinking differently, or whether they encourage students to “feel bad”.

Based on much of the same language— from far-right think tanks like the Heritage Foundation— as more widely-covered laws like Florida’s “Stope W.O.K.E Act,” H.3728 bans the “inclusion” (not the “indoctrination”) of a list of concepts taken directly from Heritage, and it makes it easier for almost anyone to trigger a formal investigation into teachers who are alleged (with or without any factual basis) to have “included” these concepts in instruction. (As Morgan, himself, acknowledged last year, it is entirely possible that a teacher would include these concepts as a part of lessons that address topics Morgan said are necessary to teach, such as the history of the Holocaust. Morgan, at the time, said he had an issue with the idea that a teacher “can’t teach tenets,” and said it was absolutely necessary that teachers use these concepts in teaching about Hitler, and that he would oppose language that prohibited teaching the concepts. But then he voted for H. 3728, anyway.)

The timing is not great.

This is all happening at a time when SC is experiencing its worst teacher shortage in recorded history. The “Freedom Caucus” bill clearly adds red tape and bureaucracy that will make teaching more difficult, and put more strain on school staff.  All so twenty (or so) radical legislators can prove their “anti-woke” credentials to national think tanks and out-of-state lobbyists, all so that they can get their names in the paper for something other than passing actual legislation. We can see everything the “Freedom Caucus” is doing, from the broad strokes of a pro-privatization agenda to the specific and increasingly meaningless phraseology about “woke indoctrination,” mirrored in a national movement connected to big money and private interests. In a viral interview this week, the chair of the school board of a Florida charter school attached to Hillsdale College made it fairly plain: “classical education” and “Western tradition” are coded phrases signaling that what rightwing groups really want is to eliminate ideas they don’t like in favor of ideas that help them consolidate power.

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