December 9, 2022

Steve Nuzum: Bad Faith and Cruelty

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Steve Nuzum is a teacher in South Carolina, where another bad anti-anti-racism bill is working its way through the legislature. He shares some thoughts about that, as well as his testimony about a similar bill.

We’ve had a lot of talk this evening about “bad apples” in schools and we have over 11 hundred classrooms open right now1. And when I hear Representative Brittain ask the great question, What is the documented evidence that these kinds of concerns about “CRT” in schools are serious concerns?, we don’t have it. But we do have a documented 11-hundred-teacher shortage, and it’s only going to get worse. I think if we were going to spend weeks and weeks discussing anything about education, that should have been it.

But I have taught English and college-level rhetoric and research in South Carolina for fifteen years, and I think the reason there is so much passionate interest in these hearings is that the bills being considered are designed to invite controversy, confusion, and debate. The goal of trying to prevent racism in classes, or sexism, is great; no one is going to debate that. But these bills unnecessarily insert hot-button buzzwords like “CRT” while muddying the waters by throwing essentially anything the authors don’t like into definitions of that term. Their goal is not to address legitimate problems or improve South Carolina schools.

Most of the bills include some language about the value of intellectual freedom and diversity of opinions, which are fundamental to effective education. However, all of the bills then go on to define what “intellectual freedom” will look like, not by protecting the rights of teachers and students to openly discuss issues and to look at multiple perspectives, but by banning specific concepts in a nakedly partisan way, eliminating certain perspectives and legislating that we prioritize others. And as the confusion over basic educational issues and technologies throughout the hearings– Sora2, text adoption policies, even the definitions of “standards” and “curriculum”– indicate, few if any experts on  K-12 public education had any hand in the creation of any of these bills.  (Thanks, by the way, Representative Morgan, for taking hours out of your day to come visit my class two weeks ago and that’s what I would advise all of you to do if you want to see what’s happening in classrooms— I know some of you have. I renew my invitation to every member of the committee to do the same. Visiting schools and speaking with educators and students will probably clarify many of these issues and dispel this frankly bizarre image of schools as indoctrination cults, as suggested in the language of the bills.)

As a rhetoric and research teacher, I can’t accept that confusion and controversy were not the intent of the original sources of these bills.  Most of the language comes from three sources: Presidential Executive Order 13950 (now repealed), which was likely written by the Heritage Foundation and originally intended to limit the kinds of diversity training available to federal employees— it has nothing to do with K-12 public schools— National Association of Scholars’ “Partisanship Out of Civics Act,” and Heritage’s model bill “Protecting K-12 Students From Discrimination”.

There’s some very thoughtful discussion of the bills in question (and the many other bills like them). The full post is on Nuzum’s substack and can be viewed here.

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