October 12, 2022

Tim Walker: Educators Fight Back Against Gag Orders, Book Bans and Intimidation

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Writing for NEA News, Tim Walker looks at the current fights over gag orders and book bans. He shares the story of the successful fight to keep Indiana from joining the anti-woke law crowd. However, he notes that it’s not the norm these days.

The victory in Indiana, unfortunately, has been an outlier. Since the manufactured controversy surrounding CRT reached a fever pitch in the spring and summer of 2021, right-wing politicians—collaborating with well-funded groups claiming to represent parents—have launched a broad-based assault on America’s classrooms. They aim to root out honest discussions about race, turn back the clock on inclusion, and strip teachers of their autonomy and professional voice.

“This is a movement to sow distrust in public education and intimidate teachers—in whatever form is necessary,” [Jonathan] Friedman [of PEN America] says.

He also tells the story of Sarah Mulhern Gross, a New Jersey teacher who found herself the subject of a vicious attacks on social media because she dared to open inquiry about the relevance of Shakespeare’s works.

The perception that hordes of angry parents are constantly monitoring educators’ every step has a chilling effect in the classroom. “This is a small, vocal, but well-organized minority,” Gross says.” But [they’re] still intimidating teachers, forcing them to avoid certain topics or certain books out of fear of getting in trouble. It’s the soft censorship that these educators are undertaking that really worries me.”

The piece reminds us that these vocal complainers are, in fact, a minority–but a loud and sometimes effective minority. Walker talks to some other teachers, including those who point out the dangers to students.

Octavio Hernandez, a math teacher in Polk County, Florida, wonders if the politicians responsible for the “Don’t Say Gay” law really understand what they have done—and if they do understand, do they really care?

“It really angers me. This is a threat to students’ mental health. They are putting kids’ lives in danger,” Hernandez says. “LGBTQ students are looking on and are being told that what they are is so bad, so dangerous, that they can’t even talk about it in school.”

Read the full piece here.

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