There’s little question the Granite State’s public schools are under attack by Statehouse conservatives. We’ve noted the blatant efforts to undermine public education by diverting both students and revenue to private schools. Add that to the dangerous “divisive concepts” ban — inserted into last year’s state budget based on the false narrative that the state’s teachers are discriminating against white children by teaching them the truth about slavery and race relations — that puts a target on teachers’ backs, worsened by the state Education Department’s moves that help incentivize parents and students to file complaints.
We’d be remiss, however, if we didn’t also point out an effort from the progressive side of the aisle that unintentionally undermines public schools. And it originates in Keene.
Similar to legislation filed two years ago by Sen. Jay Kahn, D-Keene, to force schools to incorporate genocide studies into public school curricula, Keene Rep. Amanda Elizabeth Toll’s bill to require schools to incorporate age-appropriate instruction on the meaning of consent is a well-intentioned move that takes the wrong road.
Again, as we noted regarding Kahn’s bill — which was killed, then revived and stuck into an omnibus Senate bill that eventually passed — the intent is worthy of consideration. The rise of the #MeToo movement in recent years and repeated incidents in the national news of he said-she said sexual assault allegations have made clear there’s a long way to go in establishing clear agreement, perhaps even a standard process, for determining when consent has been reached in an encounter.
And we agree schools could have a role in that process. It would be particularly valuable beginning at the middle-school grades, when other sexual education is warranted and students too often rely on rumor and social media for life and health lessons.
However, having lawmakers mandate that schools include it is not far removed from the mechanics of the divisive-concepts drive and no different at all from conservative legislatures forcing science teachers to put creationism into their lesson plans alongside evolution. The Legislature simply ought not to be pushing an agenda on the state’s schools, regardless of whether one feels it’s the “right” agenda.
The problem with having school curriculum changes enacted through law is that lawmakers change, control of legislative chambers often seesaws between liberal and conservative majorities whose priorities differ, and ideology is no basis for educational directives. Hence, one session’s holocaust studies mandate is followed by the next session’s divisive concepts law.
Such a mechanism substitutes the opinions of politicians for the professional experience and expertise of educators devoted to ensuring quality schools. Whether at the state or local level, professional educators ought to be making curriculum decisions.
There are also logistical concerns. For every topic state politicians force into schools’ curricula, time must be carved out to teach it; time must be carved out to train teachers in it. Something else must give. The question then becomes what are students now learning that can be sacrificed to make way for consent education? (A possible candidate in the current Legislature’s eyes, though we would heartily disagree, might be American history.)
Once again, we find ourselves in the position of agreeing with the goal of the proposal but having to point out the serious flaw in its process.
Let educators educate.