The loyalty program some New Hampshire lawmakers are now offering teachers is one that most would be less than delighted to join. The proposed so-called “teacher loyalty” legislation, House Bill 1255, seeks to ban New Hampshire public school teachers from promoting any theory that depicts U.S. history in a negative light, particularly regarding racism. The bill updates a Cold War-era law barring educators from advocating for communism, while adding prohibitions on advocating for socialism and Marxism.
It states: “No teacher shall advocate any doctrine or theory promoting a negative account or representation of the founding and history of the United States of America in New Hampshire public schools which does not include the worldwide context of now outdated and discouraged practices. Such prohibition includes but is not limited to teaching that the United States was founded on racism.”
Rep. Alicia Lekas, R-Hudson, the bill’s primary sponsor, told the Concord Monitor she disagrees with the way history is being taught in public schools today. “Too often I’m running into too many students who don’t know anything about real history and stuff like that because teachers spend too much time indoctrinating students about political things, which I don’t think teachers should be doing,” she said.
Apparently Lekas thinks schools shouldn’t be teaching about slavery, Jim Crow laws, the removal of Native Americans from their lands or the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. All are major events in American history; we would not be the country we are had they not occurred, nor would we become the country we should aspire to be were we to ignore them. But if some student (or, more likely, parent) gets the impression America hasn’t always been perfect, then away they go. Maybe schools shouldn’t be teaching about the insurrectionists who perpetrated the Boston Tea Party, either.
Lekas goes on to say, “Slavery was a terrible thing, but a lot of people don’t know slavery happened all over the world — that’s the setting you need to be teaching. If you’re going to teach about the founding of the country you need to teach it in its proper setting so you know what was happening in the rest of the world so you have a better idea of why people did the way they did.”
She has a point: Context matters. But it doesn’t excuse the behavior. Like saying “all lives matter,” it’s true but avoids the real lesson. Of course all lives matter, but Black lives have not been valued as much, which is the issue being raised. And yes, other nations allowed slavery, but to leave students with the impression that “all the other kids were doing it” is to sidestep what matters about it — which is seemingly the intention of such legislation.
Judging by the flurry of legislation surrounding how U.S. history is taught in public schools, some Republicans — and others in this country who want to return to “the good old days” — apparently can’t handle the truth about past American policy.
The “teacher loyalty” bill was introduced just one year after New Hampshire legislators trotted out a measure banning the teaching or discussion of so-called “divisive concepts” such as racism and sexism, a bill that passed by being enmeshed in a larger budget bill. This week, teachers and parents filed a lawsuit against that divisive concepts law. In action coordinated by the New Hampshire affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, three teachers and two parents have sued the state over the law, arguing that it is overbroad and ambiguous, making it “impossible for teachers to follow and highly susceptible to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.”
The broad nature and ambiguity of the law serve a greater purpose: that of chilling the conversation about racism and other “ugly” topics. If teachers don’t know what’s fair game, they’ll be more apt to avoid any and all controversial topics. The vagueness may also be the result of its crafting beyond the grassroots level. It strongly resembles “model” bills from the toolkits of conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the so-called Center for Renewing America, which provide legislation for lawmakers to introduce in their states. These organizations even offer suggested talking points and tweets for social media.
To what end? The Pew Research Center says it’s part of a coordinated “conservative push to restrict discussions of racism and inequity in the name of defending American institutions.”
But throttling educators, censoring books and presenting lies as truth are sure-fire ways to erode democracy and other American institutions, which depend upon an informed electorate. A free nation shouldn’t demand loyalty that calls for turning a blind eye toward injustices.