Editorial: School bills again make Indiana laughingstock

Orwellian legislation that would seek to limit what can be taught in Indiana schools is terrible for a multitude of reasons — so bad that once again, the Indiana General Assembly’s work product has made the state a national laughingstock.

To the credit of Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, he pulled the plug on one of the most onerous bills, conceding “there is no path forward for it and it will not be considered.” Other similar bills in the House also aim to muzzle education, and they, too, should be abandoned.

Bray halted Indiana’s latest legislative embarrassment, Senate Bill 167, after it made an ignominious appearance on the national stage. Sen. Scott Baldwin, R-Noblesville, authored the bill that would have required, among other things, that all school curricula be posted online. It also would have banned the teaching of concepts such as critical race theory, and mandated that schools “may not include or promote certain concepts as part of a course of instruction or in a curriculum or direct or otherwise compel a school employee or student to adhere to certain tenets relating to the individual’s sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation.”

A teacher testifying at a Senate hearing on the bill noted the problem this would create in teaching, for instance, why the United States entered World War II — to defeat Nazism and fascism. In educating students, the teacher said, “We’re not neutral on Nazism and fascism. … We take a stand in the classroom against it, and it’s important that we do.”

Baldwin felt a need to respond to that. This is what he said: “I’m not discrediting as a person, Marxism, Nazism, fascism. I’m not discrediting any of those ‘isms’ out there, and I have no problem with the education system providing instruction on the existence of those ‘isms’; I believe that we’ve gone too far when we take a position on those ‘isms’ … we need to be impartial.”

The senator said we need to be impartial. About Nazis.

Late-night TV host Stephen Colbert played the entirety of the above exchange to a studio audience that groaned in disbelief at Baldwin’s words, and a nationwide home viewing audience surely shook its head — yet again — at Indiana.

After Baldwin’s remarks were condemned by the Anti-Defamation League and others, he tried to clarify, saying he “failed to adequately articulate” that he thought these “isms” were a stain on history. “‘Failed to adequately articulate’ is a pretty generous way of describing, ‘I said the opposite,’” Colbert quipped.

What legislation like this really wants to do, at bottom, is restrict certain topics from being taught in our schools at all. For instance, America’s original sin of slavery. Or our violent history toward American Indians. Or the Holocaust. Or any number of uncomfortable facts of human life on planet Earth.

Besides being bad policy, any court challenge would almost certainly find such language is unconstitutionally overbroad, violates the First Amendment, and strips local school boards of control over curriculum.

But our elected officials in the Indiana General Assembly enact laws virtually every year that, after making the state a laughingstock, get struck down or reversed.

It’s as if they never learn.