A new study from the free speech advocacy group PEN America shows that since 2021, state legislators have submitted roughly 400 education legislation measures to provide parents, elected authorities, and concerned individuals the power to question or keep an eye on what schools teach regarding racial and gender issues.
The PEN America investigation showed that many of the proposed education legislation have had a “chilling effect” on public education, even if many of them fall short of actually regulating what is taught in schools.
Teachers admitted to the advocacy group that they now worry about being charged with a crime and losing their jobs for teaching “prohibited” ideas.
The report claimed that “Bills with these provisions are usually portrayed as furthering “parental rights” or “curriculum transparency.”
The policies, according to the organisation, “have an ulterior motive driving them: to empower a vocal and censorship-minded minority with greater opportunity to scrutinise public education and intimidate educators with threats of punishment.”
Between January 2021 and June 2023, 392 laws that were introduced in state legislatures were examined for this research.
It was discovered that parts of the education legislation under consideration would make it mandatory for teachers to upload all instructional materials on open websites, making it simpler for parents to object to books, and give parents the power to decide whether or not their child may participate in a given lesson. The investigation revealed that other education legislation would mandate instructors to inform parents of a student’s gender expression or sexual orientation.
According to the organisation, only 39 of the proposed bills have been passed into law in at least 19 states.
According to the report’s conclusion, “an additional nine policies were adopted via executive order or incorporated into state-level policy as regulatory measures.”
Tennessee has passed nine new laws, the most of any state, according to the research.
In a statement, Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programmes at PEN America, said that the proposed education legislation “runs the risk of turning every classroom into an ideological battleground, driving teachers out of the classroom, and endangering the future of millions of students.”
Later, Friedman told CNN that the private sector and other organisations, like public libraries and museums, have a “responsibility to step up in this moment.”
We need to mobilize much more of civil society at this time, according to Friedman, to take up the concerns.