Ok, Minnesota State Legislators: What is going on with SF 2487? It requires schools to adopt a “written academic balance policy” that must “prohibit school employees, in their official capacity, from requiring students or other school employees to express specified social or political viewpoints for the purposes of academic credit, extracurricular participation, or as a condition of employment,” among other things.
On its face, this seems simple enough. But what does it mean? I understand that, as a professional educator, I won’t be telling my students that they should vote for a specific candidate. I don’t know any professional teacher who would do that. Of course we wouldn’t say “only conservatives are allowed on the debate team,” or “only socialists are allowed to try out for the basketball team.”
But what is a “social viewpoint?” Is Black Lives Matter a social viewpoint? Because that’s not really negotiable: the lives of my black students, friends, colleagues, and fellow citizens do matter, unequivocally. How about supporting LGBTQ students’ rights to have a safe place to learn, or that their lives matter? Is that a social viewpoint? Because that’s not really negotiable either. How about “women are equal to men?” There are so many different things that fall under the idea of “social viewpoint” that are basic rules of safe classrooms and healthy schools.
What does it mean to be “balanced?” The fallacy of the middle ground comes to mind. Say, for example, we have all good on one side, and all evil on the other. Should we just say, “well, for the sake of balance, we should have a little good and a little evil?” There are so many abhorrent views at work in wider society: neo-nazi ideology, racism, misogyny, homophobia… Does this law prohibit professional educators from challenging hatred or disrespect in the name of balance?
The classroom is not a value-neutral place, regardless of what you try to make it. It won’t be a value-neutral place even if this bill becomes law. The question isn’t how to make the space value-neutral, because that’s not possible. The question should be, what values do we uphold in our classrooms and schools?
I value critical thought, looking at ideas from numerous positions, and debate. I value justice and equity. I value my students’ voices and stories. I value argument: not fighting or yelling, but actual challenging of ideas through communication. I value open mindedness and listening. I value my students speaking their truths, and challenging them to think deeper and consider other people’s ideas that may be different from their own.
This bill goes against best practices and against the standards we are asked to teach in our classrooms. In the English Language Arts standards, kids are required to hold conversations about diverse ideas and concepts, to consider different perspectives, and to research them. Students are required to write persuasively and make arguments. How does this fit with this bill? Hint: it doesn’t.
This isn’t the only bad piece of legislation up for consideration in the Minnesota legislature, but it’s a pretty bad one that needs to be dropped. I wish I could sit back and figure the governor will veto it if it does make it through all the negotiations, but after last year’s session, I can’t. We need to let our representatives know: call your legislators, and tell them that this is a poorly considered bill that must be dropped. We have local school boards that can set policy much more effectively; a statewide bill, especially one this vague, is overkill at best.