Educational Censorship?

From what I’ve read lately, the Republican Party is now proposing the very thing that it finds objectionable in certain segments of the Democratic Party – censorship by the extreme minority.

Now, what the GOP has proposed doesn’t sound like that, at first glance, because the proposal is to make every bit of every teachers’ curriculum publicly available, apparently online. It sounds so eminently reasonable, and it feeds into another Republican line of attack that surfaced in the last election – the idea that parents should control what their children are taught.

Part of this belief comes from the idea that, if we’ve been to school, we know what should be taught and how. If we’ve played a sport, we know as much as the professional coach, etc. But the plain fact is that most people don’t know as much as the teacher does about the subject being taught, nor do they know as much as the professional coach. They’re entitled to their opinions, but, unless they have equivalent professional experience, their views shouldn’t override the professionals in professional matters.

Years ago, some family members were discussing music with my wife the professor, who’s sung opera and art song internationally and taught and directed opera at the university level for over fifty years. They asked some questions about her views of the comparative excellence of various works, then decided that their beliefs were superior to hers, despite the fact that none of them, despite their advanced degrees in other fields, had any academic training or professional experience in music. But they were still quietly totally convinced of their “expertise,” as are too many parents who have little to rely on but their own personal experience.

Then there are the practical downsides to this latest Republican proposal, one that might as well be termed “educational populism.”

To begin with, such a proposal will add an enormous workload to teachers, many of whom are already burning out and leaving the field. And given that most teachers and curricula are already heavily scrutinized, generally the only parents who will peruse such data are those who already object, which, in effect, becomes a form of censorship by the minority.

If something like this becomes law, wherever it does the result will be to further dumb down the curriculum, because the teachers who need to keep their jobs will avoid controversy at all costs and more of the teachers who are trying to get children to think for themselves will leave or be driven out.

But the Republicans are politically astute in capitalizing on the innate belief that parents know more about what their children should be taught than the teachers do. And this “astuteness” is likely to result in even greater damage to public education in the United States.

11 thoughts on “Educational Censorship?”

  1. R. Hamilton says:

    Parents may not know subject matter as well as teachers do, but they could still know propaganda when they see it, in terms of a curriculum designed to advance radical change (which is seldom for the better!). They also know FAR better than the teacher does, what values they wish to pass on to their offspring. Schools are frequently no longer (if they ever were!) neutral purveyors of facts and techniques; the content is often far too political.

    1. K. Lorenz says:

      I suppose those parents that object can take their kids into private schools – preferably not on the taxpayers dime? Better yet, how about home schooling since they obviously know better? And since you may know exactly what’s being taught today in those schools, you must be extremely precocious and well traveled OR you are responding to propaganda yourself?

      For all the other readers here, Tom Nichols’, “The Death of Expertise” is instructive.

      1. Tom says:

        While I agree with most of what Nichols wrote in 2014 he comes off as “Ivory Tower-ist” which diminishes the power of his article and gives the opponents the opportunity to call him “Elitist”.

        “These are dangerous times. Never have so many people had access to so much knowledge, and yet been so resistant to learning anything.”

        He supports this with some evidence but does not suggest a practical solution. In the more recent book is there an effort not just to counter the propaganda but a method of re-establishing the activity suggested by LEM – gather the data, analyze, synthetize and act?

        1. K. Lorenz says:

          Tom, It has been some time since I read Nichols. I also read Kakutani’s “The Death of Truth”. I don’t recall either book providing solutions that stood out to me as quickly corrective. Causes were manifold with confirmation bias being the most obvious and most consistent with use of the internet.

          At the time, I had been using my local barber for a few years and continued to do so until the pandemic hit. That barber was typical of the problem in many ways. He was prone to prattling on about conspiracies and factoids he’d learned from surfing the net, being involved in forums, and watching suspect TV shows. He floored me one day by espousing the tired view that the moon landing was faked, but then followed that assertion with one that the earth was flat. Really! His reasoning was that if the earth were round then water could not be retained on the bottom of it. I struggled to keep my composure while he was cutting away. Instead I just politely grunted.

          So, I never questioned whether the barber was an expert in cutting hair. He was. I wasn’t. And I viewed his opinions as harmless. But, he was definitely no expert in anything else. Though, he was more than willing to be public about his opinions as there didn’t seem to be a downside to expresiing ignorance. Perhaps that’s as much the issue as anything. There are no real cultural downsides exist for being the town idiot.

          1. Tom says:

            Thanks. I am familiar with Kakutani’s “The Death of Truth”.

            Since “There are no real cultural downsides for being the town idiot” except embarrassment (which is self-image dependent) then our leaders do not have much with which to alter national ethics other than Educational Censorship. A very dangerous political tool.

      2. R. Hamilton says:

        How about vouchers (actually popular with those underserved by the public schools), and let them put their kids in either public or private school. Some of the priciest private schools wouldn’t be fully covered by a voucher…but most would, given that a lot of private schools actually cost LESS per student than some of the worst public schools (which have to deal with all the behavioral problems, etc).

        But fine, if someone cares enough, they can pay or spend the time themselves. That’s not even the point, although unions (esp. of public workers) should be stripped of all collective bargaining powers so long as they donate to political parties or candidates, and politicians should not be using either construction contracts or appointed positions in the educational hierarchy as political rewards.

        Am I responding to propaganda? Yes, if by propaganda you mean what you would interpret otherwise. I don’t believe the folks I agree with automatically anymore than I disbelieve the ones I disagree with automatically. I’m neither parent (not interesting enough for cooperative ventures) nor student (not for decades), but I do hear what parents I know say, and none are praising the leftward lurch, even though I know a few that are well to the left of me (as well as some that don’t look like me).

        Are there competent teachers? Absolutely. Maybe most of them (my father was, a friend of mine I presume is), although like any field, there are some that definitely are not competent. But STEM should be able to be without politics or ideology (correct answers to math questions are racist? really? how about failing to find ways to convey to those of varying backgrounds how to obtain correct answers is racist!), and even literature and history can be treated in a way that questions the new received wisdom as much as it questions what that seeks to replace. The point is to teach challenging ANY accepted wisdom (history textbook authors and literature authors alike are human beings that cannot avoid all trace of agenda), so long as the challenge can be well substantiated with facts, and can factually resist counter-challenges. There’s a place for memorization, but there is NO LEGITIMATE PLACE for indoctrination in a free society.

    2. Postagoras says:

      Hey R, what is this “curriculum designed to advance radical change?” It sounds really scary!
      Can you give examples?

  2. Curtis says:

    Seems pretty clear that the goal isn’t censorship or putting parents in charge. Those are just window dressing for the efforts to end public education and making all schooling controlled by the private sector.

  3. Christopher Robin says:

    I am a high school teacher and I recently had a conversation about this law with my colleagues. The consensus basically came down to the fact that just because its posted online doesn’t mean that is what is happening in the classroom. Teachers are veterans at minimizing the impact of educational laws passed at the whim of politicians. Paying lip service is a simple thing.
    We also came to the consensus that to have something like this pushed was more a political stunt than any real concern for student’s education. The Republican party wants to incur fear in order to motivate the right.
    This was a group of teachers that would typically be considered conservatives although currently it feels as if we are being pushed left.

    1. Postagoras says:

      I agree with you.
      For the Republican party, the best thing about fear of teaching or library books is that it’s win-win. If the efforts fail, they can use the fear over and over again. If the efforts succeed, the pushback from the more liberal parts of the community gives them a foe to mobilize against.

  4. Wine Guy says:

    I see this type of thing all the time in my own profession of medicine. People think that their Google search skills and WebMD reads are adequate references with respect to diagnosis and therapeutic options of various diseases. COVID-19, the anti-vaccination movement, and various snake oil remedies for cancer have only exacerbated this.

    I have enough job security without people like this clogging up my ED waiting room, which is where they invariably end up when their self-diagnosis/treatment/snake oil has no effect on them (best case scenario) or makes them worse (frequently).

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