Advocacy group finds GOP’s series of gagging education laws intentionally vague

Political observers have for some time theorized that the Republican Party’s current war on education and school-related issues is part of a larger effort to create political illusion. Right-wing media and right-wing politicians apparently use each other to make enough noise about false cultural grievances that it’s impossible to tell where the noise is coming from in the first place.

Are kindergartners in Florida being exposed to LGBTQ or gender identity issues in ways that are inappropriate for their age? Do Texas math textbooks inspire kids to become liberal cyborgs? No, but asking the question gives the question a life of its own.

And education advocates have been sounding the alarm on the issue for some time — that the education-gaging laws sweeping red states across the country are also written in a way that makes them hard to enforce. works at any practical level.

Advocacy group Pen America released some results of its ongoing research this week, tracking various K-12 education targeting laws passed across the United States. This month, the group looked at “guidance papers” that have been presented in states that have passed new laws restricting what is taught in public schools – whether amorphous bans on teaching “critical race theory,” i.e. talking about systemic racism in the classroom, banning specific library books, or, as has become increasingly popular in the states red in recent weeks, introducing copycat versions of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

As Pen America describes, guidance documents are developed by state officials after a law is passed to give schools practical steps to ensure they comply with the new laws. But, as the advocacy group writes, “instead of clarifying the laws, the guidance documents have muddyed the waters, further eroding academic freedom and students’ right to learn.”

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The group found that, since January 2021, nearly 200 such “education gag” bills have been proposed in 40 states, 19 of which have become law. Several other states have passed similar bans on various versions of GOP education-related fake boogeymen via executive action.

But the majority of bills that became law were not accompanied by “guidance documents” to help schools implement the laws or state guidance for incorporating the new bans into school policy were equally loosely worded than the language of the bills themselves. By pen America:

Twelve educational gag orders were passed in 2021, ten of which are still in effect. Of these ten, only five were accompanied by official guidance: Iowa HF 802, New Hampshire HB 2, Oklahoma HB 1775, Tennessee SB 623, and Texas SB 3. The other five states that voted last year (Arizona , Arkansas, Idaho, North Dakota and South Carolina) have not published anything. Teachers, administrators and parents in these states are no more informed today about the application of these laws than when they were passed.

Without solid practical guidance on how to implement the laws, Pen America has found that many school administrators overcorrect, which has a chilling effect on the crucial topics teachers will choose to cover in the classroom. It’s not good for the students.

The study also adds to theories that this is all just a political show.

Pen America said it well here:

And finally, it’s worth asking if all of this – the confusion, the caution, the chilling effect – is intentional. Certainly, if they wished, the legislators could development of a narrower and more precise language. States are more than capable of developing clear and well-defined orientations, when the spirit drives them. Yet, in this case, they did not.

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