If you have not read the Penn America Center report on “Educational Gag-Orders,” you really ought to. Although the focus of state legislation described in the report rests on teaching about gender, sexuality, and Critical Race Theory, the language in the bills could have an impact on teaching and learning about Native America. Because so much of this legislation originates in Red States with rich Native American histories, the Penn America Center report is a sobering read.
Each of the bills examined in the report “represents an effort to impose content- and viewpoint-based censorship.” They send the signal, the report argues, “that specific ideas, arguments, theories, and opinions may not be tolerated by the government.” Twenty-six of the bills “explicitly apply to colleges and universities.” Six of the bills failed, three have become law, and the remainder are making their way through the legislative process. Many of them prevent teaching that includes “CRT” and information presented in work like the 1619 Project. Some bills propose to eliminate tenure to ensure that instructors do not teach their students ideas and content that legislators find subversive or dangerous.
A South Carolina bill, HB 3827, offers an alarming example. The legislation outlaws promoting or endorsing narratives that “the United States was founded for the purpose of oppression, that the American Revolution was fought for the purpose of protecting oppression, or that United States history is a story defined by oppression; or (ii) with respect to their relationship to American values, slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality”
This is pretty rich from the state that fired the shots that began the Civil War.
Think about this for a second. How might an instructor in South Carolina tell her students about the “3/5 Compromise,” which counted each enslaved person as 60% of a human being, and gave slave states more representation in Congress, more electoral votes, and thus control of the national government? How might one teach the history of the Nullification Crisis without doing an entire injustice to American History? Or Secession, and the arguments that slavers made in favor of leaving the Union. When I taught the America survey, my students read Charles Dew’s brief but incredible book, Apostles of Disunion. Secessionists are condemned by their own racist speech, their own frequently-voiced arguments that the Founders created a republic with white men in charge, and that white supremacy was worth fighting and dying for. But under this proposed legislation? A dutiful teacher might assert that South Carolinians were standing up for their state’s rights. But their right to do what? Imagine, if you will, that you see your next-door neighbor packing up the car. He is leaving his wife. You are stunned. They seemed like such a wonderful couple. They had been together for ever, it seemed, close to four score and five years. Stunned, you ask what happened. Your neighbor tells you he is leaving because he has the right to do so. Nobody will find that a satisfactory answer. But that is what South Carolina’s legislators are contemplating. Steer clear of controversial subjects. Do not indoctrinate students. Deny the racism of the past. Pretend it did not exist. Indeed, teach nothing that could make a student, somehow, feel ashamed of their race. Don’t talk about the gibbets in Charlestown, the trade in Cherokee scalps, and enslavement, which cuts to the marrow of South Carolina’s history. Don’t talk about Nullification and John C. Calhoun and his views of the Constitution. Don’t talk about Fort Sumter, and the Palmetto State’s embrace of lynching. Lie to your students. Tell them nothing that will upset their frightened parents. Lie to them, and lie some more. It is all good. It is all progress. Conservative White South Carolinians are good people who need to hear that, over and over, it seems. It is a message they will drill into the skulls of their children. These lawmakers are so fragile and frightened that those who refuse to toe the line can expect termination. Or worse.