The Politics of Calling for No Politics: 2022 Edition (South Carolina)

My home state of South Carolina appears determined to join the misleading and misguided “anti-CRT” bandwagon that mandates curriculum gag orders, centers parental control over schooling, and legislates a simplistic and nonsensical characterization of “ideology.”

After weeks of deliberation and public testimony opposing a flurry of five bills (H.4325, H.4343, H.4392, H.4605, and H.4799), the SC House Education and Public Works Committee passed a unified bill (H. 5183) that wasn’t made public until after the vote.

While maintaining much of the copy-cat language from similar bills being proposed and passed across the U.S., the bill appears to compile many of the worst features of these attacks on academic freedom—curriculum and instruction gag orders, parental trigger mechanisms, and vague as well as contradictory language.

The opening section on “intent” seeks to frame the bill in positive terms; however, the content of the rest of the bill directly and repeated contradicts those stated intentions, suggesting either they are insincere or that legislators, again, have no business prescribing and mandating curriculum and instruction.

By the third subsection of section 2, the crux of the problem with the bill is stated:

Section 59-29-620. (A) The following prohibited concepts may not be included or promoted in a course of instruction, curriculum, assignment, instructional program, instructional material, or professional educator development or training:

South Carolina Transparency and Integrity in Education Act

Regardless of what is listed next (and the listing is incredibly problematic, as I will examine), this is not an acceptable approach to legislating education in a free democratic nation. This is a disturbing example of people with political power trying to erase the politics of other people through that power—the politics of calling for no politics.

The damning irony of this bill is that it is an ideological treatise with real-world consequences that legislates the exact conditions the bill purports to be eradicating from public schools.

The only way to identify “prohibited concepts” is through an ideological lens. The only way to have a free and open educational environment is to protect academic freedom, the opposite of curriculum and instruction bans.

The ideology behind the prohibition of concepts is exposed in several of the list of gag orders:

  • “an individual, by virtue of the race, sex, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin of the individual, inherently is privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously” — This banned concept includes factual content (privilege, conscious and unconscious bias) that is well supported by research in several academic fields, and by banning factual content, legislators are imposing their ideologies onto the classroom, which they claim is the condition they are trying to erase from the classroom.
  • “meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic: (a) are racist or sexist; or (b) were created by members of a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race, sex, ethnicity, color, or national origin; and” — Here, legislators are imposing their ideology onto protected concepts (again, exposing an ideological bias) that are no longer open for critique or debate (a direct contradiction of an opening intent stated in the bill: “high school students graduate having learned critical thinking skills and being college ready and career ready”). No one can learn and practice critical thinking in an environment where some concepts are banned and other concepts are protected.

The list of prohibited concepts ends with a caveat of sorts, which proves to be equally problematic:

(D) Notwithstanding subsection (A), LEAs are not prohibited from including concepts as part of a course of instruction, in a curriculum or instructional program, or through the use of supplemental instructional materials if those concepts involve:…

(2) the impartial discussion of controversial aspects of history; or

(3) the impartial instruction on the historical oppression of a particular group of people based on race, ethnicity, class, nationality, religion, or geographic region.

South Carolina Transparency and Integrity in Education Act

The focus on “impartial” fits into the opening statements of intent, and “impartial” is a traditional expectation of teaching and scholarship; however, since this and other bills like this are often vague in the rhetoric, what exactly “impartial” means in different contexts should be a concern.

In other words, does this bill prohibit teachers and students declaring horrific events in history (such as the Holocaust and slavery in the U.S.) as morally wrong?

Impartiality can be as distorting as bias, in fact.

A final monumental ideological problem the bill is that it centers parents in the role of policing curriculum (content) and instruction (including lesson plans)—an ideological decision that ignores the autonomy and interests of children.

After providing guidelines for parents monitoring and complaining about curriculum and instruction, the bill would codify the role of parents in their children’s education:

SECTION 3. Section 59-28-180 of the 1976 Code is amended to read:

“Section 59-28-180. (A) Parent involvement influences student learning and academic performance; therefore, parents are expected to: …

(14) be the primary source of their student’s education in regard to learning morals, ethics, and civic responsibility.

South Carolina Transparency and Integrity in Education Act

Not only does this bill idealize parental ideology, but also it ignores that the purposes of universal public education are designed for individual liberty (students) and for democratic ideals (the community0; in other words, public schools are not designed to impose the unique ideology of each parent.

As I have detailed often in my writing, I was raised in a racist home and community; I was exposed to a better ideology through my formal schooling.

Ultimately, this bill is mandating parental indoctrination to the exclusion of students’ right and democracy.

Republicans are declaring themselves the party of their indoctrination is more important than anyone’s academic freedom. The party of the politics of calling for no politics.