A code of ethics for public school teachers that was recently introduced in the Maine Legislature is making headlines, and will serve as an important test-case for efforts to prohibit indoctrination in our nation’s schools. But local educators are responding with hysteria to this commonsense education reform proposal, even as its legislative sponsor responds with calm and logic.
The bill, LD-589, was introduced by Rep. Larry Lockman and co-sponsored by several of his colleagues in the state legislature. It establishes a code of ethics for professional conduct that must be observed by public school teachers in the state and prohibits teachers “from engaging in political, ideological, or religious advocacy in the classroom.”
Specific provisions of the bill prohibit public school teachers from acting during class time or in their role as publicly employed educators to endorse or oppose elected officials and candidates and from “introducing any controversial subject matter that is not germane to the topic of the course being taught.”
The bill does not restrict teachers from bring up contentious topics that are relevant to academic discussion, but forbids teachers from “advocat[ing] in a partisan manner for any side of a controversial issue” and requires that teachers “provide students with materials supporting both sides of a controversial issue being addressed and to present both sides in a fair-minded, nonpartisan manner.”
The bill also outlaws “segregating students according to race or singling out one racial group of students as responsible for the suffering or inequities experienced by another racial group of students”—a tactic often used by educators who attempt to institute their vision of “social justice” by excoriating Caucasian students for their “white privilege.”
Teachers who fail to abide by these rules would face disciplinary action, including possible termination.
Educators’ responses to the bill have been swift and unhinged.
A teacher at Casco Bay High School took especial offense at the bill’s prohibition on racism, tweeting:
“LD 589 proposes that ME teachers be fired for ‘singling out one racial group of students as responsible for the suffering or inequities faced by another racial group of students.’ This institutionalizes white fragility & [seriously], teaching is never apolitical.”
Matthew Drewette-Card, a curriculum developer for one of Maine’s public school districts and the vice president of the Maine Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development, submitted written testimony to the Education Committee of the Maine Legislature in preparation for an upcoming hearing on LD-589 which is scheduled for Thursday.
“An educators’ right to constitutional protections do not end when s/he walks into a school or classroom,” states Drewette-Card’s testimony. “This bill would stifle the views, opinions, and rights to speech, protest, and assembly that are guaranteed freedoms in our constitution.”
Drewette-Card’s attempt to attack the constitutionality of LD-589 falls flat on its face. Public school teachers have professional responsibilities as government workers and educators which abridge their First Amendment rights in the classroom. While teachers are entitled to freedom of speech in the course of their ordinary lives as citizens, they are not entitled to say anything they want when speaking to students in a public school classroom. They are not allowed to utter obscenities, they are not allowed to teach students that 2+2=5, or that the earth is flat—although all of these forms of speech are constitutionally protected in their ordinary lives.
Clergy at religious institutions that claim non-profit tax status are also forbidden from engaging in certain speech such as endorsing candidates for office while representing their house of worship. And the Hatch Act forbids employees of the federal government from numerous forms of political speech and activity including running for public office in a partisan election, soliciting or discouraging the political activity of anyone with business before their agency, and engaging in forms of political activity while on duty, in a government office or while wearing an official uniform.
The Hatch Act specifically exempts state and local public school teachers. But in the case of Briggs vs. United States, Intervenor, decided in 2003 by the United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit, the court upheld an earlier ruling that the Hatch Act applies to a teacher, Tom Briggs, employed by the District of Columbia Public Schools. And that same ruling confirms that each state does in fact have the authority to limit the political speech and activities of state employees, explaining:
“because the states retain all powers not delegated to the federal government-unlike the District of Columbia, which has only those powers that Congress is willing to grant it-states have the authority to set their own limits on their employees' political activities, and states should be given leeway to exercise that authority if they so choose.”
Seen in light of the Court’s ruling, Maine Legislative Directive 589 is an effort to do exactly this, for the State of Maine to exercise its own constitutional authority to create its own limits on the political activities of state employees.
Curriculum consultant Drewette-Card also objects to LD 589’s prohibition on “Segregating students according to race or singling out one racial group of students as responsible for the suffering or inequities experienced by another racial group of students,” claiming that “this bill seeks to deny historical fact.”
The educator may want to brush up on his own knowledge of history. In certain times and places throughout history, one race has mistreated another. But the narrative commonly taught in American public schools—that whites are solely responsible for black mistreatment and slavery—is sorely lacking in nuance and truth.
As the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.org, explains, “Slavery was prevalent in many parts of Africa for many centuries before the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade. There is evidence that enslaved people from some parts of Africa were exported to states in Africa, Europe, and Asia prior to the European colonization of the Americas.” European slave traders conspired with West Africans to enslave and sell other Africans. And free blacks in the South before the Civil War could and did own slaves of their own. Slavery continues to exist in Africa today, long after it was abolished in the United States. Yet despite this complex historical record, Drewette-Card, like many educators, continue to push the discredited narrative that “white privilege” is responsible for society’s racial ills.
In an interview with a local radio station, Maine Representative Larry Lockman, the bill’s primary sponsor, explained why the legislation is both non-controversial and necessary.
"It is meant to restore just basic principles of public education in a democracy and to prevent teachers from inserting partisan politics into their teaching," explained Lockman.
"Since the beginnings of public education in the United States, it's been assumed that in a democracy teachers should teach children how to think, not teach them what to think. But now we have progressive teachers, administrators, textbook publishers, and they are pushing to ensure that children as early as kindergarten practice 'correct thinking' and I'm using the air quotes here in the studio, 'correct thinking' on subjects such as racial guilt, gender identity, illegal immigration, or other controversial issues," he continued.
"So simply put, this code of ethics would forbid teachers from endorsing candidates as part of their classroom instruction, from introducing controversial material not germane to subjects being taught and generally from using their classrooms as bully pulpits for political, social or religious advocacy,” Rep. Lockman concluded. “Parents want teachers to leave their partisan politics at the schoolhouse door."
Hearings on the measure will be held by the Education Committee on Thursday. Contact information for members of the Education Committee of the Maine Legislature may be found here.