Editors' note: The following op-ed is by Lawrence Lockman, a Republican currently serving his 4th term in the Maine House of Representatives. He is co-founder and president of the conservative non-profit Maine First Project - which trains activists and candidates to fight fire with fire. He can be reached at [email protected]
Should teachers in Maine’s public schools be allowed to push partisan politics and ideology in the classroom?
I don’t think so, and neither do many parents who have contacted me. That’s why I sponsored LD 589, proposed legislation directing the state board of education to draft a Code of Ethics for K-12 teachers.
Simply put, the Code of Ethics would forbid teachers from endorsing candidates as part of their classroom instruction, from introducing controversial material not germane to the subject being taught, and generally from using their classrooms as bully pulpits for political, social or religious advocacy. The bill I sponsored is based on model legislation drafted by the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
There’s abundant evidence that students in Maine’s K-12 government schools are being subjected to Leftist indoctrination in the classroom. “Progressive” teachers, administrators, and textbook publishers have been working overtime to ensure that students practice “correct thinking” on subjects such as racial guilt, gender identity, illegal immigration, and other controversial issues.
As soon as the Code of Ethics bill was referred to the Education committee for a public hearing in late February, all the usual suspects announced their opposition. The head of the statewide teachers’ union insisted that teachers never engage in political advocacy in the classroom, while the far-Left ACLU defended the right of teachers to do exactly that.
Mallory Haar, a teacher at Casco Bay High School in Portland, is one of the bill’s most outspoken critics. She took to Twitter to express her opposition to a provision in LD 589 that would prohibit teachers from “singling out one racial group of students as responsible for the suffering or inequities faced by another racial group of students.” Haar claims this proposed rule would institutionalize “white fragility,” the most recent addition to the Leftist lexicon of identity politics, and a close relative of “white privilege.” .
One can only imagine the level of racial scapegoating and educational malpractice that goes on in Haar’s classroom.
Based on what I’ve heard from parents since I introduced the bill, and from what I’ve seen on social media directly from teachers, Haar is hardly exceptional. Too many teachers and administrators view the classroom as a taxpayer-funded soap box to promote their personal opinions on politics. Members of the Education committee heard testimony from dozens of parents about the rampant Left-wing indoctrination of their children in public schools.
Such as the elementary school teacher in southern Maine who used her classroom whiteboard to bash Gov. Paul LePage for “his ridiculous denial of the science of climate change.”
Or the high school in eastern Maine where a teacher agreed (out loud) with a student who labeled Trump voters “white trash.”
Last year, teachers at Cape Elizabeth High School facilitated a student walkout specifically aimed at passage of more restrictive firearms legislation. School officials helped plan the rally and even modified the school schedule to accommodate the gun-control lobbyist who spoke at the event.
Here’s how a student described what happened in her class on the day of the national walkout: “At the appointed time, no students walked out so the teacher stopped talking, looked at the clock, and said, “Aren’t you supposed to be walking out?” That induced about half the class to depart. Then the teacher said, “I’m surprised more of you aren’t going.” That induced another quarter [of the class] to depart. To the remaining students she said, “There’s no point continuing with the lesson because so many aren’t here."
Testimony submitted to the Education committee established that students across the state were used as pawns: "Most didn't know why they were walking out or that they were part of the Woman's March agenda."
"This was a taxpayer-funded protest rally, pure and simple," said one parent.
The Education committee also heard from a parent concerned with his 7th grader’s social studies homework: “The assignment was to research the website We the Future, which describes only leftist causes including Black Lives Matter, gun control, open borders, the Women’s March. Each student was to pick a cause and answer, ‘How can you get involved?’ I was shocked to see the teacher attempt to openly recruit students to support these causes.”
All of this compelling testimony fell on deaf ears at the public hearing. I was hardly surprised that all the Democrats on the Education committee were strongly opposed to the Code of Ethics bill. The Dems tend to do whatever the teachers’ union bosses tell them to do. But why did all the Republicans on the committee choose to ignore the overwhelming evidence of deeply embedded Leftist identity politics in Maine classrooms?
GOP legislators cited concerns about “local control,” and their aversion to state mandates on local school districts. Yet state government pays more than half the cost of K-12 public education, and that amount goes up year after year despite a declining school population, and below-grade level student achievement across the board.
In practice, the “local control” argument advanced by GOP lawmakers means they’re really not interested in protecting the civil rights of students and their parents. It means these Republicans are OK with ethics being optional for Maine teachers. These legislators are well aware that local school boards controlled by self-styled “progressives” in Maine’s major population centers (Portland, Lewiston, Bangor) will never rein in teachers who are spewing partisan propaganda in the classroom.
In exchange for their “ought not to pass” votes in committee, GOP legislators secured the flimsiest of fig leaves. That came in the form of a promised letter to local school districts from the Maine School Management Association, a private nonprofit that's been around since 1971 lobbying for superintendents and school boards.
Sounds to me like Republican lawmakers expect the swamp critters to drain the swamp.
Off camera and away from the microphones, these legislators confessed that their biggest concerns about the bill were strictly political. They know ethics shouldn’t be optional for teachers, but were afraid that a recorded vote by the full Legislature would hurt Republican legislators running for re-election next year. So they agreed with Democrats to kill the bill in committee.
I suppose that when you’re always tucked into a defensive crouch, and want to be well thought of by the Democrats and the Fake News media, you would have good reason to be scared of losing your next election campaign if you voted against the wishes of the ACLU and the union bosses.
But what if our side played offense for a change?
What if we hammered the union bosses for all they have done to wreck public education and indoctrinate our kids? What if we went to bat on behalf of parents and students who are being cheated by the rigged system?
What would happen if we decided to fight fire with fire?
We’ll never know until we try.