Governments and school boards have wide latitude to set curricula in K-12 public schools as allowed by the courts. generally held That teachers do not have the same degree of academic freedom as in universities. But PEN argues that many of these bills are written so vaguely that they can freeze a wide spectrum of speech.
“This extreme breadth and ambiguity is why they’re so worrying,” said Jonathan Friedman, PEN’s director of freedom of expression and education. “The truth is, most executives and general counsel will immediately say, ‘Let’s not be angry about this.’”
Erwin Chemerinsky, First Amendment expert and dean of the University of California, Berkeley law school who previewed the report, agrees. “When the government organizes the speech, it should be clear about what is prohibited and what is allowed,” he said. “These laws are so vague in their wording that a teacher cannot say.”
According to PEN, the nine bills specifically target critical race theory. Eleven bills, lessons Project 1619, an initiative by The New York Times Magazine that explores the history and continuing legacy of slavery, adapted into an initiative. classroom curriculum.
So far, 11 bills have been enacted in nine states, sometimes in a matter of days, according to PEN’s count. From the 2021 legislature, 18 more are pending and six more are set for consideration for 2022.
According to PEN, most bills contain language that affirms freedom of speech and thought. Ten laws forbid schools or teachers to “force” a person to affirm their belief in a “divisive notion”, while eight require “balanced” teaching of “controversial” topics. (In Texas, such a law led a school official last month to recommend that educators teaching the Holocaust make sure they have such books. “Contradictory views.)