• Katherine Hill

Education Matters... Or does it?: A Communal Fight that Led to Change

Updated: Mar 3

On February 28th, “Indiana Senate kills CRT-inspired legislation that created outrage among educators, Black Hoosiers,” reported Arika Herron for IndyStar.


The Indiana Senate’s decision to kill HB-1134 came on the heels of backlash and an uproar of community advocacy against the bill, which demonstrates the profound impact of what is achievable when a community bans together. The killing of the bill was a victory for many within the school systems state wide, and especially at School City of Mishawaka, because since the dawn of time, society has normalized the importance of economics, morals, education, and the interdependence of these three pillars of life in order to live successfully.

HB-1134 was an Indiana House Bill that was named “Education Matters,” to signify the point that education does matter, no questions about it. Although it promised to keep those core values intact, the wording of the bill would have made it more difficult than ever for Mishawaka High School (MHS) staff, students, and those all across Indiana, to see remaining value or merit to obtaining a meaningful education and/or fulfilling their teaching career. The bill posed many unanswered questions. Given the proposed limitations of the bill, many - staff and students alike - have asked, “Does education matter?” These are the responses from around Mishawaka High School:

Photography teacher, Mrs. Katie Smith, and US History and Government teacher, Mrs. Shelley Yoder, are both teachers who went to the Indiana House of Representatives to lobby against the bill.

“Our superintendent, Mr. (Wayne) Barker, and our other administrators have been super supportive of teachers wanting to [lobby against the bill]. We have here at Mishawaka, a super supportive system,” said Smith, explaining that,

“…I spoke with Senator (Linda) Rodgers [one of the co-sponsors of HB-1134]... She assured (me) that there were amendments coming that would be more acceptable to teachers. To me,” said Smith, “the only acceptable thing to do would be to just kill it and be done with it… (but)” she acknowledged, “we gotta compromise somewhere.”



 


Physics teacher, Mrs. Amy Foley, is the Union leader for Mishawaka High School staff. She said that if HB-1134 passed through the state senate then, “We [teachers] would certainly start pushing the governor for a veto, that would be the next stage.”

In the meantime, Smith urges staff, students, and especially parents to, “Keep writing, keep calling, keep voicing our opinions. That’s all we can do.”

“That would make a huge difference,” said Foley. “What we keep hearing from the legislators is, ‘Well, I keep hearing from the parents, I keep hearing from the parents, I keep hearing from the parents,’ and so, we [teachers] need to have parental support.

“It [HB-1134] is insulting because it's acting like we’re [teachers] just a bunch of amateurs that are trying to indoctrinate their students to some personal agenda. We’re professionally trained people who are trying to help your child feel safe and be successful.”

English teacher, Mrs. Christie Buchmann, also felt that the bill is insulting,

“One teacher in one state in one town somewhere did something they shouldn’t do. That practitioner needs to be dealt with, but to go ahead and start continuing to send the message that educators are not a. Trustworthy, b. Highly educated in their craft, and c. To assume that teaching is something any trained monkey could do if they have the lesson plan there― it’s insulting.”

US History teacher, Mr. Nathan Blair, described what he knew about the bill, “My understanding… is that the purpose of the bill… a bill that was supported by Republicans and the Indiana State legislature, is to provide greater transparency as to what is being taught in classrooms and what is taught in the curriculum in Indiana Public Schools.”

Blair said that desire for greater transparency has sprouted on account of, “Some of the high profile examples of teachers using their classrooms as pulpits to, in the words of those who created the bill, ‘indoctrinate’ students into some theories ⎯ Critical Race Theory being the most obvious one, right now.

Blair defined “Critical Race Theory” as, “a lens through which you can try to understand, in this case, American History. It suggests that all aspects of American History and American society today can only be understood through the lens of slavery.

“It’s [HB-1134] just another layer of accountability. I think that it’s really not completely necessary, (though) I understand the sentiment behind it.”

Given the language of the bill, “Depending on your perspective, there could be irony in it,” said Yoder.

For Foley, the irony comes in full display,

“Particularly with the transparency where they [parents] want to know what their students are learning. Well, what their students are learning is a state-approved curriculum that already went through a public vetting process and was approved by the same legislators who are now telling us [teachers] we need more transparency on what we’re teaching in the classroom.”

Yoder exemplified Foley’s point,

“...The state says that we [Mishawaka High School] have to offer an ethnic studies course every year, legally, but if you look at almost every single standard in Ethnic Studies ⎯ the state told us [teachers] to teach this, and now they’re saying we could get in trouble if we do.”

“There are several things that we [teachers] are concerned about in the bill,” said Yoder.

She went down the list, first explaining, “One is that every school has to create a curriculum committee that is going to make the curriculum for the school... and that it needs to be made up of 60% parents and only 40% staff members. It’s to give parents an opportunity to have a say in the curriculum … (but) it doesn’t say anything about qualifications that the parents have to have.

“A lot of us [teachers] spent time in college, we have bachelor’s degrees about how kids learn, or a bachelor’s degree in a subject… (So) the idea that we can have people from the outside come in and make decisions about our curriculum that we have to teach, who may not have that same level of exposure, is a concern,” she summarized.


“The other concern is that they [Indiana state legislators] want teachers to post all of their materials for the next school year by June 30th,” said Yoder.

As of Wednesday, February 16th, an amendment to the bill has been made that no longer requires teachers to post cemented lesson plans by June 30th. For teachers like Yoder, passing that amendment is vital because,

“We [teachers] have different resources that we use, but I can’t guarantee what day I’m going to be doing what thing. I also can’t guarantee that I might not find something better that I want to use than what I currently have.”

According to Yoder, the freedom to improvise based on student feedback and class analytics is “what teachers do,” and Foley is concerned that,

“Under this new law, I lose that flexibility because then I’m doing something that wasn’t posted.”

Buchmann said that such flexibility is important because,

“...A good practitioner is going to constantly be revising lesson plans.”



 


The February 16th amendment is not the first time this legislation has been modified. “House Bill 1134 was a sister bill to Senate Bill 167. The two bills had the exact same language in them.

“I think the House and Senate did that so that one of them would pass through. SB-167 was just killed in committee, which is great,” pointed out Smith.

SB-167 had to be “killed in committee” when Indiana State Republican Senator, Scott Baldwin, representing District 20 of Noblesville, said that SB-167 was necessary because teachers often,

“Take a position on those -isms [racism, sexism, nazism, communism, etc.] We need to be impartial.”

Foley found it absurd to remain impartial on subjects like nazism. “There are some things that need to be condemned,” she said.

Blair added that, “…to be an effective teacher, you have to teach according to your own personality. There’s no place for indoctrination in a classroom, and I think that’s ultimately the concern, although I think indoctrination is known to a degree, simply because people have opinions… No matter how hard you try to hide it, your political philosophy will peek out at some point, especially in the social sciences, the humanities…”

“That’s okay,” said Yoder. “...That’s part of our country and what makes it great, (that) all these different people with all these different viewpoints can somehow work together and create this government (where) we have free elections, etc… It’s really an amazing thing that happens.”

She continued, “(But) that bill [HB-1134] says they [state legislators] don’t want us [teachers] to talk about how differences, and the unfair way people were treated in our past has any kind of effect on today.”

Such standards become impossible to meet when talking about discriminintaion and understanding the behaviors that led today’s society in a certain direction so that future generations can build a better world. As Yoder said,

“I think that we’re doing a harm to that [America’s integrity] when they [state legislators] say that we’re [teachers] only allowed to teach certain perspectives or we’re not allowed to have certain kinds of discussions in our classroom.”


Likewise, important discussions on opinionated topics aren’t just prevalent ways of teaching a history class. When teaching her English students, Buchmann coined the phrase, “History influences literature, and literature influences history,” and so, she, who teaches an entire unit on the hypocrisy of McCarthyism and puritanical behaviors through Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, said,

“Depending on what’s going on in the world; depending on what my students are talking about, that directs how I create my lesson plans…There are world events that connect.”



 


In addition to the difficulties that impartiality would impose, Yoder mentioned that under the proposed bill,

“Parents can have the right to refuse to have their child participate in certain lessons, and then it’s up to the teacher to provide alternative lessons…we [School City of Mishawaka] have that (policy) anyway."

When it comes to parental control within the education system, “I understand where parents are coming from,” said Buchmann.

“It is difficult to be a parent, especially when you have to realize, the reality is, other people spend more awake hours with your child than you do. It can be a very unsettling thought to think, ‘I really don’t have much influence, anymore, over my children,’ but that’s a ‘parent issue.’ If that’s your concern, go talk to the teachers…”

Foley agreed that reaching out to a teacher should always be a parent’s first inclination when concerned,

“As a parent, I've always felt like on the rare occasions when something is happening in the classroom… I just reach out to the teacher and talk through what my concerns are. A lot of the time, it was just me misunderstanding what had happened in class, but that communication is super important.”

From Smith’s perspective, “that communication” is something that most parents aren’t willing to provide,

“…any parent can go into my Canvas course and see what I’m teaching and when; any parent can set up a parent observer Canvas course for any course in our district… I have almost 200 kids on my roster, and I have less than 10 parents who have signed up for an observer account.

“So, that tells me that the parents who are screaming for transparency either are not the same parents that we have in our district, or are parents that are not speaking up about the things that they’re concerned about to begin with, they’re just screaming about something…”


“This isn’t a real issue,” said Yoder, in layman’s terms. “Some people think that they can come up with other issues like this to get people worked up, and then we don’t concentrate on the real issues.”

“The real issues are: the lack of respect, the lack of money, and the government constant(ly) extending their fingers into every aspect of my position,” said Buchmann.

For Smith, HB-1134 is not “a real issue” because, “ There’s already so much transparency…Parents have always had control. They always can choose to homeschool their children; they always can choose to send their kids to private school… Parents have always had control of their kids' education.”

“There (are) some aspects of it [HB-1134] that at first glance look like, ‘Wow, this is really off in left field, but I think most school systems already have a great deal of transparency,” Blair agreed.

Blair is one who chooses to homeschool his children. Homeschooling, he knows, means that,

“I come from a very different perspective where we take complete ownership in the education of our children for lots of reasons,” he said, adding,

“So, I’m maybe more sympathetic to a bill like this than other public school teachers because I come from that perspective that it’s my responsibility and I take that very seriously.

“(Because) I believe that parents are responsible for the education of their child at the end of the day.” He explained,

“…there’s an education aspect at home. If you [parents] are concerned (about) what your child might be exposed to at a public school, you need to be doing some education at home….”

“The first time that a controversial issue comes up should not be in a classroom. If that’s your concern, build a foundation with your child so your child is prepared,” said Blair.

”So maybe (if) a teacher does present their view as fact, your child will have the knowledge to challenge that. I would hope any teacher would accept that because that’s the point of education: to encourage students to think freely and express themselves in a respectful manner, of course.”

Blair, who teaches high school US History classes and dual credit college US History classes in high school, also said,

“I think that in a dual credit course at a high school, there has to be greater leverage for the different types of discussions.... In that case, there should be minimal curriculum directional… There has to be a degree of academic freedom…”



 


Even with all of the new rules and regulations that threaten “academic freedom”, the most concerning, for teachers and students alike, is the social/emotional blockade in what teachers are allowed to discuss with distressed students in need of support without parental consent.

“I’m terrified for the social/emotional aspect of it [HB-1134],” said Foley.

“Teachers could be fined up to $10,000 each and lose their license if they engage in ‘therapy’ with students. My concern and lots of teachers’ concern is, who defines therapy? Who defines social learning?” asked Smith.


These unanswered questions have left many wondering if the inability to have heart-to-heart conversations would make school feel less personal.

“For me, it would,” said Yoder. “If a student comes in and they’ve had a bad day, I was a teenager, I understand that stuff happens. I don’t want to have to be worried about just talking to the kid about that…Sometimes, teachers are the people that a kid will go to if something is really wrong…”


“It [HB-1134] defeats the purpose of teachers; kids would lose that safe place,” said junior, Kaylee Hooper.

This is because, “If the parent is the one (who’s) causing the distress for the student, the parent’s not going to give consent for the teacher to talk to the student.” pointed out Smith.

In Yoder’s career, “I don’t know how many times I’ve taken a kid down to the counselor's office, but I sat with them and stayed with them because they needed support. To feel like I wasn’t supposed to do that, that would be hard for me.”


As an MHS school counselor, Mrs. Kelly Krider said,

“When you initially read the bill, it’s very vague, so anytime there's vague language in any bill… It's scary because that means it’s open for interpretation…Our licesenor is very limited already.

“We’re [school counselors] not therapists,” said Krider, “If they’re [state legislators] saying that we’re not allowed to do extensive therapy, that’s fine. We can’t do that anyway. We’re kind of confused on what they want from us… Our main goal as school counselors is to get them [students] comfortable enough to return back to class…. “


In Foley’s career, “I had a student last year that dropped off of the face of the earth all of a sudden during virtual (learning)... It turn(ed) out that she’s pregnant and she (was) having trouble, and so we [School City of Mishawaka] got her hooked up with community support for her and her baby, we got her graduated early… I couldn’t have done any of that (under this new bill.)”

For Buchmann, “I'm not trying to take over somebody’s mothering role. I hope that most of my students… see me as an additional motherly support or somebody, when they’re away from mom and dad, that they feel they could come to and feel safe, and feel respected, and valued. That's what we [parents and teachers] all want for our children,

“but we are getting these mixed signals and it drives me nuts because it's coming from pundits and news anchors who are speaking out of turn… Their experiences are not public education…”

Foley added to the mounting frustration,

"It’s going to make our [teachers] job stressful and almost meaningless, because if all I can do is show you [students] how to do an equation, what’s the point?

“You’re (as a teacher) supposed to make it [the lesson plans] interesting and make it relevant to their [students] lives, but If I don’t know what their lives are like, how am I supposed to make it relevant?” she asked.

“The encouragement that seems to be coming from this bill is that we should be less personable, more business-like with the students, but most of us (who) are teaching veterans know that building relationships with students is what makes us better teachers,” summarized Yoder.



 


Florida legislators have recently passed a “Don’t Say Gay” bill that prohibts LGBTQI+ discussions in schools, a bill that President Biden opposed in a statement on Twitter on February 8th,

“I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community — especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill — to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are. I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve.”

Foley views Indiana’s proposed ban on social/emotional health discussions as meant to target children in the LGBTQI+ community, calling it, “a veiled attempt at homophobia.”

“I don’t understand why,” she said, “(but) I don’t know how else to phrase it.”

Additionally, Smith said, “This most recent attack on public schools and public school teachers is just one more way for the legislature to destroy public education, unfortunately.”

HB-1134 threatens to “attack public schools and public school teachers because,

“They’ve [state legislators] created this ability for school corporations to create adjunct teachers…If that’s the case, why did I go through that time, that trouble, that expense (to get certified to teach)?” Asked Buchmann.

The bill also has the capabilities to “destroy public education,” because it would structure public schooling [the qualified teacher aspect] more like the college-level but without the stringent qualifications.

“This is not higher education; it’s not college-level. We are not structured that way for a purpose,” Buchmann pointed out.



 


In totality, “I think there’s a great deal of grace that needs to be shown on all sides.

Teachers are people too, most teachers have the best intentions,” said Blair.

Showing “grace,” for Smith, is difficult because,

“I am so diametrically opposed to it [HB-1134] that I can’t see a reason for it. I personally think it’s so absurd.”



 


HB-1134 was killed by the Indiana State Senate following an uproar of community blashlash, but that does not excuse the challenges that it threatened to impose on Indiana’s education systems; advocacy is still important. For anyone: staff, students, and/or (especially) parents who want to voice an opinion about HB-1134, do not hesitate to reach out to state legislators in the links below, because HB-1134 will likely face a rewrite process. As Herron reported,

“There are still opportunities for pieces of HB 1134 to be added into other bills, though it's unclear precisely what.”


Contact your state legislators: http://iga.in.gov/legislative/find-legislators/


Read more about HB-1134 in-depth: http://iga.in.gov/legislative/2022/bills/house/1134#digest-heading


Read more about HB-1134 w/ proposed amendments circa Feb. 23rd: https://www.indianasenaterepublicans.com/new-hb-1134?fbclid=IwAR1MdG0wjdQvoCq70Xnsx_ORCiydsQz1TGMWHnzvNDRJRVgSG6_UgcpAlYA#:~:text=The%20Senate's%20version%20of%20HB,are%20used%20in%20the%20classroom


Read more about the Indiana Senate’s decision to kill HB-1134:

https://www.indystar.com/story/news/education/2022/02/28/hb-1134-indiana-senate-kills-crt-critical-race-theory-inspired-legislation/9323738002/



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