Jun. 20, 2022 / Editorial

Editorial by Representative Barb Gleim (R-Cumberland)

In the past when I served as a school board director, we would lament that parents weren’t involved in the meetings to the extent we wanted.  Now, it is rare that parents do not show up, and there is a reason for their concern.  

Parents have shared with me countless examples of materials used to teach students that perpetuate a government-directed theology called critical theory, justice theory, racial justice, or critical race theory. Whatever terminology is used, it is a belief system marketed through the U.S. Department of Education K-12 curriculum that replaces history as we know it and teaches our children history through the lens of social and racial oppression. If the historical viewpoint is not accepted, your child will be labeled inherently racist or sexist, and even then, there is no way of rectifying that identity.

There is no denying that parents should oppose this type of message being taught to their children, which is why so many have taken precious time to show up at school board meetings and speak during times of public comment. Defeating racism requires finding common ground, not forcing others to feel guilty they were born with a different skin color, whether through class discussion or assignments for a grade. Common ground promotes agreement and trust, not hatred. Labeling someone racist or sexist is in direct conflict with the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King.

I had originally co-sponsored a bill taking race theory out of schools; however, after further contemplation and discussions with parents, I think House Bill 2521 is better. It was carefully crafted to create a workable definition of “prohibited indoctrination,” consisting of clear statements of principles that are almost uniformly adhered to in Pennsylvania. The goal is to teach students to be independent thinkers and discerning consumers of information and different viewpoints. At the same time, the bill can be administered in a way that preserves due respect for educators and efficiently dismisses unsubstantiated complaints.

It is critically important to remember that the vast majority of teachers, administrators and school board members do their best every day to provide unbiased instruction. The Anti-indoctrination in Teaching Act aims to protect K-12 students from lessons and curriculum that involves the indoctrination of beliefs. My bill follows the direction taken by Virginia’s governor.  It affirms the 1964 Civil Rights Act, empowers parents with transparency into instructional materials, and acknowledges we must equip teachers with professional development. This bill avoids the unintended consequences and pitfalls of teaching race theory in K-12 schools highlighted by Dr. William Bennett, former President Ronald Regan’s secretary of Education, and allows teachers to tackle subjects in history and civics that are inexorably intertwined with current political debates in a way that is even-handed – fairly covering all positive and negative aspects in an age-appropriate manner – not an identity-based framework that teaches our children to judge each other on the color of their skin. 

As legislators, we know passing state law does not in and of itself address every issue all of the time. The real interactions that matter are in the classroom. My bill makes professional development a central component. The robust teacher training provision will correct previous training on race theory that a few teachers misinterpreted. It will ensure teachers are ready to comply with the bill while also engaging in lessons that are fair, challenging and age appropriate.

For parents, the bill empowers them with a fair and timely complaint process when proof is given, that ensures their concerns are addressed and necessary corrective action is taken. As a former school board member, I strongly believe in local control; however, if that does not address a parent complaint, my bill establishes a state appeal process.

The best way to defeat bad ideas and destructive ideologies is to introduce students, and teachers in a few cases, to better ones. Once passed, this bill will provide a comprehensive framework to root out critical race theory and its destructive derivatives from our children’s classrooms. Teachers are with our children upward of eight hours a day, nine months a year, and contribute substantially to a child’s upbringing. They have a lasting impact on our children and this issue is far too important for me and my fellow representatives not to tackle.

Representative Barbara Gleim
199th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives