New Report From Pen America: Surge of Intrusive Legislation to Intimidate Teachers, Drive Self-Censorship in Schools
From Pen America:
A wave of state legislation sweeping the nation is creating the conditions to intimidate educators into self-censorship in schools, according to a new PEN America report released today.
“Educational Intimidation: How ‘Parental Rights’ Legislation Undermines the Freedom to Learn” examines the rise of what PEN America has dubbed “educational intimidation bills,” a category of legislation that has the effect of prompting self-censorship in schools through indirect mechanisms, rather than direct edicts. Under the guise of advancing “parental rights,” nearly 400 of these bills have been introduced that risk empowering ideologues to intervene in the curricular and extracurricular decisions of teachers, librarians, and school administrators, overriding the judgment of educators and the views of the majority.
These intimidation bills are distinct from “educational gag orders,” a class of bills previously documented by PEN America that directly ban what can be taught in classrooms, targeting discussions of race, racism, gender, aspects of American history and other “prohibited” or “divisive” concepts. Intimidation bills compound the crisis in public education, casting a chilling effect through new tools that radically expand the avenues for lone parents, government officials, and citizens to monitor and exert control over pedagogical decisions.
In its Index of Educational Intimidation Bills that accompanies the report, PEN America has identified 392 educational intimidation bills introduced in state legislatures between January 2021 and June 2023, 39 of which have passed into law in 19 states. The organization catalogs 12 types of educational intimidation provisions, including those that:
- would require teachers to post all instructional or professional development materials on public websites, making it easy for any citizen to object;
- would restrict students’ library access or make it easier for individual parents to get books banned for all students;
- invite parents to opt students into or out of certain content, creating unwieldy “a la carte” curricula that risk defeating the unifying purpose of public schools;
- expand the concept of “obscenity” beyond its well-established legal definition, opening educators and librarians up to criminal penalties;
- would deputize teachers with requirements to police students’ gender expression.
Laws and policies in Florida, Indiana, and at least seven other states require that parents be notified of any significant changes to their child’s gender expression or sexual orientation, turning teachers into what North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum called in a veto message, “the pronoun police.” One school district in Florida even banned ‘Safe Space’ stickers, because the presence of a student in such a space could “trigger a duty” for the school staff to notify a parent of their child’s “well-being.” Such measures, argue the report’s authors, compromise the role of educators and schools in supporting students and exercising professional judgment to engage families constructively in issues affecting their children.
Among the key findings from the report include:
- Between January 2021 and June 2023, 392 educational intimidation bills have been introduced in state legislatures, 39 of which have passed into law. An additional nine policies have been adopted via executive order or enacted as part of state regulatory policy.
- At least 19 states have passed educational intimidation bills or adopted them via state policy.
- These bills overwhelmingly emanate from conservative legislators: 377 of the 392 have been introduced by Republicans.
- Over 80 bills would force teachers to monitor students’ gender expression, forcibly outing students to their parents regardless whether educators believe that such a disclosure is warranted, or how it will be received. Outing provisions are in effect, by law or by executive order, in Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Utah, Kentucky, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Virginia.
- Of the intimidation bills introduced in 2023, 45 percent have an anti-LGBTQ+ provision, including the forced outing of students.
- Missouri (31) has introduced the most educational intimidation bills in the nation, followed by Texas (21), Oklahoma (20), South Carolina (18), Indiana (17) and Mississippi (16)
- Direct to Complete News Release
- Direct to Full Text Report: “Educational Intimidation: How ‘Parental Rights’ Legislation Undermines the Freedom to Learn
- Direct to Index of Educational Intimidation Bills
About Gary Price
Gary Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.