Indiana's Educational Gag-Order Bill Isn't About Curriculum. It's About Control.

Feb 11, 2022 12:00:00 AM

by Kwame Sarfo-Mensah

Granted, we’ve experienced a plethora of “what the fuck” moments as educators over the past couple of years, but this new Indiana House Bill 1134, which is requiring teachers to submit a full year’s worth of lesson plans in the summertime and post curricular information on their school’s website for the public to view, may take the cake.  With regard to this bill, I’m not even tripping about the posting of curricular information because I believe that transparency is important when it comes to informing parents about what their children are learning. Frankly, the most infuriating issue for me is the mandated submission of lesson plans before the start of the school year and, furthermore, the blatant lack of trust and irrational questioning of our professional integrity as educators from individuals who have never lived this educator life.

Mandating a teacher to submit 180+ days worth of lesson plans is like mandating a doctor to submit, in advance, a full calendar year’s worth of detailed medical procedure plans for patients they have yet to meet and diagnose. It’s not realistic and it’s simply counterproductive. As educators, it is standard practice for us to spend a portion of our summer vacation revising our curricular scope and sequence plans in preparation for the upcoming school year. In my case, I always entered the new school year with an idea of the specific standards within my content area I was required to teach my students before the end of the school year. Additionally, I had a game plan for how long I planned on teaching each learning unit.  

Ridiculously, the bill also states that any teachers who make changes to their lesson plans, at any point during the school year, could face repercussions. Only a group of individuals who have never taught or stepped foot in any classroom as adults would implement such an inhumane law that disregards the tedious nature of our work as educators. Every trained educator knows damn well that daily lesson plans are always subject to change depending on the constantly changing learning needs of the students in front of you. There are so many other factors that can lead to lesson plan modifications: chronic student absenteeism, chronic teacher absenteeism that forces staff members to sacrifice instructional periods to cover for one another, COVID-19 outbreaks, internet issues during remote learning, etc. Over the course of a 180+ day school year, it is inevitable for a combination of those factors to manifest, especially during this COVID-19 era of education.      

In the end, this bill isn’t about lesson plans or the posting of curricular information on a website. This bill is all about control. It is a willful reluctance to face the ugly truth about the historical sins of this country. It is yet another fearmongering tactic that serves as the latest chapter in the curricular policing crusade initiated by anti-CRT elected officials and pundits who are more concerned about hoarding their power than about truly serving the best interests of children. If you have been following the evolution of this crusade from its genesis during the Trump administration to present time, this should not come as a surprise at all.

Since we’re on the subject of lesson plans, I think it’s important to note that the essential work we do as educators is so much bigger than the lesson plans we submit. The lesson plan doesn’t drive our lessons, we do because our hands are always behind the wheel. Sometimes, the greatest lesson your students will ever learn from us is the one lesson they least expect to learn at that moment. Every minute they’re with us is an opportunity for us to change the trajectory of their lives by laying out the facts and allowing them to decide how they want to show up in this society. 

No matter what these politicians say, the truth is they can never block you from humanizing the curriculum for your students because the curriculum already lives within you. 

Kwame Sarfo-Mensah

Kwame Sarfo-Mensah is the founder of Identity Talk Consulting, LLC., an independent educational consulting firm that provides professional development and consulting services globally to educators who desire to enhance their instructional practices and reach their utmost potential in the classroom. He is the author of two books, "Shaping the Teacher Identity: 8 Lessons That Will Help Define the Teacher in You" and his latest, "From Inaction to 'In Action': Creating a New Normal for Urban Educators". Throughout his 14-year career as a middle school math educator, author, and entrepreneur, Kwame has been on a personal mission to uplift and empower educators who are committed to reversing the ills of the public education system in America and around the world. As a staunch ambassador and advocate for teacher empowerment, Kwame has spoken at numerous national education conferences and worked diligently to support the recruitment and retention of teachers of color in the education system. In January 2019, he was one of 35 Massachusetts teachers of color chosen by Commissioner Jeff Riley to be in the inaugural cohort of the InSPIRED (In-Service Professionals Increasing Racial and Ethnic Diversity) Fellowship, an initiative organized by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for veteran teachers of color to recruit students of color at the high school, undergraduate and graduate levels to teach in targeted districts within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. As an InSPIRED Teaching Fellow, Kwame facilitated professional development workshops for aspiring teachers at universities such as Boston College, UMass Boston, and Worcester State University and has served as a guest speaker for non-profit teacher pipeline programs such as Generation Teach and Worcester Public Schools’ Future Teachers Academy. A proud graduate of Temple University, Kwame holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics and a master's degree in education. He was honored as the 2019 National Member of the Year by Black Educators Rock, Inc. for his unwavering commitment to the advancement of the teacher profession.

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