Carrie Welsh 00:01
You’re listening to Ethics & Education. I’m Carrie Welsh. This episode is the first part of a series co-produced by Rebecca Taylor and Ashley Floyd Kuntz. The series is based on their new book, “Ethics in Higher Education: Promoting Equity and Inclusion Through Case-Based Inquiry.” In this first episode of this series, we’re thinking about legislative efforts to ban the teaching of certain concepts. What does this mean for teaching in higher ed? Here’s Ashley Floyd Kuntz.
Ashley Kuntz 00:36
Recently, we’ve seen many states introduce and even pass new legislation about teaching. This legislation bans the teaching of critical race theory and seeks to limit broader diversity, equity and inclusion efforts on campuses. So what does this legislation mean for higher ed? I talked with Sigal Ben Porath and Laura Dinehart. Sigal is a professor of education, philosophy and political science at the University of Pennsylvania. Her recent book, “Free Speech on Campus,” addresses these topics of legislation and expression, head on. And my colleague, Laura dinehart, is an associate professor of early childhood education. She’s also the Dean of the School of Education and Human Development at Florida International University. She has insight into this issue at both the administrative and institutional levels. Here’s Laura.
Laura Dinehart 01:30
I’m Laura Dinehart. I am fortunate to serve as the Dean of the School of Education and Human Development at Florida International University. I’ve been here for 15 years, I’m a product of Miami Dade County Public Schools and left for a little bit, came back to come back to Miami. And so I’m very excited to be here. An exciting topic, I’m hoping I don’t get in trouble.
Sigal Ben-Porath 01:57
Great. It’s really nice to meet you. And I’m Sigal Ben Porath. And I’m a professor of education at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. I’m an immigrant from Israel, and the product of the public schools over there. And I’ve been at Penn for a very long time now. And I’m writing and thinking and speaking about free speech and academic freedom for the last few years. So I’m excited to meet you all.
Ashley Kuntz 02:28
So we are here today to discuss recent legislative efforts in many states to ban critical race theory, or what bills typically referred to as, quote, racist or sexist concepts. A recent report from the Brookings Institution notes that nine states have, as of November 2021, already passed legislation along these lines. Of these, only two explicitly mentioned critical race theory. And one has already been overturned by the state Supreme Court. That’s an Arizona approximately 20 other states anticipate introducing legislation along these lines in the next session. These bills generally include both k 12, and post secondary education. And many also proposed forbidding mandatory diversity training for educators. So as you think about bills like these, what’s at stake at your institution with this type of legislation?
Laura Dinehart 03:34
So the state of Florida, of course, is one of these. We are a public institution at Florida International University. Legislation matters a lot to how we move forward, how we think about education, how we think about education in higher ed. But from my perspective, also how we think about K to 12 education. There’s no doubt this influences how we just think about the work that we do. It causes some thinking about what it is that we’re teaching how we’re teaching it, and why all of those, you know, the implications for that type of teaching.
Sigal Ben-Porath 04:15
Great. Yeah. And I mean, Pennsylvania, of course, is following Florida in the effort to legislate around these issues. We have we haven’t passed a bill yet. But there is a bill that was proposed in the house and it currently was referred to the committee on education in the state house. And this is a very broad bill in Pennsylvania, titled teaching racial and universal equality. So of course, a lot of the phrasing here both in the names of the bills and then we In the beliefs themselves are quite easy to, to agree with across, you know, a diversity of views. So for example, the bill is requiring that we do not teach that one race or sex is inherently superior to another. That I think is quite a good idea, right. But it also says other things that I think are really meant to limit the scope of the work that we do and the conversations that we have, for example, by requiring that people do not express that meritocracy or merit based systems are racist or sexist. So you are not allowed to speak about the possibility that merit based admissions or hiring or other practices can really compound some past inequities. And you may not speak about any responsibility for actions in the past of people of your race or sex. And again, the term responsibility here is quite broad. And therefore, the ability to speak in any way about any systemic influence of one’s race or sex, or race, racial relations and histories in this country is impermissible. And I would say that, at least the bill that is proposed in Pennsylvania, and which I cannot assume that the governor would sign but is still doing the work of chilling speech in both k 12. and higher ed in the ways that Laura has indicated about Florida. This bill really is an attempt to influence not only just the public education systems, but also as they said, Anyone who is receiving funds from the state, which means basically, any public or private institution of learning, k 12, and higher ed, as well as vendors, right. So anyone who is doing work with institutions that are receiving search funds, and so it’s really a cascade of impacts on the opportunity to have any open conversations about any current differences in opportunities for women, for people of color for historically marginalized groups. These are not even terms that would be permissible to raise in class, and to have a discussion about it, let alone to promote or to advocate for, right. So but but the bill is really not trying just to prevent indoctrination or other efforts to persuade and influence people’s beliefs, which I actually think, you know, is a conversation that we can have, right? Should we be persuading and influencing beliefs. I mean, this is, you know, I have my views, but I can hear other people’s views on that. But I can do so only to the extent that we can actually have a conversation about this. If the conversation is chilled or silenced, before it is allowed to happen with the risk of yanking funds from the state. If you there have such a conversation in any classroom, then I think learning is really harmed at all levels.
Laura Dinehart 09:04
Now, I’ll piggyback off of that a little bit to say that we seem to be losing the ability to have difficult conversations and and promoting the opportunity for individuals to talk about things that are challenging in our history, but also to see that that there is complexity in our society, that things are not always clear cut, there are no these kinds of right and wrong, but rather, this this polarization that I think we tend to see in terms of the whole country. These this type of legislation to me further some of that because we are unable to have complex discussions about the complex history that we all have experienced.
Sigal Ben-Porath 09:59
Can I say one more word about that in regards to the K 12 part, which I really so agree with you, Laura, and I think is so important to keep thinking about. I think these beads, of course, are new. And they are creating unfamiliar pressures on K 12. Schools just focusing on those for a second because we train teachers and we research K 12 schools. And this is really an area that many of us care about, even when we work in higher education. But particularly in schools of education, it’s a topic of great concern these days. But despite the fact that these bills are new, they continue a trend of limiting speech in K 12 classrooms. That has been going on for a few decades now. And we I think, to be honest, we have to be, we have to be willing to recognize that the courts have been very unsympathetic to student speech, as well as to teacher speech for a long time. And so the best, you know, in the words of Seamus Heaney, ‘whatever you say, say nothing,’ right. So just to be on the safe side, is best not to say anything that’s going to cause anyone to be angry, or unhappy, or to report you or to sue you. All of this together, I really think should be a pressing concern to people who care about teaching and teachers and higher education, and really about democratic citizenship more broadly.
Ashley Kuntz 12:00
Is there a sense in which you worry that the sort of chilling effect that Sigal mentioned, and Laura, the experiences that you’re describing with K 12 educators, that it may be shaping or reshaping our training of teacher educators? Who’s attracted to the field, how we are preparing them? And what sorts of concerns they have about going into this profession?
Laura Dinehart 12:28
Yeah, I mean, I think one of the biggest pieces is that for quite some time now, with accountability measures and pacing guides, teachers have lost autonomy in the classroom, to some extent, very specific curricular expectations. And all of that has has made students turn away from the field, we see a lot less students interested in becoming teachers, or numbers at FIU have gone down significantly. We are a community in which our students come from our our own community come to FIU and then oftentimes go back out and teach in the schools from which they came. And if their experiences in schools are not positive, what is the likelihood that they’re going to want to even go back into the schools from which they came? And if they are, as Sigal mentioned, being silenced in many ways, they certainly don’t feel like they have a voice as students, then the likelihood that they will go back into the classroom and feel like they have a voice when we know teachers are also in many ways being silenced or at least expected to teach things in certain ways. Not necessarily able to have independent thinking about what to teach but also how to teach it. And it is a challenge for faculty working with students, I often they’ll often say I’m trying to get my students to think outside the box. And, and yet, when they go back into the classroom, to teach, they are forced to work in a box. And so how do we manage those situations while also recognizing that young people want to have a voice and they want to be able to walk into classrooms and feel as if they are making a difference for their students. And if we if we have legislation and or messaging that says that is not your role, then we are going to see less and less young people interested in going into education
Sigal Ben-Porath 14:59
Even when the bills don’t pass, or when the courts are striking them down, we are still seeing an impact on the willingness of teachers and you know, surveys are starting starting to come out and show the teachers really are becoming concerned and sort of like saying, you know, what, I don’t know anymore, what’s legal, what’s illegal, whether parents are looking over my shoulder, whether the school board is going to look to punish me, and so I might best shut up. Right. And that’s, you know, when teacher feels this way, I think we should really be concerned about the quality of education that they are able to provide.
Ashley Kuntz 15:45
And that kind of leads me to another question, which is, many of the conversations surrounding these bills are happening in the public, we are seeing conflicts in school board meetings about these bills, we’re hearing of the legislation, what do you feel is missing from public conversations surrounding bills like these?
Laura Dinehart 16:07
Well, to start an understanding of what critical race theory even is, right? You know, I’m, I’m always amazed by the public’s sense of being experts in education. And I’m a parent. So I understand the importance of and an interest in education for my child or my children, right, and in wanting to have some say in what that might look like. But we rarely leave the expertise of education up to the educators. So legislators make lots of decisions about education without necessarily real expertise in it, but also maybe even lack of conversation about it, and talking to individuals about what it means to ban critical race theory, or what critical race theory really even is the idea that somehow, you know, most of the schools have educated most of the school districts at this point have already pointed out that it’s not taught in schools. But that becomes the term that is utilized, and that we are going to ban this thing of which many people cannot define or know what it really is about or teachers. And so there’s a lot of lack of public conversation in general, about these concepts. And so it becomes more political in nature than it does actually become a conversation about the content of what needs to be taught.
Sigal Ben-Porath 17:48
Right, so I agree with everything you said, Laura. And obviously, the very concept critical race theory is being used in the public debate and in some of these bills, if it is mentioned in the bills in a way that is extended beyond its original intention. But I actually want to suggest, and I wonder if you would agree, because it’s coming to the same idea from a little bit from the other direction. I think that following some of the reckoning that we have seen across the country after the murder of George Floyd, a lot of schools and other institutions, universities, even private companies of various sorts. Were looking for ways to address some of the rifts and inequities and brutalities that we are seeing around the country. Right. And that we have seen historically right, of course, they’re not new, but there was a renewed understanding of the shape and form that they take in the everyday life of especially African American citizens and also other minorities. And I think it’s possible that some of the changes that we have seen have been either papering over deeper divisions or in some cases, they have been taken in a in a haste, right. And so some of them really may not have taken into account, their impacts the histories that they that they rest upon, even their own goals. And so I want to suggest that one place to start the conversation about what to replace this legislation with If, right, because I think legislation is, quite obviously, not the best way to go, when you are trying to organize classroom content, again, whether in K 12, or in higher ed, the legislature is commonly, you know, not knowledgeable about the subject matter is trying to advance a specific political aim. Right. So that’s not the right way to go. But what is the right way to go? Right. And I think, to have an open conversation, we do have to try and look for some shared goals across not not the very far margins, right? But really the broadest coalition that we can create, right. So I do not include in this coalition, people who have, for example, racist goals, or other bigoted goals, you know, trying to support a some kind of hierarchy or sustain some kind of hierarchy. So so this is not the conversation I’m having, right. But I think some parents as well as teachers have raised legitimate concerns about the specific forms of, for example, diversity and inclusion, workshops and trainings that have been proliferating after the summer of 2020. And if we are able to listen to some of these concerns, I think we can find more common ground than we would anticipate, even if the goals of these efforts remain constant.
Laura Dinehart 21:56
I could not agree more. But I also think that that requires the expertise in those areas. And we don’t have enough individuals doing work in these areas in education, to be able to help mediate that conversation. And so we need we need more individuals thinking about schools about how individuals think, how they work together, how so that we can get to a point where we are working them with legislators on how to ensure that we’re doing right by everybody.
Ashley Kuntz 22:34
In light of what we’ve discussed, what role do you think faculty and administrators should play in responding to these types of actions? So we talked a little bit about how the perception around these bills is that they may be having a chilling effect on faculty speech, and potentially even on administrative decisions. What might be some of the other responses that either we will see from faculty administrators, do you anticipate we will see? Or you’d like to see?
Laura Dinehart 23:04
I think, I think continued discussion and conversation, I think individuals will continue to discuss this. And I think rightfully so, I think actually, this has made people so much more conscious in certain ways about about the about teaching systemic racism, right, if they weren’t talking about it before, they certainly are now, and they certainly are questioning whether they are teaching it and if they, and if they need to be teaching it if they weren’t. So it’s brought to light. A lot of the things that I think are, are important for our faculty to be thinking about, I think administrators have an important role in being supportive of the faculty have an important role of being brave against some of these, some of these issues and making sure they’re standing up for faculty and standing up for her students and their ability to voice their concerns. So I think it’s just gonna be more of it. I think people are just going to become more and more educated about it and continue to do the to do good work.
Ashley Kuntz 24:20
Do you anticipate there will be any differences between junior and senior faculty could maybe you could speak to a bit to the sorts of concerns you think junior faculty might have in these scenarios?
Laura Dinehart 24:33
I’ve heard junior faculty say that they’re, I’m gonna go up for tenure. So I may have to be careful about what I’m saying. And you know, we continue to say do the good work. Do your work, you know, believe in what you’re doing and keep doing that work. And yes, there’s no doubt there’s gonna there’s there’s going to be fear, and there’s going to be certain certain college campuses is where I think they’re going to feel more concerned than others. And, you know, we want to be conscious of, of ensuring that we are still promoting the academic piece that I think bring good faculty to campuses, right? We don’t want to, I’m always concerned as, as a person who, who looks at hiring faculty that we’re not, we’re not creating an environment where people will not want to be here, when we know that there are real opportunities for, for individuals to be successful doing work that will involve things like systemic racism. So we have to keep working. We I don’t believe in getting distracted by some of this legislation, or the because my colleague, Heather Russell, will say, you know, leadership changes and legislation changes and time keeps moving, despite where individuals may feel like they want to sit at that moment, right. So so we have to keep doing good work. However, we want to define that as faculty, as higher ed faculty, as administrators, we have to keep doing that work and not be distracted by conversations that are going on outside and aware of them, thinking about them talking about those conversations, but moving forward with what we’re the work that we’re doing.
Sigal Ben-Porath 26:23
And we might even consider doing all of that in support of teachers, of course, because teachers protections are more limited than the protections that we have as faculty, especially as senior faculty. And so those of us who are at the Ed schools, really should keep thinking about the ways in which we can support novice and in service teachers in doing this work, professional development for teachers, but also speaking out for teachers and the importance of the work that they do. I would also note that junior and senior is an important distinction in this regard. But of course, the vast majority of our colleagues are neither. They are part of the parallel tracks in whichever, you know, institution context, they are adjuncts or lecturers or part timers, clinicians, Faculty of practice, etc. So the protections that they are benefiting from are much more limited. And so their speech is much more limited. And they see an A ongoing stream of cases, because I do a lot of work with college campuses on resolving matters related to open expression and disagreements around open expression, and academic freedom. And the vast majority of cases have to do with people who are not on the tenure track at all, and whose speech rights are being violated or whose academic freedom is not being protected, because they are so easy to just not renew, right. And so the perspectives that they offer, are sometimes as important as the perspectives that those of us who are on the tenure track have to offer. And it’s very important that we keep in mind the diversity of views and experiences, identities and perspectives that all sorts of members of our learning communities are bringing. And a final shout out here also for students on our campuses, who really are the main constituency who’s pushing us to think about all of these things. And I see some significant generational differences in the ways in which values such as equality, including racial equality, freedom of expression, care for each other, etc. How these values are being interpreted by current students versus those of us who are no longer students. I think there are some significant and clear differences or generational developments in this regard. And I think students really are pushing us to live up to our own values that we profess and not always remain accountable for. And I’m not saying you know, every cause that every student takes up is just, but I think institutionally speaking, listen to these new voices is really central for the effort of protecting academic freedom. As we are protecting the broadest array possible of conversations and perspectives about these pressing matters.
Ashley Kuntz 30:19
I have just one final question. And it’s not so much a question as a scenario I’m imagining, you know, Lauren said that if faculty weren’t teaching about systemic racism before, now they’re starting to question. Well, should they be? Where are they? And they didn’t know it. And I was thinking that if students weren’t talking about it before, they certainly are now, because they’re watching these debates play out in the public. And one might imagine the the reverse scenario to what you mentioned earlier, where a student is hearing at home, their parents expressing concerns about what happened in the school board meeting, and about a school board statement about critical race theory. And then perhaps that that child goes to their teacher and ask, what is this? Why are people fighting over this? Or someone who has been trained and in college goes to their professor and says, What should I make of this? What does this mean? I just wonder if if either of you have thoughts on how we prepare teachers and faculty to respond to the the questions, the concerns, the curiosities that our students have, as they are watching people debate these issues.
Sigal Ben-Porath 31:39
Since I do a lot of workshops like that, I can offer some preliminary thoughts, I think we have to start off by helping the person who is expected to respond. So the teacher or the faculty member, helping them try and identify if we are dealing here with an open or a closed question. Right. So are we thinking about the question that is epistemic? Lee, right. So in terms of our knowledge about the murder, is open or closed. And this really guides us in the kind of answers that we are expected to offer. And as a next step, trying to advise them to think about whether this question is politically open or closed, because some matters are closed, as a matter of epistemology, or the knowledge we have, or our scientific understanding, but may still be open as a matter of public debate. Right? And so we can see, look, all evidence shows that, you know, if we have to offer a snippet, right, rather than a discussion, all evidence shows that people’s opportunities and paths are quite distinct, based on various and chosen aspects of their identity. Right. So if you are born here, or you are born in Sierra Leone, your opportunities in life are different if you’re born, a man or a woman, etc. Right? Your opportunities are different. And that’s what we’re talking about. Right? So this is a closed question. Right. But politically speaking, some people dispute that. And that’s the source of the open question on the school board. And people have different interpretations of that. And they’re wondering who’s to blame for that? And so you can find ways that are, if you’re talking about the child, right, ways that are developmentally appropriate to just address those aspects of the question that are still open, even as our knowledge about, you know, significant parts of the answers is not open for debate.
Laura Dinehart 34:00
I’ll just say that I think it’s really important that we continue to teach children and young people and even some older folks to continue to be curious, right, that that we ask questions, but that we seek out answers to those questions that you read more that you don’t just go to the quick messaging and as a mother of teenagers I’m you know, always social media is not going to provide you with all of the answers. So read more be curious look for scholars for individuals who have done work on this read the evidence, just like I was point who I think should do workshops for the entire country, preferably that you know, we can, so we can we can have more discussion in thought and be curious about again, the complexity That is our society in thinking and that there are multiple sides to stories and individuals are, are complex in their own thinking and their own perspectives. And I think that you don’t have to look to one person to an answer that eye, you should be taking multiple perspectives in and drawing your own conclusions based on what is provided to you. And so I would hope that that is what we allow teachers and faculty and scholars to do is to engage students in those discussions that are that come from so many different sources so that they can come to their own conclusions and develop their own thoughts about complex situations, and perspectives.
Ashley Kuntz 35:50
Thank you both so much.
Rebecca Taylor 35:58
Thanks so much for listening. I’m Rebecca Taylor. I’m an assistant professor at the University of Illinois.
Ashley Kuntz 36:04
And I’m Ashley Floyd Koontz. I’m a clinical assistant professor at Florida International University.
Rebecca Taylor 36:10
Ashley and I are the editors of the book “Ethics in Eigher Education: Promoting Equity and Inclusion Through Case-Based Inquiry.”
Ashley Kuntz 36:17
And we made teaching guides about these episodes. Those are linked in our show notes.
Rebecca Taylor 36:22
This was such a rich discussion, I was thinking about how Sigal and Laura have different backgrounds. But there’s still some convergence in how they’re thinking. I think what they highlight so well is how limiting academic freedom shows the speech of faculty in higher ed, and K through 12. Teachers and students at all levels.
Ashley Kuntz 36:38
Yeah. I also appreciated how they reveal differences across this issue. You know, for example, this may not hit private institutions in quite the same way as public institutions. And there’s something else that really stood out to me. It’s that in a democratic context, like ours, educating for a more just world means constant critical reflection and courage. And I was inspired by that.
Carrie Welsh 37:09
This episode was produced by Rebecca Taylor, Ashley Floyd Kuntz, Jessica Harless and Carrie Welsh.