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The Republican Party often talks boldly about assaults on the First Amendment and freedom of speech. I agree that there have been some serious threats against free speech that should be addressed including actions from some on the left. 

McCorkle | Provided

However, a new bill (HB.4605) being introduced by GOP representatives in the South Carolina legislature is an example of an assault on freedom of speech and academic freedom. The bill is titled in an almost Orwellian way: “Freedom from ideological coercion and indoctrination” Act. Among other things, this bill will make it illegal to talk about race as a social construct (though that is exactly what it is). The bill would also make it illegal for anyone, even in higher education, to infer that someone should feel guilt or discomfort because of their culture, heritage, or political belief. Though this guilt is not necessarily the goal, it could be the outcome of an honest investigation of history and society, particularly when it comes to issues like racism and inequality. 

Perhaps the most concerning for me was a part of the bill that said teachers are not allowed to teach in a way that “interjects personal views.” This is where censorship and government control really become problematic. We need to get past this notion that teachers should never say what they think about an issue. This education axiom does not benefit our students. Some of the best teachers are ones whose passion for issues and topics can be clearly seen by students. 

Yes, occasionally, some teachers will push things too far, but there are natural guardrails in place for that, including complaints from parents and pushback from other teachers and students. I would rather have my child have both conservative and liberal teachers who give them unique perspectives on issues and are passionate about education rather than them have a micromanaged, censored curriculum due to political ideologues in the South Carolina legislature.

Perhaps unlike some in higher education, I concede that some of the methods and pedagogy on the left (which this bill addresses) have some serious problems and often contain logical flaws. Group-think can tend to set in, particularly in academia, and those who treat whatever new ideology or argument as a religious tenet do a disservice to students and the public.

However, any problems that might be present from some elements of more left-leaning teaching ideology are greatly overshadowed by the greater danger of this “anti-critical race theory” movement, which threatens free speech and academic freedom. If these types of bills are implemented, it will prevent education from fulfilling the role it was initially established for: to preserve the ideas of our democratic-republic and be a way to improve society.

For legislators who love to talk about smaller government, they still seem to really love Big Brother when it comes to the classroom. They want state legislator to be in control and school and teachers to have fewer rights or freedom in how they teach.

Our students suffer from this type of model. In South Carolina, we are 43rd  in education and 11th in our poverty rate. At the same time, we are making sure immigrant Dreamers can’t teach in schools during a teacher shortage. Our legislature has helped create a type of society that needs to be critiqued by students. It seems that the legislators are doing everything in their power to make sure that it is not. Perhaps they know if students are able to think critically about the society, they will soon be out of a job.

Will McCorkle is a South Carolina educator and immigration advocate