Op-Ed: I Was a History Teacher in North Carolina. The GOP’s New Education Bill Is Anti-History

Graphic by Desiree Tapia for Cardinal & Pine

By Lindsey Prather

March 3, 2023

This legislation is meant to scare teachers away from teaching, just as anti-abortion legislation is written in purposefully vague terms to scare doctors into inaction.

We all know how important it is to teach history. Our state has, as far back as anyone can remember, required students to learn about North Carolina and US History. Learning history effectively requires the ability to examine issues from different perspectives, to evaluate causes and effects of events, and to analyze how founding documents and leaders have shaped the country that we live in today.

All of those skills would be hampered by House Bill 187.  

This legislation is meant to scare teachers away from teaching, just as anti-abortion legislation is written in purposefully vague terms to scare doctors into inaction. House Bill 187, if passed, would lead to a reduction in the quality of education that students receive.  Allow me to explain how.

The bill lists topics that schools are not allowed to promote. One of those is anything that might suggest “the rule of law does not exist, but instead is a series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other groups.”

What does that even mean, you ask? Confusion is the point. 

The bill also requires public schools to notify the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and make general information available on their websites at least 30 days prior to having a speaker join a classroom if that speaker has ever previously advocated for any of the topics the bill seeks to ban. 

Let’s think for a minute about what that would look like. Say I’m a high school history teacher (which I actually was for years before running for office). For me to invite a guest speaker to my classroom to discuss something as devastating as the Holocaust, I would be required by law under HB 187 to research everything he or she had ever said in their lifetime. If they had ever publicly expressed a viewpoint that remotely suggested “the rule of law does not exist”—which, again, is intentionally broad and could mean almost anything—I would be required to notify DPI. 

It’s a lot for any teacher to endure—and especially here in North Carolina, where educators are among the lowest paid in the country. Hearing first-person accounts gives students the opportunity to learn directly from someone who lived through or was impacted by an important event. And that, unfortunately, could go away if this bill were to become law.

The point of HB 187 is to overload and scare teachers so much that they’ll just quit bringing in guest speakers. They’ll break out the old, tattered, state-approved textbooks and teach directly from the book because it’s the only thing that will guarantee what they’re teaching would be approved by the North Carolina Republican Party. Teachers will stop assigning writing exercises that require students to take a different perspective from their own, fearing that it could be interpreted as “telling the student what to think.” 

This is one of the worst examples of micromanaging from this state government that I’ve ever seen. 

We have a teacher shortage. We have a substitute shortage. Everyone knows this. Legislation like this will only make things worse. 

This bill is yet another recent example of North Carolina Republicans attempting to create a divide between schools and families. They want families to believe that classrooms are shrouded in mystery, that parents are not welcome in schools and that teachers are trying to replace parents. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The parent-teacher partnership is vital to the success of students. There are certain topics that are best taught to students by their parents. History is not one of those topics. Teachers are trained and educated professionals, many of them from our own state’s colleges and universities. What does this legislation say about how much we trust our own universities?

Sponsors of this legislation say we need to focus on the students, not the adults. Teachers agree. Knowing and understanding history, the good and the bad, is vital to successfully navigating our current world. Were this legislation to pass, we would not be adequately preparing students for the world they will enter after school.  We would instead be sheltering them, hiding the truth from them. 

We have many limits in the North Carolina General Assembly. We have limited time, resources, money, and attention. That my colleagues would choose to spend their time and resources on a bill like this speaks volumes.


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