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For once, the system worked. Sorta.

Bruce Maples
Bruce Maples

Earlier this month, Senator Max Wise introduced SB 138, the “Teaching American Principles Act.” We wrote about it here, including a pretty scathing commentary on the final section of the act that required all teaching of controversial topics to “explore those topics from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.”

It was obvious to many that Wise was trying to thread the needle between the out-there anti-CRT crowd on the far right, and the somewhat more reasonable people in the rest of the electorate. The fact that Wise is also considering running for governor was not lost on observers, either. He stated later that he was surprised at the blowback he got on the bill, including editorials across the state.

Well, for once the system worked. On Thursday, the Senate Education Committee met to consider the bill, and Wise submitted a committee substitute that was much improved over the original bill. Gone was the problematic “teach the good side of the Holocaust” language. In its place was this graf:

Any instruction or instructional materials on current, controversial topics related to public policy or social affairs provided to public school or public charter school students, regardless of whether the individual that provides the instruction is employed by the local school district or public charter school, shall be:
(a) Within the range of knowledge, understanding, age, and maturity of the students receiving the instruction; and
(b) Relevant, objective, nondiscriminatory, and respectful to the differing perspectives of students.

In addition, there were tweaks to earlier language in the bill that made it less amorphous and seemingly a little less “OMG CRT!” focused.

The “sorta” disclaimer

This is still not a great bill. It dictates curriculum at a level of detail that falls outside the normal purview of the legislature. It still has the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” language, without acknowledging the issue of systemic racism. And, it still pushes discussion of American ideals, without also discussing our history of departure from those ideals. (And, it still has Ronald Reagan’s commercial for Barry Goldwater listed as one of the required items. Ugh.)

However, it was encouraging to see a legislator realize that his bill was bad, and to come back with improvements. And it was encouraging to see the committee system work to help that happen.

It would be nice to see more of this – more discussion, more give and take, more willingness to hear from people across the state and across the aisle, and more admitting that the bill is bad and needs to be rewritten.

Unfortunately, I don’t think we will see more of this. The legislators in charge seem hell bent for leather to pass as many bad bills as they can, as quickly as possible. Thus this follow-up editorial; perhaps, if we call out the few times this happens, legislators will be encouraged to act like actual legislators and not just partisan dictators.

In the meantime, we can at least be thankful for small moments of adult behavior in Frankfort.

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Bruce Maples has been involved in politics and activism since 2004, when he became active in the Kerry Kentucky movement. (Read the rest of his bio on the Bruce Maples Bio page in the bottom nav bar.)

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