Op/Ed: SB 12 opens door to secrecy, shame, fear in Indiana instead of safe learning space
March 13, 2023 – Indy Reads Op-Ed
Senate Bill 12, which passed the Indiana Senate and is on its way to the House of Representatives, would allow for teachers, school librarians, and other school employees to be charged with a level 6 felony – and even face jail time – for providing materials that some consider inappropriate for minors. (The subjective word “inappropriate” was intentionally used in the proposed legislation.)
As Indy Reads’ chief executive officer with more than 20 years of experience in literacy, public policy, and community development, I can say with certainty that government-sanctioned censorship, like Senate Bill 12, will set the clock back on social progress. A strong democracy is built upon and thrives with critical thinking and access to information necessary to make decisions that will shape this country for generations to come. Responsible citizenship results from access to diverse texts, freedom to ask questions, and agency to engage in an education unlimited by censorship.
One only needs to scan the books on the “inappropriate” list to see that what is really happening is an exercise in avoiding realities that may be uncomfortable for some. Discomfort is important and necessary. History repeats itself when we fail to learn from it. We cannot deny the realities of slavery, racism, and genocide for reasons of religion, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality.
When we deny children the right to information, when we deny educators the ability to do the jobs for which they have diligently trained, we open the door to secrecy, shame, and fear. It is dangerous to deny children reading materials that might validate their own experiences, introduce them to empathy and compassion for people different than themselves, and give them language to use as they develop their own ways of walking in the world. History has proven that when societies do not cultivate empathy, compassion, and acceptance, horrific things happen to those deemed inappropriate.
America established a public education system because it believed in the importance of an informed citizenry. According to the Graduate School of Education & Human Development at George Washington University, “The Founding Fathers maintained that the success of the fragile American democracy would depend on the competency of its citizens.” An informed citizenry is impossible without access to information and critical thinking skills.
James Baldwin wrote, “The purpose of education is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions.” I have yet to meet a Hoosier who does not deeply value every American’s right to make their own decisions, and to reach their own conclusions. When we remove books from a library or classroom, we remove information and stories that are vital for providing more complete pictures for decision-making.
There is a fear intertwined through this bill that reading a book like The Bluest Eye might impose morals that a parent does not agree with. Parents may always choose to keep this text from their children. However, I would argue that when we share hard realities with our children and allow for engagement with those topics, we create a safe space for our children – and ourselves – to explore the world as it is and begin to understand our potential to shape the world as we hope to see it.
Children having a wealth of reading material to choose from is essential for validating the experiences of children who identify with that story and those characters, as well as providing nuance to children who may not share lived experiences with that story.
We are a better society, a better Indiana when adults and children have access to all the information, not just the parts with which we are comfortable. When our government censors reading materials from the hands of children, we tell children that these parts of our society, history, and country do not exist. We deny our history and reality and limit our future.
Indy Reads CEO
View this article on the Indy Star website.
If you are as concerned as I am, contact your state representative and tell them not to set the clock back on social progress, which means voting “No” on SB 12. Thank you.