Why Utah shouldn’t micromanage its teachers, George Pyle writes

Teuscher and Fillmore propose bills that sound too much like anti-education crusades.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan during House floor time at the Utah Legislative Session, Jan. 28, 2022.

Utah state Rep. Jordan Teuscher read the room, and proposed House Bill 234. Fortunately, he read the room again and withdrew it.

Teuscher’s bill is the one that would have required Utah public school teachers to keep a running account of all lesson plans, textbooks, websites and other materials that each teacher was using in each class and constantly update it all online for public review.

His bill was worse than another one, which is still alive after making it through a Senate committee, from Sen. Lincoln Fillmore. His Senate Bill 114 wouldn’t micromanage quite so many details, but would still place an unreasonable burden on teachers by requiring detailed curriculum plans online 30 days ahead of time. It clearly comes from the same black hole of anti-educational fear that inspired Teuscher’s bill.

Teachers and other supporters of public education are strongly opposed to the idea of adding all that work to the already crushing load most teachers carry, a burden made all that much more oppressive by the stresses associated with trying to keep the educational process going through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

After a relatively short fuss, Teuscher wisely decided to hold the bill over for study and maybe bring it back in a future legislative session. He said one problem was a flood of misinformation that was giving people the wrong impression about what he was trying to accomplish.

The process was distorted by misinformation, to be sure. But it wasn’t the bill’s opponents who were being confused or deceptive about it. The misinformation involved was the national flood of lies and distortions that made Teuscher think his bill was necessary, even as it made it highly suspect.

Part of the definition of news, I always tell people, is, “What else happened today?” Generally newsworthy events or happenings that might make the front page one day can easily be pushed to an inside page, or left out altogether, on a day when a big fire breaks out or the mayor resigns or the Legislature does something particularly dumb.

A major flaw in Teuscher’s plan was what else is happening in the worlds of politics and education. His idea was put forward at a time when schools across the nation are being rocked by state and local crusades to ban books, micromanage teachers or block the accurate teaching of American history on the grounds that it might hurt some white kid’s tender feelings.

If none of that was happening. If the Washington County School District hadn’t just removed a couple of books depicting the pain of growing up LGBT.

If a Tennessee school board hadn’t just banned the Pulitzer-winning graphic novel “Maus” because its allegorical treatment of the Holocaust was seen to be too harsh. (As if any treatment of the Holocaust worthy of the name wouldn’t be staggeringly painful.)

If state officials in Virginia and Florida weren’t pushing for tools to expose, fire and sue teachers who might be teaching “critical race theory” or otherwise suggesting that slavery isn’t baked into the constitutional DNA of this nation.

If none of that was happening, Teuscher’s and Fillmore’s bills might have slid through the legislative process without much controversy or concern, winning support from people of all political persuasions who generally favor openness and transparency in government.

Or they might not have proposed them at all. After all, a lot of what HB234 and SB114 would place online is already available there, to parents if not to the whole internet. And at least some of that stuff that comes home in young people’s backpacks every day, along with half-eaten ham sandwiches and unlaundered gym suits, if parents would bother to look.

But all of that is happening. So it made perfect sense that a lot of people, especially teachers, saw HB234 as just another attempt to score political points by demonizing teachers, undermining the whole idea of a modern education and standing with white supremacy against a real understanding of who we are and where we came from.

Those may not have been these lawmakers’ goals. But, if those nasty things had been his motivation, his agenda might have looked a lot like these two bills.

If our politicians would listen to teachers, especially English and history teachers, they’d understand that context is everything. And, in the context of our time, bills like Teuscher’s and Fillmore’s are just an insult, to our teachers and our children.

George Pyle, reading The New York Times at The Rose Establishment.

George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, has spent more than 40 years in a profession based on the idea that people can handle the truth.


Twitter, @debatestate