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Photo collage by Liora Yustein, VOX ATL Teen Staff  

“The state of Georgia cannot outright ban any such conversations because of the Bill of Rights, which guarantees all citizens the right to free speech. Yet, in weaponizing vague language, the state strives to spark fear within teachers and scare them from teaching the truth,” writes Liora in this op-ed. 

A War on Education: Georgia’s New ‘Divisive Concepts’ Law Is Restricting Students’ Learning [Opinion] 

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As of March 2022, Georgia history classrooms have been effectively censored. House Bill 1084, a recently passed state law now known as the divisive concepts law, aims to eliminate discussion of race and politically controversial subjects, muzzles the state’s teachers with blanket prohibitions against race-based and politically divisive conversations, and deprives students of knowledge by limiting discussions of race which are needed to navigate within higher education and the real world. 

House Bill 1084, which was part of a slate of similar laws passed in 2021 in states like Arizona, Texas, and Oklahoma, outlaws nine broad concepts in public school classrooms. These ideas include: “the United States is fundamentally racist,” and “an individual, solely by virtue of his or her race, should feel anguish, guilt, or any other form of psychological distress.” Both indicate broader topics concerning the United State’s history of ignorance and slavery. These excerpts from the law are only a sliver of the divisive topics listed. 

“Silencing Speech”

The state of Georgia cannot outright ban any such conversations because of the U.S. Bill of Rights, which guarantees all citizens the right to free speech. Yet, in weaponizing vague language, the state strives to spark fear within teachers and scare them from teaching the truth. As Brock Boone, an attorney from the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in an interview with WABE, “Whenever laws are vague and confusing, and teachers and educators face fear of violating something, it has the result of silencing speech.” 

This law is meant to eliminate and dilute discussion of racism in America and other related, polarizing topics such as LGBTQ individuals. It serves to make white students comfortable, while telling teachers to ignore the United States’ history of slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and other important events that portray the United States’ ingrained history of racism. This censorship strips teachers of the ability to have meaningful discussions with students on divisive but important topics, discussions which are critical to a student’s education.

A fundamental pillar of teaching is to prepare students for the real world. Can a teacher really complete their job if they are being chained back from promoting discussion and learning of real-world topics that happen every day in the adult world? How will this affect students who are being deprived of truth in order to protect white students from the “psychological distress” or responsive guilt the state is so concerned about?

“Harmful Message”

The repercussions of this new law are already materializing. In August, the Cobb County school board voted to fire a teacher over the reading of the book “My Shadow is Purple” because of its contents. “My Shadow is Purple” is a children’s book that discusses gender identity. The school lesson by teacher Katherine Rinderle first aroused panic in parents who took their concerns to the school board, citing the state’s new divisive concepts law. After her firing, Rinderle released a statement via the Southern Poverty Law Center: “The district is sending a harmful message that not all students are worthy of affirmation in being their unapologetic and authentic selves. This decision, based on intentionally vague policies, will result in more teachers self-censoring in fear of not knowing where the invisible line will be drawn. Censorship perpetuates harm and students deserve better.”

Reactions to this firing reflected the varied concerns of parents, students, and teachers. Some parents were in favor, including Abigail Darnell, who spoke up at the Cobb County School board meeting. “I’m very concerned about the prospect of radical ideas being introduced to young children without parental consent or notification. Teachers shouldn’t be allowed to bring leftist political activism into the classroom and get away with it,” she said.  Many are worried about what this will mean for their education.

One concerned parent, Scott Nesbit, stated, “the (anti) CRT bill is definitely allowing for white children’s feelings to be legislated.” He went on to comment on the additional pressure of the state’s do and don’t requirements being added to a teacher’s already-overbearing workload that will harm the students’ education.

In an interview with The Guardian, Maurice Brewton, a Georgia U.S. history teacher commented, “It’s time for us to be able to have these uncomfortable conversations candidly. We don’t want to continue to push the conversation back and make the next generation have to deal with it.” 

A New Norm of Censorship

House Bill 1084 has opened up a new norm of censorship in Georgia classrooms, and the state’s students are most affected. This new law not only sets up students for unrealistic expectations after high school but creates fear around addressing the real and often racist history of the United States.

This law, like many others of its kind, has created a precedent for unconstitutional censorship, and it is realistic to assume that this censorship will extend beyond just history. CBS 46 Atlanta News First reported in November 2022 that in the months following the passing of this legislation, groups of teachers and supporters have begun organizing to sue over this violation of the 14th amendment with the support of Georgia Association of Educators.

But how long will it be until science classes are blacked out when mentioning evolution or math classes can no longer move past fundamental arithmetic because of algebra’s leftist notation? Georgia’s divisive concepts law is a fear-mongering tactic and a danger to free education all across Georgia.

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