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Indiana state senator backtracks on call for ‘impartial’ teaching on Nazism

At a hearing on his bill to ban teaching on “divisive ideologies,” an Indiana state senator last week said teachers should be impartial in the classroom — even when teaching about Nazism or fascism.

“I have no problem with the education system providing instruction on the existence of those isms,” said Republican Scott Baldwin. “I believe that we’ve gone too far when we take a position on those isms … We need to be impartial.”

Teachers should “just provide the facts,” he added. “I’m not sure it’s right for us to determine how that child should think, and that’s where I’m trying to provide the guardrails.”

During that same hearing, history teacher Matt Bockenfeld said neutrality is not called for when the subject is fascism or Nazism: “We condemn it, and we condemn it in full, and I tell my students the purpose, in a democracy, is understanding the traits of fascism so that we can recognize it and we can combat it.” He continued: “We’re not neutral on Nazism. We take a stand in the classroom against it, and it matters that we do.”

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The controversy follows a similar one in North Texas, where a school administrator in October apologized after announcing that teachers had to present “opposing” views on “currently controversial” topics, including the Holocaust.

Baldwin has since backtracked on his remarks, which outraged many educators and members of the Jewish community. In an email to the Indianapolis Star the day after the hearing, he sought to clarify that the bill was to ensure teachers were impartial when discussing “legitimate political groups.”

“When I was drafting this bill, my intent with regard to ‘political affiliation’ was to cover political parties within the legal American system,” he wrote. “In my comments during this committee, I was thinking more about the big picture and trying to say that we should not tell kids what to think about politics.”

But the Midwest division of the Anti-Defamation League said Baldwin’s apology was insufficient. “There’s nothing neutral about Nazism,” it said in a statement. “The Nazis were responsible for the death of more than 11 million innocent people including 6 million Jews. Sen. Baldwin’s apology doesn’t change the deep harms of using ‘impartiality’ or ‘neutrality’ as tools to sanitize history.”

Baldwin’s bill is part of an ongoing debate about the role of parents in public education that focuses in part on critical race theory. Although not taught in K-12 schools, the theory has become a catch-all term for teaching on race and racism in American history and culture. Many conservative parents argue that it stigmatizes white students and paints American history with too negative a brush, while most educators say students must learn how racism has shaped the country and its people.

Baldwin’s bill would require schools to give parents a formal way to weigh in on curricula.

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