Panelists debate “The First Amendment and School Curriculum”

Michael Taromina, Assistant News Editor

The Open Discourse Coalition hosted a panel discussion on April 18 titled “The First Amendment and School Curriculum” as part of their yearly series on “Culture and the Constitution.” 

The forum was composed of four panelists, all from related, yet different, backgrounds and careers with  differing perspectives on certain topics. This panel aimed to discuss controversies over history and race, sex, gender and how to incorporate different constituencies and demographics while not infringing upon any constitutional right.

The first person within the group was a man named Bion Bartning, founder of the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism. The message of the program surrounds what it means to be “pro-human.”

Bartning brought up the common banality, “it feels sometimes as if a few years occur during centuries, and when centuries occur a few years.” He claimed that with the rise in activism over the years, specifically with regards to race, this country is part of the latter.

Bartning shared his belief that humans are putting too much emphasis on divisive ideology, which flames the fires of cancel culture. After sharing a personal experience he endured with his children’s school’s “anti-racist” curriculum, he shared his aspiration for a world where people come together not as different races, but the human race. 

Bartning said, “being pro-human is recognizing in ourselves that everyone has a unique identity and shared humanity.” 

He warned that teaching race consciousness and instilling a learned helplessness to young kids would be against what Martin Luther King, Jr. preached and the pillars of a fair and humane education in general. 

[Bartning website]

Ashley White, the next panelist, disagreed with Bartning. She said black and brown kids should not use their race to advocate for “pessimistic activism, but as a strategy knowing the cards are already stacked against you.”

White studies as a professor on subjects such as ethno-racism, diversity, language, inclusivity and how that affects things such as classroom content, legislation and funding within schools. After citing the history of racial schooling since Brown v. Board and what is currently going on in some conservative states, she argued that equitable solutions are necessary to end culture wars.

Professor Mark Regnerus joined via Zoom from Texas to discuss if and how sex education should be instructed in schools and from what age levels. He noted that large and controversial conflicts regarding sex education in younger grades but stated that “for any age, parents have a right.” This means that if parents do not want their children exposed to such information, they should have the option to excuse them from it. 

But to whether sex education should be taught in schools, Regnerus believes that an ignorant mind is more dangerous than an understanding one. Because it is likely that students in high school and college are interested in sex, he believes it would be dangerous on the educators’ end not to facilitate them with learning, considering the harmful sources students can turn to if they choose.

Finally, Dr. Amy Brainer discussed what is at stake for LGBTQ+ students in the classroom. She shared the danger that certain legislation and hate speech has on this group of students. She also advocated for the need for more LGBTQ+ history to be taught in schools because it will help destigmatize the demographic and combine it with American history overall.

“The cost is born not only by the parents of the child but the child themselves… like all people, we are a part of the fabric of society and what happens to us happens to everyone,” Brainer said. 

The panel ended with a brief Q&A where questions involving the panelists’ personal experiences, discussing sensitive topics with young kids and the hyper-pessimism towards gender and sexuality were all brought up.

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