Price on Politics: the Kentucky Education Bills

Megan+Fisher

Megan Fisher

Price Wilborn, Commentary writer

The Kentucky State Legislature has descended on Frankfort for the 2022 Regular Session. The Western Kentucky storms, ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and redistricting of the state’s congressional districts are just some of the issues legislators will debate. 

One issue that has garnered much news attention is the instruction the Commonwealth’s students receive in their history classes.

HB 14 and HB 18 were both introduced in the House by Republicans on Jan. 4. According to each bill’s summary, they seek “to ensure that no public school or public charter school offers any classroom instruction or discussion that incorporates designated concepts related to race, sex, and religion.” 

The bills also state that teachers found to be in violation can be disciplined up to having their license revoked by the Education Professional Standards Board in accordance with KRS 161.120(1)(l). This states that a license can be revoked due to a violation of any “state statute relating to schools or the teaching profession.”

HB 14, the Education Non-Discrimination Act, goes on to outline the disciplinary action taken if school districts are found in violation of the bill. Parents would be able to file a complaint with the attorney general if they believe a teacher is in violation. If a violation is found to have taken place after an investigation by the AG, school districts would lose $5,000 per day in state funding for each day the violation continues.

HB 18 extends the prohibition of the instruction from HB 14 to the state’s public universities. The bill states that “no student enrolled at a public postsecondary education institution shall be subjected to any classroom instruction or discussion, formal or informal, or printed or digital material, including but not limited to textbooks and instructional materials, that promotes any of the following concepts.” It goes on to use the same language that is used to prohibit the same instruction in the state’s K-12 schools.

The bills seek to remove the uncomfortable conversations and topics surrounding the history of the United States. The fact is that the history of the United States is one that oftentimes can be uncomfortable. Systemic racism and discrimination has been and still is present in the nation today, whether recognized by the law or not.

The “American Dream” is seen as not easily reachable by large portions of the American population. What might have once been possible is no longer achievable. Discrimination still prevents people of certain races, sexes, and religions from having the same opportunities as others. It is because of actions in the nation’s past that this discrimination and inequality continues.

It is said that in order to prevent ourselves from repeating history, we must learn from it. HB 14 and HB 18 do not allow this to happen. It will lock Kentucky’s students into a state of mind that the nation is the greatest nation in the world not because of the progress it has made and continues to make, but because the founding values are still exactly the same as they were in 1776. 

This is simply not the case, and any educated member of American society — especially those holding elected office at any level — should be able to recognize this.

While the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution to promote freedom and equality, it took amendments to that same document to outlaw slavery, allow African-American males to vote and allow women to vote. Liberty and freedom are an ever-changing and ever-evolving set of ideals, yet we cannot recognize how far the nation has come without recognizing what needed this change to happen in the first place.

Furthermore, is it also not the goal of schools to make well-rounded citizens out of young people? How can this happen if they are not in possession of all of the facts? How can this happen if portions of American history are ignored so students and their parents can be made “comfortable?”

If these bills should pass, Kentucky’s young people will no longer be equipped to face the harsh realities of their futures. If the “uncomfortable” discussions cannot be had in the safety of the classroom, where else can they be held?

Kentucky’s schools, from kindergarten through college, are creating the leaders that will guide the state, nation and world into a brighter tomorrow, whatever that may look like. Choosing to ignore the history that has undoubtedly made the United States of America into what it is today for the sake of comfort does not create leaders that have the ability to make informed decisions.

Instead of choosing to ignore history for the comfort of a select few, the Kentucky State Legislature should create requirements for more civic education. I have always been seen as a little odd because of my love for government and politics, simply because other people my age aren’t taught the importance and necessity of civic engagement. 

This type of civics education partnered with a well-rounded history education will allow young people to form their own ideas and motivate them to act on them. Encouraging democratic participation will create a government more representative of society as a whole. 

The intricacies of the American government are what has provided a model for democracies around the world. They are what make America the beacon of hope and democracy it was meant to be. Stressing the importance of voting and other forms of civic engagement to young people will create a more civic-minded and civically-aware Kentucky that can act as an example to the nation and the world.

If the Kentucky State Legislature feels any responsibility at all to prepare the Commonwealth’s students for the future, they cannot pass this bill. We cannot erase history where racism and sexism have been driving forces in preventing progress in this nation’s democratic progress.

If this Commonwealth is to do its part to live up to the noble charge to “form a more perfect union,” uncomfortable conversations must be had. “Growing pains” aren’t called pains because they’re easy. In order to create a society free for all, we must learn from past mistakes, not shelter Kentucky’s future leaders from the truth.

Commentary Writer Price Wilborn can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @pricewilborn.