Thursday, December 27, 2018

AZ: Proposed Teacher Gag Law Part of National Push

The proposed teacher gag law in Arizona may look like a piece of small time revenge legislation, but it is actually part of a larger movement to silence teachers in and out of the classroom.

When Arizona teachers walked out on strike, it led to a legislative move to increase education funding by $400 million. But it also led to an expectation that some legislators would seek some vengeance on the uppity educators.

Enter Rep. Mark Finchem (R) with House Bill 2002, a proposal to stifle teachers when it comes to discussing any kind of politics in the classroom called the "Teacher Code of Ethics." Among his provisions we find:

Teachers may not endorse, support or oppose any candidate or elected or appointed official.

Teachers may not bring up any "controversial issues" not related to the course. 

Teachers may not endorse or participate in any actions interfering with military recruiter access to the school. Ditto for law enforcement.

Teachers may not advocate for one side of a controversial issue; they must always present both sides.

Teachers (or schools) may not segregate according to race, and must not blame any one race "as being responsible for the suffering or inequities" experienced by another race.

This guy borrowed someone else's homework
Mark Finchem hasn't been in the legislature long, but he's put his name on plenty of legislation, including a bill requiring public schools to report what buildings and equipment they aren't using (so charters can have it), a bill calling for extensive reporting on abortions performed, and a bill prohibiting interference with free speech on college campuses.

Finchem says HB 2002 has nothing to do with the #RedforEd movement, but comes out of discussions with concerned parents. I can believe that #RedforEd is not directly related, just as I think he's delivering a whole load of Arizona Road Apples when he says this comes out of parental concerns.

That's because this Teacher Code of Ethics rings a bell.

On Friday, Tallman sent a memo to the 203-member state House seeking support for a bill he dubbed the “Teacher Code of Ethics,” which legal experts questioned as unconstitutional overreach.

In the memo, Tallman said his bill would forbid public school teachers from endorsing, supporting or opposing candidates or incumbents for local, state and federal offices while in the classroom. On the job, teachers could not discuss enacted or pending legislation, regulations, executive orders or court cases involving any level or branch of government. They could not talk about activities “that hamper or impede” law enforcement actions or military recruiters on campus.

That's Will Tallman, a legislator in Pennsylvania, speaking for an article published back in September.

I'm going to jump to the conclusion that this is not a remarkable coincidence. But all roads do not lead to ALEC, the infamous legislation mill that serves as a Tinder for legislators and corporate interests that want to find each other (at least, not right away).

If we roll the clock back to January of 2018, we find Dave LaRock, a Virginia choicer, proposing a Teacher Code of Ethics that reads like a rough draft of the Pa and AZ versions. But it turns out that LaRock appears to have cribbed his proposal from a website called StopK12Indoctrination. 

StopK12 posted their version of the Teacher Code of Ethics in June of 2017, and it's clear that the other teacher codes are all versions of this original. But who are the StopK12 people? The site is remarkably clear of any "who we are" information. However, there are several videos featuring Sean Fitzgerald, who is elsewhere tagged as the site's editor. And if you decide you want to contribute to the muzzling of teachers, the link will take you to a site that will let you contribute to the David Horowitz Freedom Center.

Fitzgerald is a bit of a mystery, but he is earnest as all get-out. In one of his videos (he's on YouTube as "Actual Justice Warrior"), he repeats the old misleading about how we spend so much on education but are still outclassed on international testing. That's because we started indoctrinating children instead of educating them. Other videos rail against Islam in public schools, diversity, schools that glorify terrorist organizations, and the notion of white privilege. He's not happy about SJWs, the hard right code for social justice warriors. You can call him a hard right wingnut, but he's got over 23,000 subscribers on YouTube.

And he has teamed up with David Horowitz.

Horowitz is a well-established hard right writer and activist who is just ballsy enough to put his name right there on his lead organization (David Horowitz Freedom Center). His Center for the Study of Popular Culture has been tagged by the Southern Poverty Law Center as one of the "right-wing foundations and think tanks support[ing] efforts to make bigoted and discredited ideas respectable." He's a vocal anti-Muslim who joined the smear party labeling Barack Obama a secret Muslim. He has been very active in trying to squelch liberal voices in college and university teaching positions. And, perhaps most notably, this Steve Bannon buddy was the early mentor of Stephen Miller, the angry voice of racism in the Trump administration.

So, not ALEC this time?

Welllll…. Neither Tallman or LaRock have ALEC ties, according to the Center for Media and Democracy. Mark Finchem not only belongs, but was willing to sign an ALEC letter. But David Horowitz?

Horowitz was invited to be a key speaker at ALEC's 2018 gathering in New Orleans, a decision so controversial that it prompted Verizon to end a close, thirty-year relationship with the group. A coalition of 79 organizations sent out letters to various sponsors of ALEC, and many jumped ship-- though not the Koch brothers, who continue to give heavily to the organization. The Center for Media and Democracy covered the convention, the speech, and the problematic past of Horowitz, who responded by suing the group. Nobody at CMD was impressed.

We can say two things with certainty about the Arizona Teacher Code of Ethics.

First, it's dumb and repressive and almost certainly unconstitutional. Should teachers exhort their students to vote for a particular candidate? No. Do teachers have the right to discuss controversial political issues in their classroom, without being forced to present opposing views? Of course they do-- imagine a class a teacher must explain how Nazis and slave owners had valid points of their own. Almost as ludicrous as a class in which the effects of racism may be noted, but the source and practitioners of racism must remain cloaked in mystery. And a command to never, ever interfere with the police or the military has a real totalitarian ring to it.

All of the rules make sense when one considers the source-- a racist authoritarian xenophobic alt-right wingnut. This is not just about shutting down teachers (it really is bigger than being anti-#RedforEd) but about making sure that teachers cannot interfere with the imposition of a white supremacist alt-right dreamland.

The second thing we can say with certainty about this proposal is that Rep. Finchem did not whip it up himself after some conversations with concerned parents. HB 2002 is part of a wider attempt to shut teachers up so that they can't exercise First Amendment rights-- particularly not in ways that would contradict white nationalists .

It's a bill that deserves to die. And Rep. Finchem is a man who deserves some extra attention, to see just who feeds him these kinds of anti-American anti-freedom ideas for bills.


  1. Great research, as usual, and this really does reek of McCarthy--whose loyalty oaths were widely adopted. One was presented to me as a first year teacher in 1957.

  2. GREAT post Peter! My wife, Hollace Lyon, ran against Finchem for the AZ House this year. She is a moderate Democrat, a retired AF Colonel, and taught 7th grade after college. We talked to 21,000 Independents at their doors. Didn’t matter in our Legislative District where Republicans have a 12 point registration advantage. Finchem is STILL (not) representing many of us in LD 11.

  3. Too bad. You should have ran as a progressive democrat. The problem is being a moderate democrat or what some would call a "good" democrat or republican lite; a dino. Its why you lost and u moderates will lose in these districts every time. Might as well run as a true progressive. People want change, not same old republican lite, moderate democrat bs.

  4. WTF is wrong with politicians in our country. You can pass any law you want to, but you won't silence the morals out of us. No matter what you do. We walked out when it was illegal to do it, and we will prevail over this too. Legal or not. It's hard to outwit smart people with good morals. Game on.