Baldwin backtracked those comments Thursday following criticism. In an email to the Indianapolis Star, Baldwin said he was focused on the “big picture” of preventing teachers from telling students “what to think about politics.”
“Nazism, Marxism and fascism are a stain on our world history and should be regarded as such, and I failed to adequately articulate that in my comments during the meeting,” Baldwin said. “I believe that kids should learn about these horrible events in history so that we don’t experience them again in humanity.”
In a statement to The Washington Post, Baldwin said he agreed that teachers “should condemn those dangerous ideologies.”
“I sincerely regret that I did not articulate that and apologize for it,” he added. “ ... I said Wednesday that we need to listen and be open to changes that can improve the bill, and we are working on amendments to that end.”
The controversy comes less than three months after a school administrator in North Texas apologized for instructing teachers to provide reading materials with “opposing” views on the Holocaust. Her comments followed a new state law requiring educators to provide multiple perspectives on “currently controversial” topics.
The next month, impartiality in school classrooms became a key issue in Virginia’s close governor race. The winning candidate, Republican Glenn Youngkin, painted his Democratic rival as someone who wanted to keep parental feedback out of the classroom.
Baldwin’s remarks about Nazism were in response to a high school teacher’s concerns over the proposed legislation. Senate Bill 167 in Indiana resembles legislation proposed or passed in more than two dozen states banning critical race theory, an academic framework that examines the way policies and laws perpetuate systemic racism. The bill would also require schools to form committees so parents could review teachers’ curriculums and weigh in on materials being used during lessons.
Several teachers voiced their concerns about the proposed legislation during last week’s nearly eight-hour-long committee hearing. Matt Bockenfeld, a U.S. history and ethnic studies teacher in Fishers, a northeastern suburb of Indianapolis, said he was worried about a section of the bill that says educators cannot “affect the student’s attitudes, habits, traits, opinions, beliefs, or feelings” when teaching what the Indiana GOP calls “divisive concepts.”
Addressing Baldwin and other state senators, Bockenfeld said he was concerned about the vague wording, noting that teachers could be punished if students are outraged by, say, his lessons on Adolf Hitler’s rise to power.
“For example, it’s the second semester of U.S. history, so we’re learning about the rise of fascism and the rise of Nazism right now,” Bockenfeld said. “And I’m just not neutral on the political ideology of fascism. We condemn it, and we condemn it in full, and I tell my students the purpose, in a democracy, of understanding the traits of fascism ... so that we can recognize it and we can combat it.”
Bockenfeld went on to clarify that he agrees with the bill’s proposed ban on teachers expressing opinions on political issues. But always requiring neutrality is flawed, he added.
“We’re not neutral on Nazism. We take a stand in the classroom against it, and it matters that we do,” Bockenfeld said.
Baldwin then responded with his comments about teachers remaining “impartial.”
Baldwin, who was elected in 2020, has faced scrutiny in the past, the Star reported, after his name was included on a list of purported members of Oath Keepers — a far-right, self-styled militia group accused of participating in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. The state senator denied involvement, telling the newspaper he made a $30 donation to the group during an unsuccessful 2010 bid for county sheriff but had no interaction with the Oath Keepers since.
Baldwin said the point of Senate Bill 167 is to allow students to “formulate their own viewpoints.”
“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,” he said.
In a Twitter thread Thursday, Bockenfeld said that after hearing Baldwin’s statements “my fears were confirmed.”
“Is 2022 really the year that we’ll punish teachers, maybe even strip them of their license, for opposing hateful ideologies?” he wrote. “Democracy is not value-neutral. Teachers cannot just mindlessly provide trivia facts about Nazism but attach no moral judgement to it.”
On Thursday evening, Baldwin reached out to Bockenfeld, offering the teacher an opportunity to assist on the bill, according to the Star.