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TN Politics: No Love for New School Rules

Lindsay Johnson

With the start of the new school year, recent state laws passed by Republican lawmakers to give conservative parents more influence over local education curriculums have taken effect.

This week's conversation with political analyst Otis Sanford is a brief survey of how the policies impact teachers and students.

One law, which requires all books in all classrooms and libraries to be cataloged and publicized so parents can ostensibly vet material for sexually explicit content has inadvertently made it difficult for grade school teachers to have reading material on hand in classes.

Another law which threatens school districts with defunding if teachers raise discussions about systemic racism — a subject which largely white lawmakers have prohibited in this state — has led to one single complaint filed by parents in East Tennessee over a work of fiction.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bill Lee has frequently championed faith-based private and charter schools as a better alternative to public education in Tennessee. But his two signature schemes — to redirect public funding to private schools through vouchers and to pepper the state with ideologically conservative charter schools run by a Christian college in Michigan — have met with some resistance even from members of his own party.

The president of Hillsdale College did his institution no favors by saying in a speech attended by Gov. Lee that "teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country," and "you don't have to be an expert to educate a child because basically anyone can do it."

While Gov. Lee and Hillsdale president Larry Arnn have attacked public school education and teachers themselves, the Memphis Shelby County School District was recently given a Level 5 rating for academic growth, a distinction that Sanford says should be celebrated, despite the best efforts of lawmakers to undermine public education.

Reporting from the gates of Graceland to the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, Christopher has covered Memphis news, arts, culture and politics for more than 20 years in print and on the radio. He is currently WKNO's News Director and Senior Producer at the University of Memphis' Institute for Public Service Reporting. Join his conversations about the Memphis arts scene on the WKNO Culture Desk Facebook page.