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In the US, are there any laws that restrict certain subjects or topics, or parts thereof, from being taught in schools?

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    FWIW, school curricula are primarily a matter of state and local law and not federal law, and thus vary from state to state. Further, curricula in public schools is tightly regulated, while private school instructional content has some bare minimum standards, but mostly isn't regulated. Only very few things can't be taught in any U.S. school, public or private, in every state, many things can't be taught in the public schools of particular states.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 2, 2021 at 17:33
  • It will a nationwide constitutional issue that public schools can’t teach religion in a way that advocates or privileges one over others. Sep 2, 2021 at 22:05
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    "school curricula are by US Code 1232a, (Prohibition against Federal control of education), a matter of state and local law" - so there's probably a thousand answers to this, and all the 'fun' ones are going to come out of the Deep South.
    – Mazura
    Sep 2, 2021 at 22:09
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    +10 funny. Methlab 101. Cryptography 201: how to send CIA documents to the Kremlin. Sep 3, 2021 at 13:07

3 Answers 3

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A teacher could not instruct students in how to build explosives for use in Federal crimes:

It shall be unlawful for any person to teach or demonstrate the making or use of an explosive, a destructive device, or a weapon of mass destruction [...] with the intent that the teaching, demonstration, or information be used for, or in furtherance of, an activity that constitutes a Federal crime of violence (source)

This Federal statute creates a law preventing the teaching (in any context, including schools) of bombmaking for the purpose of committing a federal crime.

So "bombmaking" is one subject that cannot be taught, although I don't think that there have been any prosecutions of regular K12 teachers under this law.

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    Bombmaking can actually be taught, just not as part of a plot to commit a Federal crime. So an instructor teaching new employees at a defense contractor is fine. Teaching Timothy McVeigh though, would not.
    – Ryan_L
    Sep 2, 2021 at 19:07
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    @Ryan_L "Bombmaking can actually be taught" Good luck convincing your Board of Ed to approve your curriculum, though.
    – user45266
    Sep 2, 2021 at 20:00
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    @user45266 Yeah, "legal" doesn't mean "possible".
    – Ryan_L
    Sep 2, 2021 at 20:11
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    @Ryan_L of course, and in courses for military engineers, I'm sure bombmaking is taught. You can also learn the trade of demolition demolition.training (not exactly a "bomb" but certainly about the safe use of explosives). However this is a clear federal law which makes it unlawful to teach a certain "subject", so I think it answers the question. The law is, of course, not aimed at schools, but at people who run "terrorist training" or distribute "the anarchists cookbook" etc.
    – James K
    Sep 2, 2021 at 20:47
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    @Ryan_L If Timothy McVeigh contacts you and says "I'd like to blow up an FBI building. Can you tell me how to make the bomb?" it's illegal to tell him. If he contacts you and says "I have a general interest in explosives. Can you go over the basics of explosives?" it's not illegal to teach him explosives. Sep 2, 2021 at 23:47
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In 1925 Tennessee passed the Butler Act, which prohibited the teaching of evolution in public schools, more specifically the teaching that "mankind was descended from a lower type". This law was challenged in the famous Scopes Trial, more formally The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, often known as the 'Monkey Trial".

Scopes was convicted and fined, but the conviction was overturned on a technicality: the $100 fine was set by the judge, not the jury, but under Tennessee law at that time, a judge had no power to impose a fine over $50 without it being set by the jury. However, the Tennessee Supreme Court found that the Butler Act was Constitutional.

The law remained on the books, and similar laws in some other US states, until the 1960s. In * Epperson v. Arkansas* 393 U.S. 97 (1968) The US supreme court held that such laws violated the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution, because their purpose was religious. The court wrote:

The overriding fact is that Arkansas’ law selects from the body of knowledge a particular segment which it proscribes for the sole reason that it is deemed to conflict with a particular religious doctrine; that is, with a particular interpretation of the Book of Genesis by a particular religious group.

...

[T]he state has no legitimate interest in protecting any or all religions from views distasteful to them.

Such laws were only rarely enforced while they were in place, but some scholars argue that they significantly influenced textbook contents and the way in which high-school biology was taught.

Also, according to this news story from the Texas Tribune Texas has recently passed a law on the teaching of history, said to be designed to prevent the teaching of "Critical Race Theory" among other things, although the law does not explicitly mention that theory. The law, known as HB 3979, amends Section 28.002 of the Texas Education Code. It requires teaching various topics including "an understanding of ... the founding documents of the United States" which it lists as including the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, the Federalist papers, and the Lincoln-Douglas debates, among others.

The law provides in section (h-3)(1) that:

a teacher may not be compelled to discuss a particular current event or widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs

It also says in (h-3) (4) (B) that a school or teacher may not:

require or make part of a course the concept that:
(i) one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex;
(ii) an individual, by virtue of the individual ’s race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or
oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously;
(iii) An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of the individual’s race;
(iv) members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex;
(v) an individual ’s moral character, standing, or worth is necessarily determined by the individual ’s race or sex;
(vi) an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex;
(vii) an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex
...
(x) with respect to their relationship to American values, slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality;

So those teachings are currently prohibited by law. The law has not yet been implemented nor tested in court.

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    How does (x) fit with the 3/5s of all other persons of Article 1?
    – Jontia
    Sep 2, 2021 at 18:23
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    Oddly enough, the repeated emphasis on "individuals" means that they did not actually ban critical race theory as it is properly understood (it's generally about larger societal trends and structures, not individuals).
    – Kevin
    Sep 2, 2021 at 20:57
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    @Acccumulation: Now if only we could determine whether an authentic Founding Father puts sugar on his porridge... Sep 3, 2021 at 3:26
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    @Acccumulation Every authentic Founding Father shaves the beard of every authentic Founding Father who does not shave their own beard, and 3/5th of other persons.
    – Yakk
    Sep 3, 2021 at 3:50
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    @Kevin indeed, they only managed to ban the right-wing straw man of CRT, which nobody was teaching, to make the right wing feel better. Sep 3, 2021 at 9:43
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Just from recent news I know that Critical Race Theory

Critical race theory (CRT) is a body of legal scholarship and an academic movement of US civil-rights scholars and activists who seek to critically examine the intersection of race and U.S. law and to challenge mainstream American liberal approaches to racial justice.12[4] CRT examines social, cultural, and legal issues primarily as they relate to race and racism in the US.[5][6]

is legislated against in certain states in the US, and banned by the school boards in more.

  • Eight states (Idaho, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Iowa, New Hampshire, Arizona, and South Carolina) have passed legislation.
  • None of the state bills that have passed even actually mention the words “critical race theory” explicitly, with the exception of Idaho.
  • The legislations mostly ban the discussion, training, and/or orientation that the U.S. is inherently racist as well as any discussions about conscious and unconscious bias, privilege, discrimination, and oppression. These parameters also extend beyond race to include gender lectures and discussions.

All the relevant legislation is linked from the article. The Idaho legislation explicitly mentions Critical Race Theory.

(2) The Idaho legislature finds that tenets outlined in subsection (3)(a) of this section, often found in "critical race theory," undermine the objectives outlined in subsection (1) of this section and exacerbate and inflame divisions on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or other criteria in ways contrary to the unity of the nation and the well-being of the state of Idaho and its citizens.

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    Note that when you look at what the laws actually ban, although they are marketed as banning "Critical Race Theory", they actually ban e.g. teaching of racial supremacy. Sep 2, 2021 at 10:07
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    @user253751 That take relies on some pretty strong motivated reasoning and requires you to ignore both the stated purpose of the laws and how they’ve been applied in practice
    – divibisan
    Sep 2, 2021 at 15:11
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    @divibisan Uh, reading the laws? I have no doubt the Republicans will try to use them in bad faith. But the actual text of the laws says things like it's illegal to teach racial supremacy. Apparently, such common sense items were the only overlap of "perceived critical race theory" and something that could pass a legislature. Sep 2, 2021 at 16:43
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    @Dai maybe? it still falls far closer to "ban teaching racial supremacy" than to "ban teaching critical race theory" Sep 3, 2021 at 15:46
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    @Jontia Nope, only a spike in Republicans thinking there's been a spike in the teaching of racial supremacy... Sep 3, 2021 at 18:30

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