Christina Cauterucci wrote in Slate about “the debate that never happened.” A bill submitted to the House of Delegates by Wren Williiams, a newly elected Republican legislator, included a requirement that students learn about “the first debate” between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The debate, to those who studied U.S. history in high school, was not between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass but between Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. Williams became a laughing stock online, but the Virginia Division of Legislative Services, stepped up and took responsibility for the error. Regardless of where the fault lies, the issue it highlights is the absurdity of allowing legislators to determine what should or should not be taught.

The Virginia bill would prohibit instructors from teaching that the U.S. is “systemically racist or sexist” or that “the ideology of equity of outcomes is superior to the ideology of equality…of opportunities.” It would also ban school boards from hiring anyone “with the job title of equity director or diversity director or a substantially similar title.”

Williams cribbed most of his bill, including the part that refers to “the first Lincoln-Douglas debate,” from a law that passed in Texas last fall. Both bills include a provision even more disturbing than the swapping of Steven Douglas for Frederick Douglass: one that prohibits school boards from requiring teachers to cover any current event or “controversial issue of public policy or social affairs.” Teachers that choose to do so must represent multiple competing viewpoints on the issue, “without giving deference to any one perspective.”

Bills like these lead to huge embarrassments, like teaching “both sides” of slavery and the Holocaust, or teaching about Nazism, fascism, and Marxism without taking sides.

As a rule of thumb, legislators should leave the teaching of history and science and literature to teachers, historians, scientists, and literature experts.

You can’t legislature truth, and you can’t allow poorly educated legislators to dictate curriculum that will set students back a generation or more.