(AUSTIN, Texas) — Some lessons on the civil rights movement, white supremacy, the women’s suffrage movement and Martin Luther King Jr. may soon be cut from Texas’ public education requirements, according to legislation being considered in the state — one of several bills targeting critical race theory around the country.
The Texas Senate has passed Senate Bill 3 in a continued effort to proscribe education on racial inequality in K-12 education. It removes several Texas Education Code lesson requirements that were proposed by Democrats in prior education legislation to be implemented in the upcoming school year. It also stipulates that lessons cannot teach that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” or make students “feel discomfort, guilt, [or] anguish” about privilege or systemic racism.
The concept of critical race theory, an academic discipline that analyzes how racism is perpetuated in U.S. laws and policies, has become a lightning rod for conservatives around the country amid the racial reckoning spurred by George Floyd’s death.
At least 26 other states have introduced or implemented similar legislation on race education by Republican lawmakers, echoing concerns about racial division.
Opponents say that children should not be made to feel responsible for past injustices based solely on the color of their skin or be forced to accept the idea that the United States and its institutions are not only structured racially but perpetuate that racism.
Some teachers interviewed by ABC News have said critical race theory isn’t being taught in grades K-12 and instead is reserved for academic institutions. Some Texas educators told ABC they believe the fight against “critical race theory” is a veiled attempt to turn back the clock on racial equality.
What’s in the bill
The new legislation, SB3, would remove several staples of U.S. history education from state requirements, according to Ovidia Molina, the president of the Texas State Teachers Association.
The state currently requires teaching “the history of white supremacy,” “the institution of slavery, the eugenics movement, and the Ku Klux Klan, and the ways in which it is morally wrong; the Chicano movement; women’s suffrage and equal rights; the civil rights movement” and more.
However, SB3 would cut those requirements — a move that some teachers say signals a growing effort to remove specific lessons from classrooms.
“Specifically editing out that you can’t teach that white supremacy is morally wrong — that is deeply concerning,” said Jennifer Lee, a teacher in Killeen, Texas. “I think the angle here is just … preserving the ideals behind white supremacy.”
Though the new legislation doesn’t necessarily ban these lessons from being taught, removing them from the list of requirements means they may come under scrutiny due to the vague, anti-critical race theory language of this bill.
Gov. Greg Abbott already signed anti-critical race theory into law in June with HB3979 — stating that teachers are banned from linking systemic racism to the “authentic founding principles of the United States.” But teachers and advocates say it is so vague that it could infringe on their ability to have truthful dialogue about history and racism with their students.
SB3 was added to the state legislature’s special session after Abbott signed HB3979 into law, saying “more must be done” on critical race theory in schools.
And SB3 has been called troubling by education groups including the National Education Association for its potential to censor teachers and students in the classroom.
‘Provide guardrails’ against ‘animosity’
Defenders of the bill, including Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes who sponsored the bill, say that some lessons on racial inequality blame white students for systemic racism and creates tension between students of different backgrounds.
“This bill is meant only to provide guardrails against imposing division and animosity on our students,” Hughes said before the July 16 Senate vote. “Since [critical race theory] is so prevalent in higher education and since we see it popping up in public schools, that’s why it needs to be addressed.”
Other proponents of anti-critical race theory bills, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have said that some lessons on race could lead to the “indoctrination” of public school students toward progressive political leanings.
Ovidia Molina, the president of the Texas State Teachers Association, said that students have so much to gain from education about America’s racial history, including those that would be erased by this new legislation.
“We want to keep honesty in education,” Molina said. “We want to make sure that we teach our students the truth, the whole truth, the good, the bad, the failures, the successes.”
Molina said teachers have spoken up at hearings and called their local legislators to denounce the new legislation — but said lawmakers are not listening.
“They don’t know what’s happening in our public schools,” Molina said. “We still want to celebrate women’s suffrage, we still want to celebrate the Chicano movement, we still want to celebrate people of color, so that our students see themselves in the history and so they see themselves in the future.”
The Texas Education Agency did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Molina said that Texas districts have yet to announce what punishment for teaching these subjects might look like for teachers.
Concerning shift toward ‘patriotic’ education
Some teachers told ABC they are worried about retaliation, termination, or other forms of punishment. But others are more concerned about what this shift toward more “patriotic” education means for their students.
“One of the first things Hitler did was start to reform education and impact the way that history is taught. One of the first things Mussolini did was go through and incorporate patriotic education,” Lee said. “Education has always been that first line of defense in preserving a certain way of thinking.”
Former President Donald Trump, among several other conservatives, have become proponents of “patriotic” education in response to critical race theory and The New York Times’ 1619 project — which dissects the founding of the United States of America and its legacy of slavery. Trump’s proposed “1776 commission” aims to envision U.S. history in a positive light, instead of through a condemnatory, racial lens.
San Antonio teacher Christopher Green said he believes that lessons on race, inequality and oppression are vital to helping children navigate the world and understand our society.
“Rather than adding a more diverse perspective to the teaching of history, it’s eliminating things that really need to be in there to understand the full picture of the American story,” Green said.
The bill will now be headed to the state House, but it will likely be stalled due to protests from Texas Democratic representatives. They have fled the state in protest of new voting restrictions, meaning there won’t be enough members to conduct business according to House rules.
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