One week ago, members of the Republican-controlled Texas Senate passed a controversial bill that restricts how U.S. history is taught in schools by a vote of 18-4. Now, the bill remains stalled in the Texas House of Representatives because Democrats went to Washington, DC, to block action on a separate restrictive voting law.
If it were to pass, HB3979 would require the Texas Board of Education to "adopt essential knowledge and skills that develop each student's civic knowledge." In order to accomplish this, educators would have to use historical primary documents to inform students about the Civil Rights Movement, Women's Suffrage Movement and "the fundamental moral, political, and intellectual foundations of the American experiment in self-government." With that said, the bill stipulates that educators cannot introduce concepts that imply "one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex." In addition, teachers cannot introduce concepts or lessons that imply "an individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously." Adding on, the bill states 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." Moreover, educators cannot offer extra credit for a student engaging in political activism.
As the bill sits in the Texas House of Representatives, Republicans in the Texas Senate are pushing to remove entire seconds of HB3979. The Senate version of the bill strikes down mentions of documents written by Cesar Chavez, Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. Also, instruction about indigenous peoples' history, the transatlantic slave trade, history of white supremacy and "the Ku Klux Klan, and the ways it is morally wrong" have been struck down.
Over the last month, a number of lawmakers have pushed back and raised concerns with the Senate bill.
"Incredibly, Senate Bill 3 specifies that a teacher may not discuss current events or controversial issues of public policy or social affairs unless the educator 'strives to explore the topic from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective,'" Texas Senator Judith Zaffirini said.
"How could a teacher possibly discuss slavery, the Holocaust, or the mass shootings at the Walmart in El Paso or at the Sutherland Springs church in my district 'without giving deference to any one perspective?'"
Republican Texas Representative Steve Toth pushed back by saying that certain portions of the bill should be struck down because "students don't need one more reason to feel inadequate."
"At a time when racial tensions are at a boiling point, we don't need to burden our kids with guilt for racial crimes they had nothing to do with. Our students are stressed enough already and don't need one more reason to feel inadequate," Toth argued.
With Democrats and Republicans debating the bill, the future of HB3979 remains unclear. It is the latest battle in a larger conversation about critical race theory across the country. Thus far, two dozen states have banned critical race theory and more appear to be pushing in that direction.