While the Texas Legislature remains embroiled in a battle over election laws, Republican senators have advanced a bill that would reshape how social studies teachers can discuss race and current events in their classrooms.
SB3, which passed the Republican-led chamber in a 18-4 vote last week, now remains stalled in the state House after that chamber’s Democrats broke quorum and went to Washington, DC, to block action on a separate restrictive voting law. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott listed a proposal “concerning critical race theory” among his priorities for the legislature’s special session that convened earlier this month.
With SB3, Republican lawmakers are essentially seeking to replace the entire House bill, which Abbott just signed into law in June and is set to go into effect in September.
HB3979 calls on the Texas Board of Education to “adopt essential knowledge and skills that develop each student’s civic knowledge” by using historical primary documents to promote the understanding of a variety of topics, including subjects like: “the fundamental moral, political, and intellectual foundations of the American experiment in self-government,” the civil rights movement, the history of Native Americans and women’s suffrage.
However, the bill states that teachers can’t “require” or include in their courses, the concept that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” or the concept that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
It also notes 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.” Teachers, according to the bill, also can’t require or give extra credit for a student’s political activism.
The new legislation proposed by Senate Republicans strikes entire sections of the House bill. It removes references to the teaching of a series of historical primary documents written by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr., among others.
Discussion of the “civic accomplishments of marginalized populations” have also been struck from the bill, including teaching on the history of White supremacy, the institution of slavery and “the Ku Klux Klan, and the ways it is morally wrong.”
The history of Native Americans is also completely omitted from the Senate bill.
Opponents of SB3 have argued that limiting teachings around race obscures the truth and attempts to rewrite history.
“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,’” Democratic state Sen. Judith Zaffirini said during Senate debate on the bill. “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?’”
Neither bill specifically mentions critical race theory – a concept that has been around for decades and seeks to understand and address inequality and racism in the US by recognizing that systemic racism is part of American society. But HB3979 and SB3 state that teachers can’t make the concept that slavery was a founding principle of the United States required course curriculum.
Opponents of critical race theory and similar teaching requirements have slammed it as poisoning discussions on racism. Former President Donald Trump opposed the teaching of the New York Times’ 1619 Project – the Pulitzer Prize-winning project that reframes American history around the date of August 1619, when the first slave ship arrived on America’s shores – in schools and his administration banned federal agencies from conducting racial sensitivity training related to critical race theory, calling it “divisive, anti-American propaganda.”
State Rep. Steve Toth, a Republican sponsor of the House legislation, said at the time of HB3979’s passing that “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.”
The fate of the Senate bill remains in limbo as it’s unclear when the House could again reach quorum to consider the legislation. The Texas debate is just the latest in state legislatures over critical race theory in the education system. At least two dozen states have banned critical race theory or introduced legislation to ban it from being taught in the classroom.