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Tennessee becomes latest state to officially ban critical race theory in public schools


Tennessee has officially become the third state to ban critical race theory in public schools, as nearly a dozen others are trying to pass similar laws, claiming it is indoctrinating children by teaching them that they are either ‘privileged’ or ‘oppressed’.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed the ban on the race theory into law on Monday, arguing that students should learn about American ‘exceptionalism’ rather than topics like the critical race theory, which, he said ‘inherently divide people’.

‘We need to make sure that our kids recognize that this country is moving toward a more perfect union, that we should teach the exceptionalism of our nation and how people can live together to make a greater nation,’ he told reporters earlier this month, ‘and to not teach things that inherently divide or pit either Americans against Americans or people groups against people groups.’

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed a ban on teaching critical race theory in public schools into law on Monday, arguing students should learn about American ‘exceptionalism’ rather than topics that ‘inherently divide people’

CRITICAL RACE THEORY: WHAT DOES IT MEAN?  

The fight over critical race theory in schools has escalated in the United States over the last year.

The theory has sparked a fierce nationwide debate in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests around the country over the last year and the introduction of the 1619 Project.

The 1619 Project, which was published by the New York Times in 2019 to mark 400 years since the first enslaved Africans arrived on American shores, reframes American history by ‘placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the center of the US narrative’.

The debate surrounding critical race theory regards concerns that some children are being indoctrinated into thinking that white people are inherently racist or sexist.

Those against critical race theory have argued it reduces people to the categories of ‘privileged’ or ‘oppressed’ based on their skin color.

Supporters, however, say the theory is vital to eliminating racism because it examines the ways in which race influence American politics, culture and the law.

The bill was passed in the GOP-led Legislature and signed by a Republican governor, but black Democratic lawmakers in the state warned it would make teachers afraid to talk about how race and racism have shaped American history. 

It was amended several times and it goes into effect on July 1.

The law makes it illegal for teachers to instruct that ‘an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously.’

It will not apply when a teacher is responding to a student’s question or referring to  a historic figure or group, and allows for an ‘impartial discussion of controversial aspects of history.’

Any school that is found to be in violation of the law can lose out on state funding.

Governor Lee has previously expressed his willingness to sign the bill into law, as Republican governors in other states — including Oklahoma and Idaho — have already done. 

A handful of other states — including North Carolina, Texas, Arizona, Louisiana, Iowa, Missouri, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and West Virginia — are currently debating, or in the process of approving, similar bills. 

While there is currently no legislation in the works in Florida and South Dakota, the governors of those states have publicly declared they oppose critical race theory. 

Arkansas also passed a bill banning the theory from being taught at state agencies, but it does not apply to colleges, universities, public schools, local governments, or law enforcement training. 

The theory has sparked a fierce nationwide debate in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests around the country over the last year and the introduction of the 1619 Project. Its opponents claim the theory indoctrinates children into thinking that white people are inherently racist or sexist.

They argue it reduces people to the categories of ‘privileged’ or ‘oppressed’ based on their skin color. 

Three Republican-led states have now signed laws banning critical race theory in public schools and nearly a dozen others are currently trying to pass similar bills that block or limit it from becoming part of curriculums

Three Republican-led states have now signed laws banning critical race theory in public schools and nearly a dozen others are currently trying to pass similar bills that block or limit it from becoming part of curriculums

Supporters, however, say the theory is vital to eliminating racism because it examines the ways in which race influence American politics, culture and the law.

Here’s a breakdown of the states that have banned critical race theory in public schools:

Tennessee

A Tennessee law that bans teachers from teaching the critical race theory was signed by the Governor Bill Lee on Monday, after months of debate about the bill.

The Republican governor had previously claimed he would sign the bill, but black Democrats in the majority-white Legislature spoke out against the bill, claiming it would make teachers fearful to teach the history of racial relations in America.

‘Critical race theory is rooted in critical theory, which argues that social problems are created and influenced by societal structures and cultural assumptions,’ Sen. Katrina Robinson, a black Democrat from Memphis, said. 

‘How ironic that a body made up of a simple majority of white privileged men can determine whether even my grandchildren can see reflections of themselves in the history lessons at their school.’

Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey, also of Memphis, however, argued that teaching the theory was ‘harmful to our students’.

‘Critical race theory teaches that American democracy is a lie. It teaches that the rule of law does not exist and is instead a series of power struggles among racial groups,’ he said. 

‘It is harmful to our students and is antithetical to everything we stand for as Americans and as Tennesseans.’ 

Idaho

Idaho’s Republican Governor Brad Little signed legislation in April that prevents schools and universities from ‘indoctrinating’ students with critical race theory. 

The state’s bill allows for the teaching of critical race theory but bans curriculums from forcing belief systems onto students that claim groups of people are inferior or superior to others because of their race, gender or religion.

It also prevents teachers from making students ‘affirm, adopt or adhere to’ belief systems that claim individuals of any race, sex or religion are responsible for the past actions of other members of the same group.

Idaho’s Republican-controlled Senate had earlier passed the bill with a 28-7 vote. One Republican, Senator Dan Johnson, broke rank and joined Democrats in opposing the bill.

Idaho's Republican Governor Brad Little signed legislation in April that prevents schools and universities from 'indoctrinating' students with critical race theory. Students filled the gallery as the legislation was passed in the Senate last month

Idaho’s Republican Governor Brad Little signed legislation in April that prevents schools and universities from ‘indoctrinating’ students with critical race theory. Students filled the gallery as the legislation was passed in the Senate last month

Governor Brad Little became the first to sign the critical race theory ban into law last month

Governor Brad Little became the first to sign the critical race theory ban into law last month

‘The claim that there is widespread, systemic indoctrination occurring in Idaho classrooms is a serious allegation,’ Little said. ‘Most worryingly, it undermines popular support for public education in Idaho.’ 

State Democrats had accused Republicans of holding crucial education budget bills hostage while they focused on passing the bill – as they argued the bill was contrary to First Amendment rights.

Senator Janie Ward-Engelking argued the bill was ‘not needed’ and said the idea that schools are ‘brainwashing’ children with ‘a liberal leftist indoctrination’ false.

‘Our universities and school districts districts already have procedures in place that will deal with any problem we have in curriculum,’ she told the Idaho Press.

‘What’s happening is we have a group that’s put out for public release comments that our teachers are brainwashing our children with a liberal leftist indoctrination. And that’s simply not true.’

 Oklahoma

Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signed his state’s bill into law on May 7 after the GOP-controlled House voted 70-19 in its favor. 

Under the law, Oklahoma City public school teachers are prohibited from teaching certain concepts of race and racism, including critical race theory. 

The bill, which takes effect on July 1, also prevents colleges and universities from requiring students to undergo training on gender or sexual diversity. 

Oklahoma's Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signed his state's bill into law last Friday after the GOP-controlled House voted 70-19 in favor

Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signed his state’s bill into law last Friday after the GOP-controlled House voted 70-19 in favor

Stitt said that the new law will allow history to be taught without labeling a ‘young child as an oppressor’.

‘As governor, I firmly believe that not one cent of taxpayer money should be used to define and divide young Oklahomans about their race or sex. That is what this bill upholds for public education,’ he said. 

‘We must keep teaching history and all of its complexities and encourage honest and tough conversations about our past. Nothing in this bill prevents or discourages those conversations.

‘We can and should teach this history without labeling a young child as an oppressor or requiring that he or she feel guilt or shame based on their race or sex. I refuse to tolerate otherwise.’ 

The bill has received pushback from some, including the Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education who unanimously voted on Monday to denounce the law.

All eight board members took turns criticizing Stitt’s bill, including Ruth Veales who argued that the legislation was attempting to shut off conversations about racism to ‘protect white fragility’.

‘As a district that’s over 80 percent students of color, this is definitely an insult,’ Veales said. ‘It is a situation that is so egregious to me.’

Many other state governments are considering passing legislation outlawing the teaching of the critical race theory in public schools, including:  

Texas

The Texas Senate passed legislation on Saturday that would ban schools from requiring staff to discuss or teach critical race theory.

The bill passed the state’s lower chamber on May 11, but the state House will have to approve it again after changes were made in the Senate, according to KXAN.

‘House Bill 3979 makes certain that critical race philosophies, including the 1619 founding myth, are removed from our school curriculums statewide,’ Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said. 

‘When parents send their children to school, they want their students to learn critical thinking without being indoctrinated with misinformation charging that America and our Constitution are rooted in racism,’ he continued, adding: ‘Texans roundly reject the ‘woke’ philosophies that espouse that one race or sex is better than another and that someone, by virtue of their race or sex, is innately racist, oppressive or sexist.’

The bill requires teachers who talk about race relations and how they shaped history to look at viewpoints ‘from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.’

A number of teaching organizations have opposed the legislation, however, by arguing that it is attempting to downplay the role of racism in America’s history. 

‘By telling teachers what and how to teach and ordering TEA to play police, HB 3979 may be one of the most disrespectful bills to teachers I’ve seen the #txlege dignify with debate,’ Mark Wiggins, a lobbyist for The Association of Professional Educators, tweeted over the weekend.

Texas is in the process of approving similar legislation to ban critical race theory in public schools. Texas Gov Greg Abbott has already expressed support for it and is expected to sign it into law

Texas is in the process of approving similar legislation to ban critical race theory in public schools. Texas Gov Greg Abbott has already expressed support for it and is expected to sign it into law

Mark Wiggins, a lobbyist for The Association of Professional Educators, called the bill 'one of the most disrespectful ... to teachers I've seen'

Mark Wiggins, a lobbyist for The Association of Professional Educators, called the bill ‘one of the most disrespectful … to teachers I’ve seen’

Arizona

An Arizona bill banning ‘biased’ topics in schools, such as critical race theory, has advanced.

The Arizona House of Representatives voted in favor of a bill to ban racist, sexist, politicized or other controversial topics in schools and penalize teachers with fines earlier this month. 

Under the bill, which is now with the Senate, charter schools and state agencies would be banned under the Unbiased Teaching Act from discussing controversial issues with students unless teachers give equal weight to divisive topics. 

Violations would result in $5,000 fines. 

House Democrats voted against the bill and argued it was unconstitutional. They said it was reminiscent of a 2010 law that banned Mexican-American studies but was later struck down in court. 

Republican state Rep. Michelle Udall hit back at arguments the bill is trying to ban conversations regarding racism. 

‘We cannot allow children in our public schools to be taught that their skin color or ethnicity or sex somehow determines their character or actions. No forms of racism should be allowed to enter our classrooms,’ Udall said. 

‘Biased teaching needs to be stopped.’ 

Iowa 

A bill that will ban Iowa students from being taught that the US or the state is systemically racist is currently with Republican Governor Kim Reynolds. 

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the bill in a 53-35 vote earlier this month. The Senate also passed it 30-18.  

In Iowa, the pending legislation will limit the ‘divisive concepts’ that can be taught in schools and in diversity training in government-related jobs. 

Republicans who support the bill argue that it will prevent students from being indoctrinated. 

While debating the bill earlier this month, Republican Rep. Steven Holt said it would not ban discussions about slavery, sexism, racism or discrimination. 

He argued, however, that teachers didn’t need to ‘use racism to teach against racism’.

‘Of course these issues must be taught. They must be discussed, and they can be without scapegoating entire groups of people,’ Holt said. 

Missouri

Republicans in Missouri are currently trying to ban school districts from teaching critical race theory and anything related to 1619 Project. 

The ban was included in an amendment to House Bill 1141 that was introduced last month.

The amendment seeks to ban teachers from identifying any people or institutions as racist, biased, privileged or oppressed. 

Representative Nick Schroer, who sponsored the amendment, said at the time: ‘I sponsored the amendment to stop ‘critical race theory,’ including the erroneous and hate-filled 1619 Project, from being shoved into our curriculum in our Missouri schools. 

‘For those trying to push scare tactics claiming this is about ‘white washing’ history, you are dead wrong. This is about ensuring no one taints a factual teaching of our American history.’ 

The ACLU of Missouri has since launched a campaign to stop the legislation from being approved, arguing it is ‘loaded down with harmful amendments seeking to undermine the rights of people all across the state’.  

Rhode Island

Republican legislators introduced a bill back in March that seeks to ban teaching divisive concepts in schools.

The bill, known as H.6070, has since stalled after being debated by the House Committee on Education.

Republican Rep. Patricia Morgan, who is behind the bill, argued that teachers should not make white students, in particular, feel bad because of their skin color. 

When the bill was first put to the committee, more than 150 people submitted written testimony objecting to it. 

There is currently no law banning critical race theory in Florida but Governor Ron DeSantis has publicly vowed not to let it be taught in the state's schools

There is currently no law banning critical race theory in Florida but Governor Ron DeSantis has publicly vowed not to let it be taught in the state’s schools

Florida

There is currently no law banning critical race theory in Florida but Governor Ron DeSantis has publicly vowed not to let it be taught in the state’s schools.  

DeSantis declared back in March that critical race theory would not be taught in the state’s schools because it ‘teaches kids to hate their country and each other’. 

He made the comments as he proposed a $106 million boost in funding for civics education in across the state using money from President Biden’s COVID-19 aid package. 

DeSantis said $17 million would be targeted for developing civics curricula with ‘foundational concepts’ – and not ‘unsanctioned narratives like critical race theory’. 

‘Let me be clear: There is no room in our classrooms for things like critical race theory,’ he said. 

‘Teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other is not worth one red cent of taxpayer money.’  

New Hampshire

Lawmakers in New Hampshire are currently debating a critical race theory amendment that is included in the state’s proposed budget.

Republicans are now trying to compromise with Democrats in the House about the amendment that seeks to ban ‘divisive’ topics regarding race and gender in schools. 

West Virginia

Republican lawmakers first introduced a bill in February that seeks to ban schools from promoting ‘divisive concepts’.

The bill was referred to the state House’s Workforce Development Committee.

The ACLU West Virginia is objecting to the bill, arguing it would prevent discussions ‘in curriculum regarding the racial history of the United States, implicit bias, and privilege’.

South Dakota

Likewise in South Dakota, there is no legislation banning critical race theory. 

Governor Kristi Noem, however, has put her name to the ‘1776 pledge’ that opposes the teaching of critical race theory in public schools.

‘Teaching our children and grandchildren to hate their own country and pitting them against one another on the basis of race or sex is shameful and must be stopped,’ Noem said earlier this month.  

The 1776 Pledge was launched as an attempt to counter the 1619 Project, which posits the true founding of America in 1619, when the first African slaves arrived, rather than 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed.  

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has boasted of signing the '1776 pledge' that opposes the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) in public schools

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has boasted of signing the ‘1776 pledge’ that opposes the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) in public schools

North Carolina

North Carolina House Republicans approved a plan on Wednesday to prohibit public schools from embracing certain ideas related to critical race theory.

The measure passed by a vote of 65 to 48 and now heads to the Senate. 

If approved, it would go to Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s desk. 

House Bill 324, if approved, would prevent schools from endorsing the view that any person should feel guilty because of their race or sex, or that the person’s race or sex makes them inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, even if unconsciously. 

North Carolina’s proposal doesn’t prohibit teachers from introducing the ideas to students as long as they make it clear that the school isn’t endorsing such concepts.

Democrats and racial justice advocates in the state have accused Republicans of trying to rewrite history and deprive pupils of a fulfilling curriculum. 

Louisiana

A bill to ban schools and colleges from teaching ‘divisive concepts’, including critical race theory has now stalled in Louisiana amid opposition from some lawmakers and education officials.

Efforts by the House Education Committee late last month to kill the bill failed in a 7-7 vote, which means the bill can resume being debated later. 

Rep. Ray Garofalo, who is chairman of the committee, has already said he intends to try to push forward with the bill. 

GOP House Speaker Clay Schexnayder was among those who raised concerns about it.  

Garofalo said he was trying to take the ‘politics out of the classroom’ and ensure ‘a learning environment free of discrimination’ with the bill. 

‘I have no doubt there are certain factions in this country that are trying to infiltrate and indoctrinate our students,’ he said.

Those who oppose it said the proposal was a distraction from the real education problems Louisiana faces and is an attempt to whitewash American history.

Rep. Gary Carter, a New Orleans Democrat, said: ‘The state of Louisiana was fundamentally, institutionally racist in the past.’   



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