Republicans in the Texas House voted Tuesday to limit how racism and the history of American slavery is taught in Texas classrooms, a controversial measure that Democrats have denounced as whitewashing a central chapter of the country’s founding. The measure passed along party lines, but not before Democrats were […]
Republicans in the Texas House voted Tuesday to limit how racism and the history of American slavery is taught in Texas classrooms, a controversial measure that Democrats have denounced as whitewashing a central chapter of the country’s founding.
The measure passed along party lines, but not before Democrats were able to tack on several small amendments, mostly adding texts from historical figures of color into the list of required reading for students. Those included the work of women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony and William Still’s records of the underground railroad.
Republicans rejected other key suggestions, including one to weaken a provision that would ban course credit for student volunteer work with certain outside groups.
Supporters said that provision keeps partisanship out of education. Democrats argued it will only block students from essential “service learning” opportunities, such as volunteering with the Boys and Girls Club of America or a local chapter of 4H.
“That’s not left or right, that’s across the board discouraging civic engagement,” said Rep. Erin Zweiner, D-Driftwood.
Republicans have framed the legislation, which already passed in the Senate, as a referendum on critical race theory, a decades-old academic movement that has become a buzzword among conservatives who dispute the existence of white privilege and systemic racism. The bill would limit teachers from pushing its core tenets, such as connecting modern-day inequities to historical patterns of discrimination.
Republicans also added language Tuesday to prohibit teachers from advocating for the New York Times’ 1619 Project, an essay collection asserting that slavery and its remnants are more integral to the country’s founding than is commonly acknowledged.
Under the amendment, teachers would be required to describe racism and slavery as antithetical to the country’s founding principles, though the founding documents referenced slavery and didn’t treat Black people equally to white Americans.
Democrats and educators say the legislation infringes on free speech and contradict aspects of the state’s existing social studies curriculum. Rep. James Talarico, a former teacher, accused the bill’s chief sponsor, Republican Rep. Steve Toth, of trying to downplay the significance of slavery and the persistence of discrimination.
“This lengthy bill about civics makes no effort to teach the history of racism or white supremacy and its impact on the founding of our country politically, socially, economically,” he said. “The only thing you’re doing is preventing us from talking about race in a way that makes you uncomfortable.”
Toth, at one point invoking the words of Martin Luther King, said the bill will not limit what teachers can discuss, only what they can advocate for. But he also made conflicting remarks about what was actually included in the legislation.
At one point, for example, he said it would only ban course credit for volunteer work if the work advocates for critical race theory, even though that phrase was nowhere in the original text. He later said it would only ban overtly political activities, like volunteering for the National Rifle Foundation or for Planned Parenthood.
“That may be your desire, Mr. Toth, but that’s not your bill,” Talarico said.
“That is the bill,” Toth replied. “The child chooses to do that on their own. They can do that on their own.”
Toth said parents should be deciding what activities students take part in, not teachers, and he gave the example of taking his kids on educational family trips when they were young.
“The concern is that if we remove the service learning programs from our civics classrooms or our social studies classrooms, that it will be affluent kids like your own that will have access to these types of training and democracy,” Talarico said. “But not the students who need it most, like the ones that I used to teach on the west side of San Antonio.”