Last week, I read a headline on Twitter that gave me pause – Texas GOP Passes Bill to Stop Teachers From Talking about Racism. This morning I learned that Gov. Abbott just needs to sign off on schools teaching or discussing CRT (Critical Race Theory). I will be the first to admit that I did not understand what critical race theory was in the beginning. I did a little research to find something that explained it in a way I could understand without all the legal jargon. This article from Education Week does state it in a way that is easy to understand:
Critical race theory is an academic concept that is more than 40 years old. The core idea is that racism is a social construct and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies. – Education Week May 18, 2021.
As I read the original article, the opening sentence pretty much tells the story by stating, “In the dead of night, the Texas Senate passed a bill that will effectively ban public school teachers from talking about racism, white supremacy, or current events.” Maybe their intent is to prevent biased discussions and history in the classroom. Yet, I cannot help wondering which side our legislatures are worried about silencing? In another article, the author states their concerns as such – History has taught that the loss of freedom often begins with the banning of ideas that people, often through intimidation, are reluctant to defend. This is the crux of the issue – the banning of ideas. As teachers, we are in the idea business allowing students to openly share their ideas, their voice. This bill would prevent this on both ends – both teacher and students. It’s as if the Texas GOP wants to whitewash our history and this bothers me because students need to talk about events in their life. What are we supposed to do? “Oh sorry sweetie, it’s against the law for me to talk about this with you.” That just seems wrong to me. Of course, the writer of the article stated it that way for dramatic effect, but still.
This is the crux of the issue – the banning of ideas. Click To Tweet
If someone could explain the reason behind this latest move from our Texas legislature, I’d be happy to listen. Is it out of fear of starting discord in the classrooms? Or is Texas attempting to ignore the problem? Or is it just to sow seeds of discord themselves across party lines? While I am not a conspiracy believer, I cannot help wondering if the latest rulings coming out of our Texas legislature are to anger Democrats or if the decisions are being made in retaliation for the presidential election results. I do know that this is the state that ignored the problems before the huge ice storm where many Texans went without power for several days and many died. This is the same state that passed a new voter rights bill as well. Is this bill essentially doing the same thing by ignoring that there are still issues with race?
I am a lifelong Texas, but not currently a fan of the many decisions coming out of Austin right now. However, there are clauses in this bill allowing teachers to use “foundational documents” such as I Have a Dream and Letters From a Birmingham Jail, but how does one not give background information for the purpose of these documents? As an English teacher, I always teach much-needed background knowledge no matter the text we are reading. Without context, much is lost in understanding the purpose of the author’s intent. That is why when I have taught Dr. King’s I Have a Dream in the classroom, I start off with a short history lesson to build the background of why this speech became so impactful. I explain the context of his word choice and allusions used because students today need to know what manacles and chains represent. They need to know about the significance of the states mentioned in the speech as places where racial tensions were a powder keg. I explain that with his use of parallelism/antithesis in the syntax structure, he paints a stunning picture of equality. Then I share how even this speech prompted the passing of the Civil Rights Act a year later. Afterward, I open the floor for students to discuss if the dream has been completely realized whether in an essay or open discussion in the classroom. Will this bill prohibit this kind of learning in my classroom? I want my students to have the opportunity to express their thoughts and learn how to form their own opinions based on what they have read. If this bill seeks to limit this possibility, then I do not agree with it. There has to be a balance in the issues, and many teachers are amazing in achieving this. I just feel like my legislatures do not trust this possibility. Yet, I am fully aware, there could be teachers out there sharing off-based reasoning. So, maybe they want to prevent that, but to totally shut it all down? That seems overboard.
What will all of us in education do about it? Texas is not the only state with this piece of the legislature: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, Idaho Gov. Brad Little, and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt recently signed similar bans, and lawmakers in Oregon, Arkansas, Utah, Georgia, Missouri, and Arizona are crafting their own versions. This bill will not only limit how we present and discuss current events, and history, but could potentially have an impact on the AP exams a well – Mallory Lineberger, a former history teacher who now serves as a policy fellow for the advocacy group The Education Trust in Texas, says AP history students are often scored on how well they can connect historical events and modern issues. Remember that background knowledge we provide our students? This is one reason this is vital for parents and teachers to act.
So what can we do? What we’ve always done: write letters or make calls to our legislators, make our voice heard in our teacher organizations, and express our concerns at our school board meetings. When the next election cycle in our state comes around, we must rally behind candidates who support teachers and students. If you have other ideas or thoughts, please share. I truly want to understand. I do know regardless, we cannot be silent, but we must be wise.
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