State Reps. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands) and James White (R-Hillister) are each carrying an identical duplicate of the bill, though the Public Education Committee of the Texas House only passed Toth’s. White’s twin never received a hearing.
The bill tackles a number of educational tactics feared by some Republicans to be nascent trends in the classroom, such as “action civics,” overly political curriculums, and a strain of sociological thought which organizes racism through structural rather than interpersonal terms, translated from academia to popular literacy by bestselling writers such as Ibram X. Kendi and commonly called “critical race theory.”
Specifically, the bill would adjust three key areas of education: the state curriculum, classroom education, and training for teachers and other employees.
It would require the State Board of Education to include an understanding of the country’s founding documents in the state curriculum standards, as well as an understanding of “the fundamental moral, political, and intellectual foundations of the American experiment in self-government.”
On top of barring teachers from asking students to engage in political activism, the bill would also forbid teachers from promoting racial preferences or concepts like inherent racism and racial guilt. It bans similar ways of teaching with regards to gender, such as fostering guilt on account of sex, teaching inherent or unconscious sexism, and encouraging worse treatment for one sex over another.
Lastly, it would forbid “training, orientation, or therapy that presents any form of race or sex stereotyping or blame on the basis of race or sex” for school employees.
“Action civics” is a name popularly given to teaching styles that encourage or require political activism. Proponents call it a hands-on approach that teaches children the political process more thoroughly than traditional books and blackboards. Critics say it skews to the left.
Massachusetts and Illinois have already implemented versions of this educational approach. Action civics proposals in the Texas legislature include SB 1740 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), which would have students participate in simulations of government processes and identify proper media sources. Another is HB 57 by Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock), which would require students to identify “issues in the community” before creating a public policy or action plan.” One by a Republican, Rep. Keith Bell (R-Forney), would create “civics academies” for teachers and administrators to learn how to guide classroom discussions in current events and teach citizenship with simulations and models of government processes. All three have languished in committee.
“Critical race theory” is the frequently used term for a system of belief, born out of decades-old academic discourse but more recently distilled into widely-read material, that defines racism not only as race-based hatred or discrimination but also as a prevalent and systemic problem that influences seemingly impartial aspects of American life as evidenced by gaps in achievement — such as school grades, arrests, or income — between some racial groups and others. It shares a common ancestry with academic feminism as well as other less familiar Marxist offspring like queer theory, altogether known as critical theory, and in its popular version informs corporate diversity efforts like personnel quotas and racial sensitivity training. Proponents of “critical race theory” tend to critique equal treatment.
While Toth’s bill would firmly prohibit teachers from giving credit for political advocacy or fomenting racial distress, its yoke weighs lighter on classroom discussions.
The bill says “no teacher may be compelled” by school policy to discuss current or controversial issues in class, but teachers may choose to do so. Those who do must “strive to explore such issues from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.”
The bill’s companion in the Texas Senate, Senate Bill (SB) 2202, passed on the second of three readings yesterday and is expected to pass to the House today.
The Senate has moved on a number of similar bills already, considering in committee a bill to foster “informed patriotism.” Like Toth’s bill, it begins by ordering the State Board of Education to require an understanding of America’s founding documents in the state curriculum, though it includes letters between the Founding Fathers alongside the Federalist Papers and other writings while Toth’s does not. Overall, by banning action civics and critical race theory from the classroom, Toth’s bill is more expansive.
Diversity and inclusion plans are not uncommon among Texas school districts. The Eanes plan has driven an unusually controversial and well-funded school board race seen by some as a referendum on how the school will treat race issues. Carroll ISD has attempted to establish a diversity and inclusion plan, sparking controversy with the use of the word “microaggressions,” but was stalled by a lawsuit alleging that the school board members violated the Open Meetings Act in their discussions of the plan.
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