Per Governor Greg Abbott’s agenda, the Texas Senate has now passed a second version awaiting advancement through the stalled House. It would replace the first version and differs from it in a few important ways.
Strictly, critical race theory is an academic discourse that views race and racism as durable but artificial systems built to benefit whites.
Like critical race theory’s parent academic movement, critical theory, it assumes that certain social institutions thought to be neutral are actually devices of oppression or at least expressions of powerful will. Perhaps the most notable example in America is equal treatment, a guiding value criticized in varying degrees as inadequate or outright racist.
The term “critical race theory” appears nowhere in the original House Bill (HB) 3979 by state Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands) or its special session replacement, Senate Bill (SB) 3 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola). Instead, it forbids teachers from forwarding certain concepts or applications associated with critical race theory, such as collective guilt and preferential treatment. While race has claimed the most attention, these lines also apply to sex as well.
Here are the concepts that teachers cannot require or “inculcate” as part of a curriculum under SB 3:
(i) one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex;
(ii) an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously;
(iii) an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of the individual’s race or sex;
(iv) an individual’s moral character, standing, or worth is necessarily determined by the individual’s race or sex;
(v) an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex;
(vi) an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex;
(vii) meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by members of a particular race to oppress members of another race;
(viii) the advent of slavery in the territory that is now the United States constituted the true founding of the United States; or
(ix) with respect to their relationship to American values, slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality.
The first bill, HB 3979, included a tenth concept not present in SB 3: “Members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex.” Besides that, this section is identical in both bills.
Changes to the state curriculum have attracted perhaps the most attention and caused the most capitol drama.
One section of the bill requires students to gain familiarity with founding American documents. Toth originally listed the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist Papers, excerpts from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, the first Lincoln-Douglas debate, and the writings of the Founding Fathers.
This reading list grew considerably when it came to the Texas House floor during the regular session. Toth accepted most amendments offered by Democratic members to add other topics to the list of required study such as Sally Hemings, Cesar Chavez, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the women’s suffrage movement. The tactic earned Toth no Democratic support, and Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) joked the following day that lawmakers “shouldn’t be writing curriculum on the House floor.”
However, the Senate committee that heard the bill stripped these amendments away before sending it to the Senate floor, effectively restoring the bill to its original state.
For procedural reasons, that left the bill vulnerable to a point of order in the House, sending it back to the Senate at the eleventh hour. Pressed by deadlines, the Republican-led Senate held their noses and passed HB 3979 with its Democratic amendments.
SB 3 would trim this reading list down to Toth’s original documents and a few additions: the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the 13th, 14th, and 19th Amendments, “the complexity of the historic relationship between Texas and Mexico,” and Hispanic diversity.
At press conferences and on the Senate floor, Hughes has defended the removal of Democrat-suggested topics from the bill, noting that most of them already exist in the Texas curriculum.
Indeed, for years the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for high school social studies has required study of Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and writings, the Chicano and women’s suffrage movements, Jim Crow, and adjacent topics. Notably, it also requires some of Hughes’ remaining priorities, such as the 13th, 14th, and 19th Amendments, the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence.
HB 3979 is not the first bill that attempts to instill values in the state curriculum. State law codifies patriotism in Texas education, requiring teachers to “foster the continuation of the tradition of teaching United States and Texas history and the free enterprise system.”
“A primary purpose of the public school curriculum is to prepare thoughtful, active citizens who understand the importance of patriotism and can function productively in a free enterprise society with appreciation for the basic democratic values of our state and national heritage,” the Texas Education Code reads.
Staff Training and Requirements
While concerns about how to teach history have dominated discussion of HB 3979 and its replacement, SB 3, critical race theory informs staff training far more than the state curriculum or classroom learning. Critical understandings of race as a structure rather than an event have long been widely influential in training, often called “professional development,” for teachers and administrators.
For example, a recent training event for Texas school board members devoted considerable time to racial equity courses. San Marcos ISD paid over $50,000 for a racial sensitivity audit. Other proposed diversity plans for districts involve racial training for staff, widely mobilizing voters in recent school board elections from Southlake to Austin.
The recent popularity spike of critical race theory has inspired new changes to federal rules for teacher training, and controversy following the term “critical race theory” has made some schools scramble to avoid it. Nonetheless, these mark only the latest moments in ongoing conversations about antiracism and equity among education circles. As one education advocate who testified against the bill noted, “It is very common in today’s workplace to have diversity and equity initiatives.”
The first bill simply mandates that schools cannot require staff to discuss hot-button political issues. If teachers choose to do so, they must “strive to explore the topic from diverse and contending perspectives.” It also states that schools cannot require teachers to “engage in training, orientation, or therapy that presents any form of race or sex stereotyping or blame on the basis of race or sex.”
SB 3 keeps these requirements but refines them. In response to concerns of teachers’ unions that said the bill would require more training for teachers, SB 3 creates a civics training program for teachers and administrators.
Lastly, one section of the bills would keep schools from earning credit from political activity in an effort to stem an educational method commonly called “action civics.”
HB 3979 specifically bars schools from awarding credit for lobbying or political activism. In an effort to not accidentally forbid charity work, SB 3 is more specific. It defines political activity in greater detail and adds at the bottom of the bill that students may earn credit for “participation in community charitable projects,” such as gardens and food banks.
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