87th LegislatureEducationTexas Legislature Passes Bill to Trim, Clarify New Classroom Critical Race Theory Law

Although House Bill 3979 took effect two days ago, it won't be effective for long. The legislature altered it with Senate Bill 3.
September 3, 2021
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Just two days ago, a bill by state Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands) meant to stem critical race theory in Texas classrooms took effect. Yesterday, the legislature passed another bill to replace it with the same purpose but more trim language.

Senate Bill (SB) 3 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) is an attempt to clean up Toth’s bill, which passed into law laden with amendments. SB 3 also adds new provisions meant to help teachers and schools navigate the law. It is on the way to the governor’s desk.

Here is a comparison between the fledgling law Toth carried and Hughes’ attempted replacement, broadly divisible into four main subjects: the state curriculum, classroom learning, requirements for school staff, and course credit.

State Curriculum

Much of the drama surrounding Republican efforts to address critical race theory at the Texas capitol has developed around discussions of which history to teach. Toth’s bill that took effect two days ago requires students to gain familiarity with early American history through a list of required reading. That list originally included the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, the first Lincoln-Douglas debate, and letters by the Founding Fathers.

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When presenting the bill to the House, Toth accepted many amendments to expand this list, mostly offered by Democratic members. By the time the bill was enrolled, it required students to learn about Sally Hemings, the Chicano movement, the Snyder Act of 1924, and the history of white supremacy, to name a few additions.

In the special session that followed, Hughes trimmed most of these amendments away in the first replacement bill he offered. Responding to allegations of whitewashing, Hughes defended the removal by noting that most of the Democrat-added amendments are already in the state curriculum. For example, Texas high school educators must teach students about Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King Jr., Jim Crow, and other topics and documents that Democratic members added. Most of the topics that Hughes kept have also long been in the state curriculum, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 13th, 14th, and 19th Amendments. However, this bill died as the first special session ended without a quorum.

Now, in the second special session, Hughes’ latest bill removes this required reading list entirely. It only directs the State Board of Education to require an understanding of American government, the traditions of civic engagement, and “the fundamental moral, political, entrepreneurial, and intellectual foundations of the American experiment in self-government.”

Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) added an amendment yesterday to clarify that removing these topics from statute does not mean the state board has to erase or exclude them from the Texas curriculum.

Classroom Learning

Toth’s bill includes a list of concepts that teachers cannot make part of a course. This is the section of the bill that deals with concepts born out of critical race theory and anti-racism.

Here is the full list of concepts that cannot be required in a Texas public school course:

(i) one race or sex is inherently better than another;

(ii) people, by virtue of their race or sex, can be inherently prejudiced or oppressive;

(iii) some people should be treated worse because of their race;

(iv) it is impossible or wrong to treat others equally regardless of their race or sex;

(v)  one’s character, standing, or worth is necessarily determined by one’s race or sex;

(vi) because of their race or sex, people can bear responsibility for past wrongs committed by members of the same race or sex;

(vii) people should feel discomfort, guilt, or anguish because of their race or sex;

(viii) meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist, sexist, or oppressive;

(ix) the United States’ true founding began with the advent of slavery in the colonies;

(x) the authentic founding principles of the United States, such as liberty and equality, support slavery and racism.

Hughes’ replacement bill only has eight concepts instead of 10. It does not include the fourth or seventh points. Otherwise, it is identical to Toth’s bill, though Hughes’ bill sharpens the language of the requirement itself. Specifically, it says that teachers, administrators, or schools cannot “inculcat[e]” these concepts.

Huberty added an amendment to prohibit schools from punishing or chilling student discussions about these topics.

Strictly speaking, critical race theory is an academic discourse that studies race and racism as artificial but fundamental bones in the social body. Critics understand racism not merely through interpersonal events — slurs, hate crimes, or other acts of discrimination — but as a lasting structure made evident by disparities in broad metrics like income and employment. Under critical race thought, racism underlies seemingly fair standards that may be as shallow as the SAT or as deep as objectivity itself. As such, critical race writers claim, human identity is deeply contingent upon race.

“A significant aspect of the white script derives from our seeing ourselves as both objective and unique,” critical race author Robin DiAngelo writes. “To understand white fragility, we have to begin to understand why we cannot fully be either; we must understand the forces of socialization.”

Like the words “nihilist,” “stoic,” or “hedonistic,” the term “critical race theory” has also come to encompass popular ideas grown from its academic roots.

While writers like DiAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi enjoy widespread popularity that certainly does not exclude teachers, anti-racism influences pedagogical training more widely and directly than course materials, leading to the third section of the bills.

School Staff

School districts commonly adopt diversity plans or send staff through racial sensitivity training. Toth’s bill says that employees of schools and state agencies cannot be required 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.”

Hughes’ replacement simply says that schools cannot train staff to “adopt” any of the eight concepts above.

Toth’s newly effective bill says that schools cannot compel teachers to discuss controversial topics or current events. Teachers who choose to discuss these things must “strive to explore the topic from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.”

Hughes’ replacement instead says that teachers who choose to discuss controversial topics “shall explore that topic objectively and in a manner free from political bias.”

It also requires schools that use online learning portals to give login credentials to each student’s parent so parents can see what instructional materials are being used.

SB 3’s biggest change to HB 3979 is the addition of a civics training program. Under Hughes’ replacement, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) shall create programs to train teachers in classroom discussions, media literacy, and the social studies curriculum. An advisory board of nine members with at least 10 years of education experience will advise the commissioner in developing the programs.

Additionally, SB 3 clarifies that school leadership, not the state, bears responsibility for disciplining teachers that violate this law. The bill further clarifies that it does not authorize lawsuits against schools or their employees for violations.

Course Credit

Lastly, Toth’s HB 3979 bars schools from giving students credit for political activity, an attempt to curb a teaching method commonly called “action civics” or “service learning.”

SB 3 carves out a few exceptions to allow programs like Model U.N., letters to politicians, and charity work.

Vandeaver added an amendment to allow letters to politicians “so long as the district, school, or teacher does not influence the content of a student’s communication.”

HB 3979 passed 79 to 65. SB 3 passed to third reading 84 to 41.

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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.