House bill could restrict what students learn about nation’s racial history

State Rep. James Gailliard (Center)

North Carolina joined a growing list of states Tuesday pushing legislation that could restrict how America’s racial history is taught in schools.

House Bill 324, which the House Education Committee approved on a voice vote, prohibits schools from promoting concepts that suggest America is racists and that people are inherently racist or sexist, whether consciously or unconsciously.

HB 324 also prohibits teachers from promoting the concept that anyone is responsible for the sins of their forefathers.

The full House is expected to vote on the bill Wednesday.

“It ensures dignity and non-discrimination in school,” said Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican who introduced the bill and co-chairs the Education Committee.

The bill doesn’t mention Critical Race Theory, an academic discipline that examines how racism has shaped the nation’s legal and social systems. The concept is mentioned in a press release posted on House Speaker Tim Moore’s webpage.

“The legislation would not prevent Critical Race Theory or any other concept or materials from being discussed in schools, so long as the public school unit makes clear that it does not sponsor, approve, or endorse such concepts or work,” the press release said.

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt endorsed the bill in a statement posted on Moore’s webpage.

“This is a common-sense bill that provides reasonable expectations for the kind of civil discourse we want our children to experience in public schools,” Truitt said. “This “golden rule” approach ensures that all voices are valued in our school system.”

Truitt said the goal is to encourage students to think freely and to respect differences of opinions.

“Classrooms should be an environment where all points of view are honored,” Truitt said. “There is no room for divisive rhetoric that condones preferential treatment of any one group over another.”

Shortly before the Education Committee’s vote, Rep. James Gailliard, a Democrat from Nash County, pushed back on HB 324, which he called an “anti-education bill.”

“This is an act to ensure discrimination, fanaticism, bigotry,” Gailliard said. “This is really a don’t hurt my feelings bill, don’t tell me the truth about our history because it might hurt my feelings.”

Gailliard said bill supporters do a disservice to North Carolina’s children by hiding the truth about the nation’s checkered racial past.

“This is a bill of hatred, this is a bill of classism, this a bill of privilege, this is a bill of fragility and has no place in North Carolina’s General Assembly,” he said.

Min. Paul Scott, a Durham activist who often speaks out on issues involving race, called the bill “academic Apartheid” and “classroom colonization.”

Scott said  parents, teachers and others must create an “African American Truth Commission” to challenge attacks on Critical Race Theory.”

“They are trying to make the South rise again,” Scott said. “Not on our watch.”

Here’s a look at what the bill would prohibit teachers from promoting:

  • One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.
  • An individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexists, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.
  • An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of her race or sex.
  • An individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex.
  • An individual, solely by virtue of his race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.
  • Any individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other former of psychological distress.
  • The belief that the United States is a meritocracy is racist or sexist or was created by members of a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex.

The language in the North Carolina bill is a lot like that in a Texas bill – House Bill 3979 — introduced by Republicans that also takes aim at Critical Race Theory. The Texas bill prohibits teaching the idea that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” or that someone is “inherently racist, sexist or oppressive” based on their race or sex.”

North Carolina Republicans have moved to restrict what students are taught in classrooms about America’s racial history.

Last week, House Republicans introduced House Bill 755 that would require teachers to post educational material prominently on school websites.

Bill sponsor, Rep. Hugh Blackwell, a Republican from Burke County, said HB 755 will improve academic outcomes for students by involving parents in their children’s education.

But Rep. Jeffrey McNeely, an Iredell County Republican, believes it will alert parents when teachers attempt to indoctrinate students with political views or teach critical race theory.

“To me, this will help the parents going to the next grade be able to look and see what that teacher taught the year before, and hopefully we’re just going teach the kids and we’re not going to try to indoctrinate them and teach them in a certain way to make them believe something other than the facts, the knowledge and the ability to write and the ability to read,” McNeely said.

Student indoctrination has been a popular theme in the state’s GOP circles since the State Board of Education approved new social studies standards in February.

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson criticized the new standards and quickly assembled a task force to end what he calls the political indoctrination of students in classrooms.

Black Democrats took Robinson to task in January after he called the standards “divisive” and “politically charged” and claimed systemic racism doesn’t exist. Robinson is the state’s first Black lieutenant governor

This year, Republican legislatures across the nation have introduced bills that would restrict educators’ ability to teach about systemic racism, sexism, bias and similar topics.

In Tennessee, the House of Representatives debated a bill this week that would ban classroom discussions about systemic racism. The state would withhold funding to schools that taught about systemic racism and white privilege under the bill.

The Tennessee House approved the bill along party lines with Republicans voting in favor of it while Democrats opposed it. The Senate, however, declined to accept the legislation.

Republican-led legislatures in Oklahoma, Texas, Idaho and other states have introduced similar bills.

GOP lawmakers are searching for a problem that doesn’t exist, said Khalilah Harris, acting vice president for K-12 Education Policy at the Center for American Progress.

“Talking about racism, sexism, or homophobia doesn’t create racism, sexism, or homophobia; neither does centering the voices of people most affected by systemic forms of bias in academic instruction,” Harris said. “To the contrary, this approach empowers students to leave the classroom with a more informed understanding of our history, people’s lived experiences, and how they can limit the influence of bias in their own lives.”

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