NASHVILLE – In the closing days of the legislative session, Republicans at Tennessee House reopened an education committee to curb what public schools will be allowed to teach on the topics of racism and inequality.
Members of the House Education Administration Committee – which had previously closed for the year – returned Monday morning and brought forward legislation to ban schools from teaching lessons about systemic racism, among other things. race and gender issues.
Three Democratic lawmakers – all black – were the only ones to vote against the measure during the commission.
The effort, led in part by Representative John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, comes as conservative activists across the country have increasingly sounded the alarm over ideas aligned with critical race theory being taught in schools primary and higher education institutions.
“As lawmakers and citizens, we need to take a stand against hawkers, charlatans and helpful idiots who sell identity politics,” Ragan said as he explained his legislation to the committee.
In his amendment, Ragan asks the state education commissioner to withhold funding for schools that teach the subjects in question.
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“We get a lot of calls from all over the state from parents to schools where they feel very uncomfortable with kids coming home exposed to certain things,” said Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, who chairs the committee. “So when we hear this, we have to fix it.”
The Idaho legislature in recent days passed a bill to ban the teaching of critical race theory in schools, while Republicans in other states have proposed similar legislation this year.
Critical Race Theory teaches that racism is ingrained in American institutions and that whites benefit from it. It is an academic movement that is difficult to define, but one that has been the subject of controversy among school parents and has caused divisions in the Southern Baptist Convention.
As businesses and academia focused on tackling racism last year, former President Donald Trump issued an executive order in September banning diversity training for federal employees and contractors, an effort which was ultimately blocked by a federal judge.
Democrats on the committee criticized the GOP’s proposal.
Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, asked Ragan if he believes systemic racism exists. Ragan did not answer the question, saying the term “systemic racism” does not appear anywhere in his amendment or in state educational standards.
“There are those, and I am among them, who believe that systemic racism is real in America,” Hakeem said. “Systemic racism doesn’t say Americans are bad. We’re talking about the systems within our government, within our communities.”
Prior to the committee hearing, Ragan declined to give details of the issue he intends to address.
“Tennessee values, Tennessee standards,” Ragan said without giving more details. “This is what it is.”
He said his new amendment to House Bill 580, which is a larger bill that outlines various rules and policies for the State Department of Education, will be made public when discussed on Monday. in committee.
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“Otto von Bismarck, the first chancellor of the modern state of Germany, said law and sausage lovers should not see either being made,” Ragan said in an interview. Thursday. “And so we’re in the sausage-making process here.”
When informed that it is the role of journalists to observe the legislative process, Ragan said: “Don’t hesitate to watch it, but don’t expect me to tell you what’s going on. a in the sausage before it’s done. “
Regan’s legislation would prohibit public or charter schools from teaching that:
- One race or one sex is superior;
- Everyone is “inherently privileged, racist, sexist or oppressive” because of their race or gender;
- A person should receive unfavorable treatment because of their race or gender;
- Their moral character is determined by race or sex;
- A person bears responsibility for the past actions of other members of his race or sex;
- A person must experience embarrassment or other psychological distress because of their race or gender;
- A meritocracy is racist or sexist or designed to oppress members of another race or sex;
- The United States is fundamentally racist or sexist;
- Promote the violent overthrow of the US government;
- Promote division or resentment between race, gender, religion, creed, non-violent political affiliation or class; or
- Assign character traits, values, moral codes, privileges or beliefs to a race or gender.
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While Ragan declined to provide details of the complaints he has received from parents about the lessons taught about the breed, White said he heard the story of a second year child returning home from school. school and asked his mother, “Am I a racist?
It is not known where the family lives in the story.
“You know there’s something going on that we need to deal with if a second-grader has to ask that question,” White said. “When I was in second grade, I didn’t see any difference between people, because my family never taught me that. So we have to be very careful.”
The Federal Register issued a public notice in April indicating that the US Department of Education was considering offering grants to help schools “integrate anti-racist practices into teaching and learning,” among other priorities.
Schools applying for grants must describe how teachers “will address systemic marginalization, prejudice, inequality, and discriminatory policies and practices in American history,” the notice read.
The Tennessee bill would likely prevent schools from seeking these training grants.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton of R-Crossville said some members were concerned about “things coming out of the Biden administration” with respect to teaching critical race theory in schools.
“There have been conversations about possibly doing something about a critical breed,” Sexton said in an interview last week. “At this point, whether or not they can get to a point where the House and Senate can come to an agreement at the very end, I’m not sure. But I know there have been conversations going on. “
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Diversity lessons have remained a controversial topic in Williamson County which borders Nashville.
Conservative activist groups like Tennessee Stands and the Tennessee Eagle Forum attempted last week to mobilize parents to contact state lawmakers, asking them to stop teaching CRT in Tennessee schools. . The groups did not provide specific examples of schools teaching it.
Eric Welch, a member of the Williamson County Schools Education Council (WCS), released a statement Thursday saying recent accusations that CRT is taught are “FALSE.”
“WCS does not teach now, nor has it ever taught CRT in our schools,” Welch wrote on his board member’s Facebook page. “In Tennessee, the public school curriculum begins at the state level and WCS follows the state curriculum guidelines.
“WCS is currently working on cultural strategy planning to improve the way we serve all of our students, and we will not be including critical race theory.”
Laurie Cardoza-Moore, the new member of the Tennessee Textbook and Teaching Materials Quality Commission, issued a statement in March commending Florida Governor Ron Desantis for proposing a civic education plan for schools which prohibited the teaching of critical race theory.
Gary Humble, the founder of Tennessee Stands, and Cardoza-Moore are also residents of Williamson County.
White said lawmakers had received complaints from parents about the issue from “all over” Tennessee, including Memphis, Knoxville and “south of Nashville.”
“We constantly hear from our teachers that they don’t have enough time in the day to teach reading, writing and arithmetic, and here we are with another lesson,” White said of the instruction on racism that would have been taught.
The controversy over cultural sensitivity and the lessons of anti-racism does not always carry the title of critical race theory. The conflict has been going on for years in Williamson County, where parents and school officials have at times disagreed over the training and lessons offered to students and teachers.
Former Williamson County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney in 2019 revisited a series of teacher training videos on race and prejudice after complaints from school board members.
Looney said the internal videos, which included references to “white privilege,” would no longer be used.
Around the same time, two teachers in the school system quit after assigning homework to eighth-graders in which they were asked to pretend to own slaves and “create an expectation list for them. slaves of your family ”.
If Ragan’s bill is successfully passed by the prosecution, then the Senate will have to vote to comply with the House version.
The bill in its previous version, sponsored by Senator Mike Bell, R-Riceville, has already been passed by the Senate.
Follow Natalie Allison on Twitter: @natalie_allison.