HOUSTON – Texas teachers could not be forced to take sides on any “currently controversial issues of public policy or social affairs” and would be limited in how they talk about things like systemic racism and white privilege if a new bill becomes law.
The so-called “Critical Race Theory” bill, passed by the Texas House in early May and by the Texas Senate (with some changes) last weekend, was originally authored by Rep. Steve Toth from The Woodlands.
“Critical Race Theory is just another form of Marxism,” Toth said in an interview.
Toth also said his bill “does not ban discussion of Critical Race Theory.”
The language of the bill has changed over the weeks and may change again this week when the Texas House will decide to either concur with the Senate version or send the bill to the committee to decide on additional changes.
Either way, Toth is “optimistic” the controversial bill, which is opposed by the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and other teacher’s groups, will be signed into law in the coming days.
“A teacher may not be compelled to discuss a particular current event or widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs,” the current version of the bill states.
Teachers who choose to discuss these things, the bill says, “shall, to the best of the teacher’s ability, strive to explore the topic from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.”
But subjects like systemic racism should be given deference, some critics of the bill argue, including Dr. Jonathan Chism, an assistant professor of history at the University of Houston Downtown who helped edit a book about CRT.
“I would say at the secondary level I don’t think that it should be explicitly or clearly a requirement to teach Critical Race Theory, as it is a very rich academic concept,” Dr. Chism said. “But students do need to be knowledgeable about systemic racism in our society.”
“It is making clear and plain the truth that systemic inequality, racism, exists in our 21st century,” he added.
The several page-long bill touches on a long list of topics from civics and diversity training for teachers and administrators to media literacy lessons for students that help them in “identifying propaganda.”
The bill would also prohibit Texas teachers from teaching “that one race is superior to another race” and “that an individual by virtue of his or her race or sex is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.”
“That’s language right out of the 1964 Civil Rights Act,” Toth said after quoting the above portion of the bill. “I mean, how would anyone have a problem with that? It’s amazing!”
The bill does not include the phrases “critical race theory,” “white privilege”, “systemic racism” or “institutional racism.”
Dr. Chism said that as a historian, he is “in favor of objectivity and even-handed perspectives” and said he “understands that motivation to teach history in an unbiased fashion and strive to portray and tell both sides of an issue and story.”
But, he added, “white privilege and institutional racism” are widely misunderstood and must be taught.
“Critical Race Theory fundamentally exposes the racism that persists after the Civil Rights movement,” said Dr. Chism.
“The fundamental disagreement when it relates to racism is that we have not overcome injustice,” he added. “That a lot of this persists. And there is abundant data to back it up.”
The bill will likely end up in a committee of lawmakers chosen by the House and Senate this week. If they agree on changes, the bill will go to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.
If signed into law, some of the legislation would go into effect as early as September 2021.