November 4, 2021

St. Louis Dispatch Editorial Board: Texas social studies law creates confusion

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The editorial board of the St. Louis Dispatch-Post looks at the chilling effects of the vague anti-crt law passed in Texas and argues against the confusion it has created.

A new Texas law outlining exactly how social studies may be taught in public schools has introduced widespread confusion because of Republican politicians’ overbroad attempt to ban critical race theory from classrooms. The confusion reached such a level of absurdity that a Dallas-area school interpreted the new law, House Bill 3979, to mean that teachers must present opposing views regarding the Holocaust.

The law is written in a way that could lead teachers and administrators to believe that students who bring up topics related to neo-Nazism and white supremacy must be given a voice in social studies instruction. Teachers and administrators are specifically forbidden from disciplining any students who raise controversial points of view.

“A school district or open-enrollment charter school may not implement, interpret or enforce any rules or student code of conduct in a manner that would result in the punishment of a student for discussing, or have a chilling effect on student discussion of” issues such as racism, the law states. It states that teachers may not “require an understanding” of The New York Times’ 1619 Project.

Texas’ GOP-dominated state government is on a roll this year. It imposed a near-total ban on abortions, openly defied pandemic precautions and embraced former President Donald Trump’s divisive politics. So a law like HB 3979 shouldn’t come as a big surprise.

The law does contain some surprising efforts to advance racial tolerance and require a strong balance of instruction from a variety of historical sources, including the Emancipation Proclamation, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” and the life and work of Cesar Chavez, among dozens of other texts.

What Texas students won’t necessarily hear about are the historical links between slavery and post-emancipation state and federal legislation that ensured Blacks would remain an oppressed underclass. They won’t hear about redlining, which limited where Blacks could live and prohibited them from securing homes in desirable areas so they could acquire generational wealth. That’s partially why white families now have a net wealth nearly 10 times greater than that of Black families. Students won’t hear about state laws that made it easier to imprison Blacks and then farm out their labor to help white businesses. They won’t hear about decades of disparities in the enforcement of felony laws that led to horribly skewed incarceration rates for Blacks.

The law does, however, forbid instruction that might make an individual “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex.”

Read the full piece here.

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