NASHVILLE – In the last days of the legislature The Republicans at Tennessee House have reopened an education committee curb what public schools can teach on racism and inequality.
Members of the House of Representatives Education Management Committee, which had previously closed for the year, returned Monday morning and developed laws prohibiting schools from teaching on systemic racism, including topics related to race and sex.
Three democratic lawmakers – all black – were the only lawmakers who voted against the measure during the committee.
The effort, spearheaded in part by Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, comes from conservative activists across the country raising the alarm over ideas consistent with critical racial theory that both is taught in elementary schools as well as in higher education institutions.
“We as legislators and citizens have to stand against Hucksters, charlatans and useful idiots who practice identity politics,” Ragan told the committee about his legislation.
In his amendment, Ragan calls on the State Education Commissioner to withhold funding from schools teaching the subjects in question.
“We get a lot of calls from across the state, from parents in schools where they are very uncomfortable with exposure to certain things for children coming home,” said Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, chairman of the committee . “When we hear that, we have to bring it up.”
Idaho lawmakers recently passed a bill banning the teaching of critical racial theory in schools, while Republicans in other states proposed similar bills earlier this year.
Critical Race Theory teaches that racism is ingrained in US institutions and that people who are white benefit from it. It is an academic movement that is difficult to define, but which has been and has been controversial among school parents caused cracks in the Southern Baptist Convention.
When businesses and academic institutions put a new focus on combating racism last year, former President Donald Trump issued an executive order in September Prohibition of diversity training an effort for federal employees and contractors that eventually was blocked by a federal judge.
The Democrats in the committee slammed the GOP proposal.
Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, asked Ragan if he believed that systemic racism existed. Ragan did not answer the question, saying that the term “systemic racism” did not appear in his amendment or in the state’s teaching 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 the people of America are bad. We talk about the systems in our government, in our communities.”
Prior to the committee hearing, Ragan declined to provide details of the issue he was trying to address.
“Tennessee values, Tennessee standards,” Ragan said without elaborating. “That’s what this is about.”
He accepted his new amendment House bill 580This is a larger bill that sets out various rules and guidelines for the State Department of Education. It will be made public when it is discussed in committee on Monday.
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“Otto von Bismarck, the first Chancellor of the modern federal state of Germany, said that lovers of law and sausage should watch how neither is made,” Ragan said in an interview on Thursday. “And so we are here in the sausage production.”
When Ragan was informed that it was the job of the news reporters to watch the legislative process, he said, “You are welcome to watch it, but don’t expect me to tell you what’s in the sausage before it’s made . “
Regan’s legislation would prohibit public or charter schools from teaching:
- A race or a sex is superior;
- All persons are “naturally privileged, racist, sexist or oppressive” because of their race or gender.
- A person should receive disadvantageous treatment because of their race or gender.
- Their moral character is determined by race or gender;
- A person bears responsibility for the past actions of other members of their race or gender.
- A person should experience discomfort or other psychological distress because of their race or gender.
- A meritocracy is racist, sexist, or intended to oppress members of another race or gender.
- The United States is fundamentally racist or sexist;
- Promoting the violent overthrow of the US government;
- Promote division or resentment between race, gender, religion, nonviolent political affiliation or class; or
- Ascribing traits, values, moral codes, privileges, or beliefs to a race or gender.
The legislation would block federal anti-racism education grants
While Ragan refused to provide details of the complaints he received from his parents regarding classes in the race, White said he heard a story about a second grade child coming home from school and their mother asked: “Am I a racist?”
It is unclear where the family from the story lives.
“They know there’s something going on that we need to address when a second grader has to ask that question,” White said. “When I was a second grader I didn’t see any differences in people because my family never taught me. So we have to be very careful.”
The federal register in April public notice The US Department of Education is considering, among other things, offering grants to help schools “incorporate anti-racist practices into teaching and learning.”
Schools applying for scholarships must describe how teachers “address systemic marginalization, prejudice, inequalities, and discriminatory policies and practices in American history,” the statement said.
Tennessee law would likely prevent schools from applying for these education grants.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, said some members were concerned about “things coming out of the Biden administration” when it comes to teaching critical racial theory in schools.
“There have been discussions about whether there is any way to do something about critical races,” Sexton said in an interview last week. “At this point, I’m not sure they can get to a point where the House and Senate can come to an agreement at the very end. But I know that talks have been going on.”
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Diversity education has remained a controversial issue in Williamson County, which borders Nashville.
Conservative activist groups like the Tennessee Stands and the Tennessee Eagle Forum have tried last week to mobilize parents to contact state lawmakers and ask them to prevent CRT from being taught in schools in Tennessee. The groups did not provide any concrete examples of which schools they teach.
Eric Welch, a member of the Williamson County Schools (WCS) Board of Education, released a statement Thursday saying the recent allegations that CRT is taught there were “FALSE”.
“WCS never taught CRT or CRT in our schools,” wrote Welch on his Facebook page as a board member. “In Tennessee, the public school curriculum begins at the state level, and WCS follows state curriculum guidelines.
“WCS is currently in the process of planning cultural strategies to improve the way we serve all of our students, and we are not going to include critical racial theory.”
Laurie Cardoza-Moore, the newest member of the Tennessee Bookbook & Instructional Materials Quality Commission, released a statement in March praising Florida Governor Ron Desantis for proposing a civic curriculum for schools that teaches critical racial theory ban.
Both Gary Humble, founder of Tennessee Stands, and Cardoza-Moore are also residents of Williamson County.
White said lawmakers had received complaints from parents on the matter in “all over Tennessee” including Memphis, Knoxville and “south of Nashville”.
“We hear all the time 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,” said White of the Racism Class, which is reportedly teaching becomes.
Controversies over cultural sensitivity and anti-racism education are not always associated with the title of critical racial theory. The conflict has developed for years in Williamson County, where parents and school officials at times disagreed over the training and education offered to both students and teachers.
Former superintendent of Williamson County Schools, Mike Looney, in 2019 a number of teacher training videos went back on race and bias following complaints from school administrators.
Said Looney the in-house videosthat contained references to “white privileges” would no longer be used.
At about the same time, two teachers resigned in the school system after assigning homework to eighth grade students that they were asked to do pretend they have slaves and had to “make a list of expectations for your family’s slaves”.
If Ragan’s bill is passed successfully, the Senate would have to vote to conform to the House version.
The previous bill, sponsored by Senator Mike Bell, R-Riceville, was previously passed by the Senate.
Follow Natalie Allison on Twitter: @natalie_allison.