FACTBOX: U.S. states outlawing education on critical race theory

by Sharon Kimathi | @sharon_kits | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 1 October 2021 10:00 GMT

A Williamson County School bus drives past the Confederate monument which stands in the center of the town square in Franklin, Tennessee, U.S., atop the former slave market which operated in the mid-19th century and commemorates the Confederate soldiers who died in the battle of Franklin during the Civil War, August 17, 2021. Picture taken August 17, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

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From fines of up to $5,000 to losing state funding, here are the measures taken in Republican states that have banned teaching students about race and gender discrimination.

By Sharon Kimathi

LONDON, Oct 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Thousands of schools face fines or losing funding while teachers could be suspended as lawmakers across the United States move to limit teaching about race and racism in American society.

Critical race theory (CRT), a once-obscure academic concept, has become the focus of fierce debate over how to teach U.S. students about their country's history and race relations, sparking protests and classroom bans in some states.

In the past year, eight Republican-led states have passed laws restricting teaching on the concept of race, and a further 20 states have similar bills in the pipeline, according to the Brookings Institute and Education Weekly, a U.S. publication.

"Whenever racial progress is being pursued, some people will fight tooth and nail to preserve the inequitable system they benefit from," Rashawn Ray, senior fellow at research group The Brookings Institution, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Dating back to the 1970s, CRT rests on the premise that racial bias - intentional or not - is baked into U.S. laws and institutions.

The term gained a foothold in American consciousness in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer, an event that sparked a national reckoning on race.

Critics call CRT a radical ideology that sows racial division by promoting an anti-white, anti-American worldview.

Proponents say the theory does not attribute racism to white people as individuals, but focuses on racism embedded in laws and state institutions that lead to different outcomes by race.

Here is a snapshot of measures being taken in U.S. states:

TEXAS

A new law came into effect on Sept. 1 in Texas that restricts discussions of race and history in schools.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said the law was a "strong move to abolish critical race theory" in the state, but added that "more must be done". While the legislation does not specifically use the term CRT, it refers to core components of the concept.

The law says teachers must not discuss the concept that one race or sex is "inherently superior" to another, or that a person is responsible for past actions of members of their race.

Students should not feel "discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual's race or sex," according to the HB 3979 legislation.

While teachers must not be forced to discuss "controversial" current affairs - interpreted as issues around race - the law also requires teaching that white supremacy is morally wrong and literature from prominent Black people in American history.

ARIZONA

A similar law was signed into effect in June in Arizona that prevents students from being taught that one race, ethnic group or sex is in any way superior to another, or that anyone should be discriminated against on the basis of such characteristics.

"A teacher ... must may not use public monies for instruction that presents any form of blame or judgment on the basis of race, ethnicity, or sex", the HB 2898 law reads.

Schools that violate the law face a fine of up to $5,000.

In separate legislation passed in July - HB 2906 - Arizona prevented government entities from requiring staff to undergo training that would suggest that they are "inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously".

"I am not going to waste public dollars on lessons that imply the superiority of any race and hinder free speech," Arizona Governor Doug Ducey said after the two laws were passed.

OKLAHOMA

In Oklahoma, a law similar to those in Arizona and Texas was passed in May - but with provisions for teachers to have their licenses suspended or revoked and schools their accreditation removed for engaging in "race or sex-based discriminatory acts."

The law has several provisions on race, with one prohibiting schools from teaching that "meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by members of a particular race to oppress members of another race".

Under the legislation, parents have the right to inspect lessons to ensure they comply with the rules, and file complaints if they believe that a violation has occured.

The law passed despite opposition from members of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, which teaches people about the deadly attacks by white rioters on Black residents that killed an estimated 300 people and left thousands homeless.

"We can and should teach ... history without labelling a young child as an 'oppressor' or requiring (that) he or she feel guilt or shame based on their race or sex," Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt said following the signing of legislation HB 1755.

TENNESSEE

A near-identical law passed in June in Tennessee allows the state's education commissioner to withhold funding from schools that promote or teach concepts around race discrimination.

The legislation - HB 580 - states that students must not be taught that Tennessee or the United States are "fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist", and prohibits teachers from "promoting divison" between different groups of people.

"We should teach the exceptionalism of our nation and how people can live together and work together to make a greater nation, and to not teach things that inherently divide," Tennessee Governor Bill Lee told reporters earlier this year.

SOUTH CAROLINA

South Carolina's state budget for the 2021-22 year - published in June - states that public funds cannot be used by schools to teach concepts that are commonly associated with CRT.

"No monies shall be used ... to teach that ... fault, blame, or bias should be assigned to a race or sex, or to members of a race or sex because of their race or sex," reads one of the clauses in the budget.

Republican congressman Ralph Norman in June wrote to two universities in South Carolina to ask them to stop teaching CRT, which he called "wildly inappropriate and rooted in Marxism".

(Reporting by Sharon Kimathi Editing by Katy Migiro and Kieran Guilbert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit news.trust.org)

There are currently three bills in the South Carolina legislature that target CRT, both directly and indirectly.

ALABAMA

Republican policymakers have introduced two bills which will be debated during the 2022 legislative session.

HB8 prohibits schools and universities teaching "certain divisive concepts relating to race or sex ... such as critical race theory" while HB9 bans the state, its agencies and contractors from teaching such concepts to their personnel.

It would become illegal to teach that "this state or the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist" or "that an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past".

Contracts with the state could be cancelled and contractors declared ineligible for future contracts if they do not post a notice of the rules in "conspicuous places".

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