A new Texas law outlining exactly how social studies can be taught in public schools has introduced widespread confusion due to Republican politicians’ overbroad attempt to ban critical race theory from the classroom. 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 discuss topics related to neo-Nazism and white supremacy should have a say in social studies education. Teachers and administrators are specifically prohibited from disciplining students who raise controversial points of view.
“A school district or open-enrollment charter school may not implement, interpret, or enforce any rules or code of student conduct in a manner that would result in the punishment of a student for arguing or have a chilling effect on students’ discussion of “issues such as racism,” the law states. It states that teachers cannot “demand an understanding” of The New York Times’ 1619 Project.
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Texas’ GOP-dominated state government is on a roll this year. He 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 contains startling efforts to advance racial tolerance and requires a solid 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. from 1964, “A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,” the life and work of Cesar Chavez, among dozens of other texts.
What Texas students won’t necessarily hear about are the historical connections between slavery and post-emancipation state and federal legislation that ensured black people would remain an oppressed underclass. They won’t hear of redlining, which limited where black people could live and prohibited them from securing homes in desirable areas so they could build generational wealth. This is partly why white families now have nearly 10 times the net worth of black families. Students won’t hear about state laws that make it easy to jail black people and then contract out their labor to help white businesses. They won’t hear about decades of disparities in crime law enforcement that have led to horribly skewed incarceration rates for black people.
The law, however, prohibits instructions that could cause an individual to “feel uncomfortable, guilty, anxious or in any other form of psychological distress because of their race or gender”.
Learning about things like the Holocaust and the generational effects of slavery could, indeed, cause some discomfort for students. But we shudder to think of the discomfort that will arise if teachers attempt to present the opposite view of these subjects.