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Protest, confusion over “divisive concept” bills

Teachers and states bicker over how to teach about race

A demonstrator at a Department of Education meeting in Jacksonville, Fla., on Thursday protests Florida’s proposed ban on teaching critical race theory in public schools. Associated Press/Photo by Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union

Protest, confusion over “divisive concept” bills

On Saturday, teachers and others carried a miniature casket with a skeleton representing the death of free speech around the New Hampshire state house. In Wisconsin, a speaker brandished a copy of The New York Times Magazine, which published “The 1619 Project,” framing American history around race. In Washington, D.C., protestors held up a banner with the words, “#TeachTruth #WeWontLie.”

This year lawmakers in 21 states have sought to limit how public schools teach about race, sparking a backlash from educators. Some bills have failed, but several have become law. While some teachers protest, others are rethinking lesson plans, and at least one school has already canceled a class.

The new bills and laws aim to prevent teachers from pushing “divisive concepts” such as that a state is fundamentally racist or that people should feel guilty because of their race or sex. Tennessee’s law, taking effect July 1, authorizes pulling funds from any public school that teaches people are inherently privileged or oppressive because of their race or sex. It carves out an exception for teachers answering students’ questions and allows “impartial discussion of controversial aspects of history.”

The Zinn Education Project and Black Lives Matter at School organized Saturday’s protests, which they said were planned at more than 30 historic sites including formerly segregated pools, a theater, and the African American Civil War Museum. Some gatherings drew hundreds and others only a handful. Over 4,000 teachers have signed an online pledge opposing the new laws, according to the Zinn Education Project.

The laws’ broad language has left many uncertain what’s protected as accurate history and what qualifies as a banned concept. Oklahoma City Community College canceled a summer class about race and ethnicity, and administrators said they were trying to determine if it was allowed. Tennessee middle school teacher Brittany Paschall told the Associated Press that she wasn’t sure if she needed to change her lesson plan about the history of segregated baseball leagues. “I kept thinking, in light of this bill, if this were next year, how would I teach this to my students?” she said. “Do we teach students to ignore tough subjects?”

Esther Eaton

Esther formerly reported on politics for WORLD from Washington. She is a World Journalism Institute and Liberty University graduate and enjoys bringing her parakeets on reporting trips.


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