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A teacher works with high school students

A teacher (in blue) works with high school students at Manor New Tech High School in Manor, Texas. (Photo: Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images)

GOP Attack on Education Continues as Texas Bans Teaching of 'Critical Race Theory' in Schools

As GOP tries to stop students from learning about nation's history of racism, thousands of teachers across the U.S. have signed a pledge refusing "to lie to young people" about the past—or the present.

Julia Conley

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott became the latest Republican state leader to approve legislation aimed at controlling public school teachers' ability to accurately teach U.S. history and discuss current events, signing a bill late Tuesday that bars educators from including "critical race theory" in their classroom work. 

Under Senate Bill 2202, starting on September 1 public school teachers in Texas will be required to "give deference to both sides" when discussing current events like the racial justice uprising which began last spring following the police killing of George Floyd In Minneapolis. 

"Lawmakers are making bold, unsubstantiated claims that public schools are indoctrinating students with Marxist ideas. Those things are not being taught in the classroom, but [lawmakers] are invoking CRT, which they can't define, to try to make it an enemy of students that parents should rally around." —Monica Martinez, University of Texas at Austin

Abbott signed the law amid a push by Republican legislators across the country—as well as Fox News personalities, who have uttered the phrase "critical race theory" nearly 1,300 times since March, according to Media Matters—to bar public school classroom discussions of the United States' long history of racism.

The governors of Idaho and Tennessee have signed similar legislation in recent weeks and bills attacking critical race theory are moving through more than a dozen state legislatures.

The law signed by Abbott, following the adoption of amendments proposed by Democratic lawmakers, allows for the teaching of "the history of white supremacy, including but not limited to the institution of slavery, the eugenics movement, and the Ku Klux Klan, and the ways in which it is morally wrong."

But the law also bans teachers from discussing the 1619 Project, a New York Times initiative aimed at understanding the country's history beginning with the date on which white people first brought Black people who they had enslaved to the British colonies, instead of centering the year 1776 and the American Revolution. 

Earlier this month, Abbott signed a law establishing "the 1836 Project," aimed at promoting "patriotic education" about Texas and U.S. history.

Teachers across the country have spoken out against bills like S.B. 2202, with thousands gathering in more than 20 cities last weekend for a National Day of Action organized by the Zinn Education Project, which publishes educational materials based on Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" and other writings.

Several thousand educators have also signed a pledge stating, "We, the undersigned educators, refuse to lie to young people about U.S. history and current events—regardless of the law."

As Edweek reported last month, critical race theory is an academic theory stating that racism is embedded in policies and legal systems, including the system of redlining which left many Black families unable to obtain mortgages in the 1930s and the criminal justice system which incarcerates Black and Latino people at higher rates than white people. 

New Yorker journalist Benjamin Wallace-Wells wrote last week that legislation like S.B. 2202 in Texas aims to remove students "from any feeling of historical responsibility... as if, with each generation, America were re-created, blameless and anew."

Monica Martinez, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told the Washington Post earlier this month that the right-wing attacks on critical race theory are actually "an overt tool for mobilizing voters in the upcoming midterm and gubernatorial elections."

"Lawmakers are making bold, unsubstantiated claims that public schools are indoctrinating students with Marxist ideas," Martinez told the Post. "Those things are not being taught in the classroom, but [lawmakers] are invoking CRT, which they can’t define, to try to make it an enemy of students that parents should rally around."

The professor's view was echoed by the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers as the bill made its way through the state legislature.

“The specific references by Republicans to banning Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project make it clear that they want this to be a wedge issue for state and local political races,” said the group. "The bill is part of a national movement by conservatives trying to sow a narrative of students being indoctrinated by teachers."

"Our members rightfully have expressed outrage against this insult of their professionalism to provide balanced conversations with students on controversial issues," the group added.

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