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Republican state lawmakers have continued their crusade against “critical race theory” into the 2022 legislative session, introducing more bills that attempt to regulate how teachers can discuss racism, sexism, and issues of systemic inequality in the classroom.
In some states, this new slate of proposed legislation also expands the boundaries of prohibited speech for educators and gives parents more oversight when it comes to what their children are learning in school.
The trend promises an ongoing minefield for teachers and school leaders, some of whom have already faced challenges to lessons and professional development courses in states where these laws have passed.
Since January 2021, 42 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism, according to an Education Week analysis. Seventeen states have imposed these bans and restrictions either through legislation or other avenues.
Throughout the 2021 legislative session, most of these bills were centered on a list of prohibited “divisive concepts.” This list has its origins in a September 2020 executive order signed by then-President Donald Trump, which banned certain types of diversity training in federal agencies.
Under the order, which has since been revoked by President Joe Biden, these trainings couldn’t promote certain ideas—for example, that one race or sex is inherently better than another, that all people of a certain race have unconscious bias, or that the United States is a fundamentally racist or sexist country.
These prohibitions emerged in response to a specific kind of diversity training that many organizations started to undertake in summer 2020.
After the murder of George Floyd in May of that year, many workplaces—including schools—began initiatives aimed at countering racism and bias. In K-12 districts, this took a few different forms: standing up equity committees, mandating diversity training for staff, incorporating more lessons on systemic racism in social studies classes or more books by Black authors in English.
Pundits, advocacy groups, and parents—mostly conservative, but some across the political spectrum—pushed back against these changes, especially diversity trainings. They argued that some of the exercises that asked white Americans to reflect on their privilege were racist and divisive, teaching children to view themselves as either oppressors or the oppressed. They labeled these kinds of activities “critical race theory.”
The term refers to a decades-old academic theory that holds that racism is systemic, perpetrated by structural forces rather than individual acts of bias. Even laws and policies that appear race-neutral on their face can bring about disparate outcomes, the theory asserts. But over the past two years, the phrase has been warped from its original meaning, used by opponents of diversity training as a catch-all to refer to anything that makes race or gender salient in conversations about power and oppression.
Several of the state bills proposed in the 2021 legislative session describe Trump’s list of “divisive concepts” as critical race theory, even though scholars of the framework maintain that it doesn’t teach that certain races are better than others, or that individuals are inherently racist.
With this fuzziness around terminology, teachers and school leaders in states where these laws have passed have reported widespread confusion about what kind of instruction is and is not allowed.
Some teachers have said that they don’t think the laws will affect their lessons, because they don’t teach the banned concepts. But others worry that these bans are being broadly interpreted to curb any discussion about the nation’s complicated past or the ongoing effects of racism in the present day.
This isn’t an idle fear. For example: This June, a parents’ group in one Tennessee district challenged the use of an autobiography of Ruby Bridges, who in 1960 was one of the first Black children to integrate an elementary school after Brown v. Board of Education. The parents complained that in depicting the white backlash to school desegregation, the book violated the state’s new law in sending the message that all white people were bad and oppressed Black people.
Some of the new bills proposed for the 2022 legislative session include even broader prohibitions, which, if they become law, would set the stage for continued battles over interpretation in school districts and state departments of education.
A proposed bill in New Hampshire, for instance, would ban teachers from advocating “any doctrine or theory promoting a negative account or representation of the founding and history of the United States of America.”
More bills this year also concern curriculum transparency. This kind of legislation—examples of which were introduced in Missouri and Indiana—require teachers and schools to make instructional materials available for parental review. A Florida bill goes one step further, giving parents “private right of action” to sue if they believed their children were being taught critical race theory in schools.
At the same time, some of the laws passed during the 2021 legislative session have already faced legal challenges. Lawsuits have been filed in Oklahoma and New Hampshire claiming that the laws deprive teachers of free-speech and equal protection rights.
See the table below for more information on some of the measures and variations from state to state.
- What Is Critical Race Theory, and Why Is It Under Attack?
- Efforts to Root Out Racism in Schools Would Unravel Under ‘Critical Race Theory’ Bills
- Critical Race Theory Puts Educators at Center of a Frustrating Cultural Fight Once Again
- Video: What Is Critical Race Theory and Why Are States Banning It?
How to Cite This Page
Map: Where Critical Race Theory Is Under Attack (2021, June 11). Education Week. Retrieved Month Day, Year from http://www.edweek.org/leadership/map-where-critical-race-theory-is-under-attack/2021/06
Visualizations by Emma Patti Harris and Eesha Pendharkar
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