In more than half the country, policymakers are debating how and what students should learn about America’s history with racism. In Texas, one of the 11 states that has limited how teachers can discuss race, teachers aren’t yet sure if there will be any meaningful changes to their curriculum—but many are worried that the restrictions will stifle honest discussions in the classroom.
The Texas law, which takes effect Sept. 1, says that a teacher doesn’t have to address any controversial current event or issue in class, and if they do, they must share contending perspectives without giving deference to one side. Teachers cannot say that slavery constitutes the true founding of the United States, or that slavery and racism are anything but deviations from the nation’s founding principles. And the law prohibits any student political activism from being a part of a required class.
Texas’ sweeping restrictions—which could be amended in the legislature’s special session this month—will affect one-tenth of the nation’s public school students this fall. Yet social studies teachers in the Lone Star State say the new law leaves much open to interpretation. Can they still be honest about the horrors of slavery and the racism that still exists today? What happens if a student brings up a divisive topic in the news?
Education Week spoke to nine teachers from across the state to understand how—or whether—the new law will affect their teaching, and what they think this means for the future of social studies instruction. Their answers illustrate the broad range of reactions educators are having to the restrictions in Texas and elsewhere.
Reporters: Catherine Gewertz, Ileana Najarro, Sarah Schwartz, and Madeline Will
Designers/Visual Artists: Emma Patti Harris and Vanessa Solis
Assistant Project Editor: Madeline Will
Project Editor: Liana Loewus
Visuals Project Editor: Emma Patti Harris