Story at a glance

  • HB 3979 was signed into law, banning concepts related to critical race theory.
  • Other states, like Oklahoma and Florida, have taken similar measures.
  • Critics say that these moves “deny children the opportunity to learn the real and often dark past of this country.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed a bill into law on Tuesday prohibiting state teachers from discussing topics related to critical race theory, adding another chapter in the saga of the embattled educational framework’s place in American classrooms.

The bill, titled HB 3979, regulates the curriculum and topics taught in state-funded schools surrounding U.S. history. 

Specifically, it forbids teachers from being “compelled” to teach and discuss a “current event or widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs,” specifically regarding issues surrounding race and racism in the U.S.

Topics and concepts forbidden to discuss include that a person “by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously;” or that a person bears responsibility for past actions of members of their race. The bill also states that schools cannot “require an understanding of the 1619 project,” the Pulitzer-prize winning project from The New York Times that examines slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the center of U.S. history. 

While the bill does not specifically use the term critical race theory, it’s pointed at integral topics of the academic concept. Critical race theory is the idea that the inception of the U.S. is intertwined with slavery, which has created systems of inherent inequality and institutionalized racism that impact people of color in modern day. 

HB 3979 passed through the state senate in the end of May and was sent to Abbott’s desk for signature. It will go into effect as law on Sept. 1.

The bill calls for certain historical texts to be included in standard Texas school social study curriculum, such as excerpts from Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, writings by Frederick Douglass, and Chicano literature along with essays authored by the Founding Fathers. Schools can also teach Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and “I Have a Dream” speech. 

Critics argue it is “whitewashing history” by pivoting focus away from the U.S.’s history of slavery.

The bill also restricts students from receiving academic course credits through civic engagement, political activism and bill lobbying. 

One of the bill’s key sponsors, State Rep. Steve Toth (R), reportedly argued that the bill prevents burdening “kids with guilt for racial crimes they had nothing to do with” during a contentious point in history.

Texas is not the only state to make legislative moves against discussing critical race theory, with states like Oklahoma and Florida having banned the concept from being taught in classrooms. 

American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten and other education professionals have pushed back on the recent bans, stating that “teaching America’s true history doesn’t teach kids to hate each other—it actually informs them, encourages them to think critically, inspires them to embrace tolerance and allows them to be more engaged stewards of our multiracial, multiethnic society.”

“The reality is that deep-rooted racism in this country began long before 1776 and continues to touch nearly every aspect of everyday life for Black and brown Americans,” said AFT Secretary-Treasurer Fedrick Ingram. “It would be a disservice to the entire nation to deny children the opportunity to learn the real and often dark past of this country.”

Published on Jun 17, 2021