The Texas Senate passed a bill eliminating specific requirements on teaching civil rights, including two historic speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr.
With an 18-4 vote Friday, the Senate removed specific mentions of King, farm labor organizers Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, along with President Thomas Jefferson's long-lasting relationship with his slave — Sally Hemmings, who bore him six children.
Additionally, Senate Bill also strikes this requirement: "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."
During public testimony, primary bill author Sen. Bryan Hughes said the revisions will not strip out teaching about those issues but leaves decisions to the State Board of Education. Hughes acknowledged that removing previous requirements is confusing, but still sets a framework for students.
State Sen. Dawn Buckingham was a co-author on the bill.
Carrie Griffith, who spoke during a State Affairs Committee meeting on Friday, told senators that the bill could lead to teachers exiting the classroom. Texas turns over about 10% of its teachers each year — more than 30,000 per year.
"There's real concern that this will make things worse," said Griffith, a policy analyst with the Texas State Teachers Association.
The bill does provide some specific guidelines, especially when teaching about racial history.
Keven Ellis, who chairs the state Board of Education and represents Hunt County, said specific reading lists, the study of historical figures and court cases are staying in the state curriculum.
"It is not being taken as a signal to eliminate these topics," said Ellis, appointed to the chairmanship by Gov. Greg Abbott. "One of the strikethroughs in the bills is the teaching of Native Americans. As you probably know, the Texas State Board of Education was the first state to have a standalone Mexican-American course offered to its students. We offered a study of African-Americans. We were the first state to do that.
"We have called for additional ethnic studies."
Texas students have social studies requirements defined by the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, covering specifics related to the Civil Rights Movement and slavery in America.
Fellow state board member Pat Hardy joined Ellis to speak on the bill. Hardy, however, aimed at the New York Times' 1619 Project — a revisionist history of the United States that recasts slavery as a significant driver of the American economy.
The bill flat-out bans the teaching of the 1619 Project. It also prohibits teaching that slavery was part of the "true" founding of the United States.
"It's a false premise the 1619 Project is built upon," said Hardy, a Republican history teacher from Fort Worth.
Hardy attempted to discredit the New York Times series by saying that the first Africans brought to Jamestown, Virginia in 1619 were indentured servants — implying they would later earn their freedom. The accuracy of Hardy's statements is subjective because the historical record shows that by 1640 some descendants of the original 20 Africans were enslaved. It is without dispute those original 20 Africans were taken against their will by Portuguese slavers from Angola.
That sort of debate leaves some skeptical if Texas can legislate its way out of discussions about race, especially in a state that aggressively carried out Jim Crow-era segregation. Civil rights groups such as the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative have consistently found longstanding practices rooted in racist public policy.
"Understanding how today's criminal justice crisis is rooted in our country's history of racial injustice requires truthfully facing that history and its legacy," EJI writes on its website. "EJI is challenging the presumption of guilt and dangerousness in our work inside and outside the courtroom to reform the criminal justice system."
The bill requires offering students both sides of a discussion on current events or social issues. That drew a skeptical response from Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo).
"By validating both perspectives of such controversial issues, as this bill would require, students could more easily accept dangerous ideas discovered in the classroom or online," Zaffirini said during her response. "By stifling difficult conversations in the classroom, Senate Bill 3 encourages students to seek answers in dubious places, including radical online forums, questionable Facebook groups, or the dark web."
Along with a companion in the House of Representatives, the bill aims to stave off the teaching of Critical Race Theory in Texas schools. However, critics of the bill have said rare instances of inclusion in elementary or secondary schools where Critical Race Theory is in the curriculum.
Hughes described Critical Race Theory as a racist and separatist ideal — garnering agreement from Thomas Lindsay, president of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, which backed the bill.
Critical Race Theory was introduced in the 1970s as a law school element, explaining race and America's legal system. It has since taken on a more broad and divisive meaning, especially among conservatives. Texas is one of several Republican-held states that have banned or attempting to ban public schools from teaching the theory.
Critical Race Theory has also morphed into an all-out discussion about race's role in American history. The conservative Heritage Foundation offered this assessment of Critical Race Theory: "CRT's key assertion is that racism is not the result of individual, conscious racist actions or thoughts. Racism is "systemic" and "structural." It is embedded in America's legal system, institutions, and free enterprise system, and imposes "whiteness" as the societal norm. The system, including capitalism, is "rigged" to reward white behavior and preserve white supremacy. Curricula and training sessions that teach that racism is systemic and structural, and demand that Americans work to dismantle laws, traditions, norms, institutions, and free-market enterprise— the entire American system itself—are part of CRT."