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Critical race theory bill crosses out MLK and KKK, author says they're in curriculum

The debate over critical race theory has returned to the Texas Capitol for the special session, despite a ban passing out during the regular session. (File photo: CBS Austin)
The debate over critical race theory has returned to the Texas Capitol for the special session, despite a ban passing out during the regular session. (File photo: CBS Austin)
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A new bill banning critical race theory which has already passed the Texas Senate during this special session crosses out requiring the teaching of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Ku Klux Klan, the history of White supremacy, and other key historical facts and figures, which has led the author of the bill to defend the omissions by saying the state's curriculum already requires these to be taught.

Critical race theory is the academic movement focused on how racism throughout history - dating back to slavery - has shaped American law, education, and other aspects of society.

Despite signing the regular session bill that bans aspects of critical race theory into law, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered lawmakers to further clamp down by putting on his special session agenda an item calling for a more expansive prohibition.

The special session bill - Senate Bill 3 - keeps the identical language of some of the bill, and simply crosses out specific requirements added to the original version of the regular session bill as House amendments.

Some of the crossed-out requirements include "the history of Native Americans," "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," "the history and importance of the civil rights movement," "Martin Luther King Jr. ’s 'Letter from a Birmingham Jail' and 'I Have a Dream' speech," "the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964," "the United States Supreme Court ’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education," and other key historical facts and figures.

The Senate passed this bill last week despite nine Democratic members being absent while they were supporting House Democrats in Washington, D.C., breaking quorum to kill an election bill they charge as voter suppression. Those same House Democrats have vowed to stay out of the state through at least the end of this special session, meaning the bill is likely going to die without enough members in the lower chamber to take action on any bills.

State Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, was one of the most vocal opponents of the regular session bill within the walls of the Texas Capitol, and said he is again standing up against these bans because of his experiences as a teacher.

"I taught in the west side of San Antonio, in a historic Mexican-American neighborhood. I only taught Black and Brown students, and they're the ones who are most going to be hurt by this whitewashing of American history," Talarico said. "This bill is based on lies. It's based on propaganda. It's based on spin. It's not true civics education. It's not true history education. It's not true social studies education."

However, bill author and state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, said schools will continue to teach many of the provisions slashed in his version of the legislation.

According to the East Texas lawmaker, the state's curriculum already requires much of what was taken out of the regular session bill.

"We heard from teachers and we heard from the State Board of Education who said, 'Hey, those specific elements, that specific reading list, that goes over here in the curriculum.' So, we took those specific things out of the legislation because they're covered in the curriculum," Hughes said. "I want to be clear about this. If you look at Chapter 113 in the Texas Administrative Code, you'll find our curriculum standards - those elements that have to be included. They're great elements and they are important. You'll find Dr. King there. You'll find teachings about the Ku Klux Klan, and the Civil Rights movement, and Women's Suffrage, and all of those elements of Texas history. You'll find those in our curriculum standards already. They're in the standards today, and they'll be in the standards after this bill passes. This bill - Senate Bill 3 - is about those broad concepts about the American dream and opportunity for all."

This isn't a satisfactory response for Talarico.

During floor proceedings for the regular session bill, the former teacher was able to add the unanimously-approved amendment requiring the teaching of White supremacy that has since been among the many portions eliminated in the special session bill. This particular requirement is nowhere to be found in the state's curriculum.

"The fact that is being removed in this latest version by Texas Republicans offends me as a teacher, it offends me as a Texan, and it offends me as American. It should offend all of us," Talarico said.

The Texas Administrative Code does require teaching of slavery, the Ku Klux Klan, as well as the historical figures taken off Hughes' bill. However, there is no mention of the history of White supremacy.

"White supremacy is not mentioned in any of our social studies [Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills]. Teaching the history of white supremacy and teaching our students it's morally wrong does not appear in our social studies standards, currently," Talarico said.

This more prohibitive bill is likely a direct result of the drama surrounding the regular session version of the bill, which almost killed it.

During the regular session, the Republican-dominated state legislature passed House Bill 3979, which bans the State Board of Education from requiring key aspects of critical race theory in the social studies curriculum. Measures of this bill include prohibiting teachers from teaching "The advent of slavery in the territory that is now the United States constituted the true founding of the United States." It also bans teachers from making The 1619 Project - the New York Times longform piece that centers American history on the consequences of slavery and the successes of Black Americans - required learning.

Talarico almost killed the bill.

During the floor proceedings, he added the White supremacy history amendment to a whole host of other amendments tacked on by Democratic representatives requiring teaching of specific Black and Brown historical moments and figures in American history.

However, the Senate stripped these amendments before approving the bill and sending it back to the House.

When the bill returned to the House, Talarico by calling on a procedural maneuver to undo this Senate move. Because this happened so late in the session, many believed the bill to be dead because there was not enough time for the Senate to pass the bill with the House amendments. The bill was able to survive when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick essentially turned back time and allowed the chamber to retroactively pass the bill as was received.

The special session bill essentially does what the Senate tried doing to the regular session bill before Talarico's action.

"This bill is about principles, and it does specifically say that we will not teach in Texas public schools that one race is inherently superior to the other, or one sex is superior to the other, or members of one race are inherently racist, or we're also not going to teach work ethic and meritocracy is racist. Those ideas go against the American dream," Hughes said.

In the past year, critical race theory has become a hot button issue, despite seemingly no one being able to come up with a singular definition of the movement.

Texas joined numerous Republican-led state legislatures in attempting to ban critical race theory, all of which have done so in response to former President Donald Trump criticizing the academic movement.

At an unrelated press conference Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick - the president of the Senate - pounded the podium with many of the same bullet points echoed at Republican rallies.

"Critical race theory says you're born a racist. It says if you're White, you're racist," Patrick said.

However, academics say this classification is incorrect.

Cossy Hough is the Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Programs at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work for The University of Texas at Austin, and said the focus of critical race theory is not on blaming certain races of people.

"Critical race theory grew out of Black legal and feminist scholarship of the 1970s, and it really focuses on the prevalence of racism in current society, primarily focusing on systemic racism - so, racism within our systems of education, criminal justice that disproportionately impacts people of color. It's not at all about calling White children 'racist' if they don't admit to their White privilege," Hough said. "It is definitely more focused on systems. The 'critical' statement in it is very important because it is all about unpacking where we are as a nation, in terms of race. It does focus some on who we are as individuals, where we are in terms of cultural relationship to others, but the whole purpose of critical race theory is to think about ways we can elevate voices of color, and making sure we hear voices we haven't traditionally heard, and dismantle systems of racism, which I think is something we can all agree on and want to have happen."

Hough co-wrote an op-ed supporting the inclusion of critical race theory elements in classrooms.

The book, "Critical Race Theory: An Introduction," supports Hough's assessment that the focus is on institutions, not individual people.

"Although [critical race theory] began as a movement in the law, it has rapidly spread beyond that discipline. Today, many in the field of education consider themselves critical race theorists who use [critical race theory's] ideas to understand issues of school discipline and hierarchy, tracking, controversies over curriculum and history, and IQ and achievement testing. Political scientists ponder voting strategies coined by critical race theorists," the book said. "The relationship between racism and economic oppression - between race and class - are topics of great interest to critical race theory and covered later."

School districts and top teaching associations - like Austin ISD, the Association of Texas Professional Educators, and the American Historical Association - publicly opposed the regular session bill and other similar pieces of legislation around the country.

Still, Hughes points to the idea that there are so many ways the movement has been defined as why his bill is necessary.

"Because it's such a vague concept, it has contributed to the confusion," Hughes said. "So in this bill, rather than say we're against critical race theory, we are identifying specific elements which undermine the American dream. So, we're saying you cannot teach one race is inherently better or worse than the other, or one sex is inferior or superior, or one race is inherently racist. We're putting specific items. Our Texas teachers don't want to teach these things. We want to make sure they're not forced to, or they're not compelled to."

Meanwhile, Talarico said this bill is getting in the way of what children need to know.

Thinking back to his teaching days, the Round Rock representative said children have the capacity to absorb difficult truths.

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"In this moment in our history, we desperately need our students to grapple with all of our past: the good, the bad, and the ugly. I believe that will lead to a true and informed patriotism, a true love of country," Talarico said.

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