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Published May 3, 2021
The Tennessee Conservative Staff –
Tennessee House Republicans are using the last few days of this legislative session to take another look at a measure that would provide guidelines on what public schools can teach regarding racism and inequality.
The House education administration committee has been reopened, and members will come together on Monday morning to continue to work on the proposed legislation. The legislation is intended to keep schools from teaching lessons about systemic racism, specifically ideas that fall in line with critical race theory.
Critical race theory includes the idea that racism is implanted in U.S. institutions and that white individuals benefit from that racism.
Representative John Ragan of Oak Ridge is sponsoring House Bill 580, a larger bill that set a number of different rules and procedures for the state Department of Education. He is currently working with other House members on an amendment to the bill.
While he has not provided specifics on just what his amendment will address, Ragan does state that it is about upholding what Tennesseans hold dear.
“Tennessee values, Tennessee standards,” Ragan said. “That’s what this is about.”
Representative Mark White of Memphis, who serves as the committee chair, acknowledged that there is a need for the topic to be discussed.
“We’re getting lots of calls from all over the state, from parents in schools where they feel very uncomfortable with children coming home exposed to certain things,” White said. “So, when we hear that, we’ve got to address it.
According to White, these parental complaints have come from “all over” the state, including Memphis, Knoxville, and the Nashville area.
White did not discuss specific complaints that have been received but he did reference second-grade student who came home from school and asked her mother, “Am I a racist?” He did not indicate where the family resides.
“You know something’s going on that we need to address if a second-grader has to ask that questions,” White continued. “When I was a second-grader, I didn’t see differences in people, because my family never taught me that. So we need to be very careful.”
In April, it was announced that the U.S. Department of Education is looking at the possibility of offering grants to schools to assist them with a plan to “incorporate anti-racist practices into teaching and learning.”
Schools that apply for the grants will be required to explain how teachers will “take into account systemic marginalization, biases, inequities, and discriminatory policy and practice in American history.”
“We hear from our teachers all the time they don’t have enough time in the day to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, and here we are with another lesson,” said White.
If passed, this Tennessee legislation would most likely make Tennessee schools unable to apply for those grants.
According to House Speaker Cameron Sexton of Crossville, some House members were worried about “things coming out of the Biden administration” that involved teaching critical race theory in public schools.
“There’s been conversations about is there a way to do something on critical race,” Sexton said. “At this point, whether or not they can get to a point where the House and Senate can agree at the very end, I’m not sure. But I know there’s been conversations going on.”
If the amended bill gets through the House education administration committee, it will then need to be passed on the House floor.
The earlier version of the bill previously passed the Senate. If the amendment goes through, the Senate would have to vote to align with the new House version of the bill.