States Pass Limits on Teaching Race, Teachers ‘Caught up in a Culture War’


Conservative American states are introducing more bills controlling how history and race is taught in public schools. They are also giving parents more supervision over local schools and school boards.

A school board is a group of elected officials who supervise a school district’s budget and educational decisions.

A bill passed in Indiana that limits how race, history and politics can be taught in the classroom. It also permits parents to bring complaints and legal action against schools.

Americans are divided on how racism and discrimination in the present day should be taught, a recent study by the APM Research Lab, a policy research center, found. In a survey of 1,200 adults, 49 percent said schools should teach the “ongoing effects of slavery and racism in the United States.” But 41 percent say schools should teach the history of racism, but not “about race relations today.”

Answers were also very divided by race. While 79 percent of Black people surveyed said the ongoing effects of racism should be taught, just 41 percent of whites felt the same.

Teaching how historical racism and slavery affects life today is a central idea in Critical Race Theory, or CRT. Critical race theory is about how racism and white supremacy have shaped American society, laws and policies. It has also come under attack from Republican lawmakers.

In January, newly-elected Virginia governor Republican Glenn Youngkin signed an executive order banning Critical Race Theory. Republican states including Tennessee and Texas passed similar laws last year. But it is unclear how many schools actually teach CRT. Critics of such laws also say that any attempt to teach racism is labeled as Critical Race Theory.

In a recent interview with The New Yorker magazine, Democratic U.S. representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said the attempts to limit how history is taught is like returning to the infamous Jim Crow Era in the Southern U.S. Jim Crow laws in place for several decades until the 1960s discriminated against Black Americans in effectively all areas of life. During that time, racism and slavery was almost only taught from the white perspective, if it was taught at all.

Parent ‘Bill of Rights’

Republican lawmakers like Youngkin argue that parents and families should have more of a say in what is taught in schools, also called the curriculum. And many states have introduced bills that give parents more control over schools. APM’s study found that 41 percent of Americans think parents should have the most influence in how race is taught to children.

NBC news reports that 12 states have introduced bills that require schools to put their teaching materials online. It is part of a larger national push by Republicans for a parents’ “bill of rights” ahead of the midterm, congressional elections.

Teachers say parents can already see what their children learn. They worry that the laws would create unnecessary work and could threaten their professional independence.

Educators say they are not against keeping parents informed. But they see a risk that the new laws will bring censorship and more teachers leaving the profession.

Indiana State Teachers Association president Keith Gambill. (Casey Smith/Report for America via AP, File)

Indiana State Teachers Association president Keith Gambill. (Casey Smith/Report for America via AP, File)

States considering some version of the idea include Ohio, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina and West Virginia. Similar laws have been stopped by Democratic governors in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Katie Peters is a high school teacher in Toledo, Ohio. She told The Associated Press the bill suggests “there’s some hiding happening.” She added that “the parents who have cared to look have always had access.”

Conservative lawmakers have called for a parents’ bill of rights which gives parents access to classroom materials and academic, medical and safety records. It would also permit entry to school buildings and more.

Scott DiMauro is president of Ohio’s largest teachers’ union. He is concerned that such bills will add to the increase in resignations and retirements that have occurred from teaching during COVID-19.

Teachers, he said, have “felt caught up in a culture war that they didn’t create.”

I’m Dan Novak.

Dan Novak wrote this story for VOA Learning English with additional reporting from The Associated Press.

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Words in This Story

survey n. an activity in which many people are asked a question or a series of questions in order to gather information about what most people do or think about something

curriculum n. the courses that are taught by a school, college, etc.

censorshipn. the system or practice of censoring books, movies, letters, etc.

access n. a way of being able to use or get something



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