Update: The bill officially passed in the Texas House Tuesday on its third and final vote 79-65. HB 3979 will now move onto the Senate.
AUSTIN (KXAN) — Republican lawmakers want to ensure controversial political ideologies don’t make their way into the classroom.
The Texas House of Representatives is debating HB 3979 on Monday, which bans schools from requiring teachers to discuss polarizing current events or social issues in class and adds requirements for teachers who choose to discuss those issues with students.
Among the most widely controversial subjects is the Critical Race Theory, a relatively new concept which examines how race relations have shaped the current social, cultural and legal world around us.
For example, the Black Lives Matter movement, which drew global attention in 2020, is largely grounded on the thesis that communities of color are disproportionately harmed or killed at the hands of law enforcement, an American institution that dates back centuries.
In this hypothetical example, House Bill 3979 would prohibit a school from requiring students to learn about the BLM movement and would limit a teacher’s discussion on the movement unless they could do so “from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.”
In essence, the bill seeks to ensure balance and context are prevalent in all educational settings related to civic discourse and current events.
Round Rock ISD Instructional Coach Meghan Dougherty said teachers in all core subjects are fielding more questions than ever from students. She works directly with teachers and hears anecdotally how kids will routinely come to them, seeking a trusted source of information, for answers to highly sensitive, albeit relevant, current events.
“These things do come into the classroom. Students hear this stuff, they hear their parents talking, they hear their friends talking, they read things on the internet, and they come into the classroom with these questions,” Dougherty said. “So if teachers feel like their hands are tied discussing current events, where are students going to go to find this information?”
Dougherty is the president-elect of the Texas Social Studies Supervisors Association, a member of the Texas Council for the Social Studies and a member of Educators in Solidarity, a coalition of organizations all opposed to HB 3979. She said teachers are already nervous to field some questions from students, afraid that a parent will receive the lesson out-of-context, setting off a chain-of-events that brings down punishment on the instructor. By creating this Texas law, she said teachers may completely stop pushing their students to think critically about the world around them.
“Just the fear of that alone is going to prevent teachers from really delving into a lot of these topics,” Dougherty said. “It’s not that teachers are trying to indoctrinate students, it’s that they are trying to help students understand these issues, help them understand the different perspectives and facilitate positive, productive conversations in the classroom around these issues.”
Indoctrination is the exact word Lt. Col. Allen West used when discussing his concerns with the way educational institutions are addressing the Critical Race Theory. The Chair of the Republican Party of Texas said the concept was infiltrating schools.
“When did we get to the point where we didn’t trust parents? Teachers are supposed to teach our children, not impart their principles and their values on the children,” Lt. Col. West said. “You are not teaching history. You are teaching them an ideological agenda.”
The Texas Public Policy Foundation, which supports passage of HB 3979 and its identical, companion bill SB 2202, insisted the foundation of a child’s social studies curriculum should be based on the original documents which created the American standards for life, liberty and democracy. Studying historical pieces of literature, like the Declaration of Independence, American Constitution and Federalist Papers, is also within the original text for HB 3979.
Lucy Meckler with the Texas Public Policy Foundation said studying these founding documents will provide historical context, which will then allow students to form their own political ideologies.
“Students should decide for themselves what individual acts are good or bad, and they should come to that conclusion themselves. But they should be laid out from a point, counterpoint mentality,” Meckler said.
Meckler also encouraged students to engage in political activism in other ways, including joining their student government, model UN or speech and debate teams. This could remove any possibility for political persuasion to occur within the classroom.
“We just want to ensure that teachers are protected and can still have their freedom to discuss these things in an appropriate, student-oriented manner and that kids are not being taken advantage of,” Meckler said.
HB 3979’s identical, companion bill passed the Texas Senate in April. Among other provisions, the bills would prohibit any teacher from including in a course the concept that an individual bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by members of the same race or sex, bans a teacher from awarding a grade for a student’s participation in social or public policy advocacy and instructs the State Board of Education to review and revise the curriculum accordingly so it can set new standards by the end of the year.
Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.