‘Critical race theory’ bill gets first vote from Kentucky lawmakers
FRANKFORT — An anti-“critical race theory” measure cleared its first legislative hurdle in Kentucky on Thursday, after months of debate and heated rhetoric.
The Senate Education Committee voted in favor of Senate Bill 138which is sponsored by the chairman of the committee, Senator Max Wise.
Wise, R-Campbellsville, said he was sponsoring the bill “as a way to unify us.”
“It’s critical that we enable teachers, in nurturing settings, to instruct our next generation on our nation’s fundamental foundational documents that reveal how Americans agree, disagree, fail, and progress on the sense of freedom and autonomy,” Wise said. in a press release sent shortly after the committee meeting.
Wise’s bill seeks to dictate how history lessons are taught, allowing teachers to teach lessons about historical events while requiring lessons to remain consistent with a set of American principles.
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For example, students may learn about slavery, segregation, and racial discrimination, but should learn that such events are “contrary to the fundamental American promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Blaming racial inequality on the nation’s history, the bill says, is “destructive to the unification of our nation.” (Racial disparities are often linked to lingering effects of systemic racismsuch as red lines.)
A replacement version of the bill removed some references to race from the original language of the bill. A principle that originally said people can be successful “regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status” now says “regardless of circumstances.”
The revised bill also removed criticized elements of the original bill prohibiting school districts from requiring teachers to cover current events or controversial topics and that those discussing such topics must be “unbiased.”
Under the new language, districts would still be able to require such lessons, but any educational materials about current events or controversial public policies would have to be age-appropriate and “relevant, objective, non-discriminatory and respectful of different student perspectives.”
About two dozen historical documents and speeches would be added to middle and high school history classes under the bill. Most are well-known documents probably already used in the courses, such as the Mayflower Compact.
The inclusion of primary sources will help students “learn to think critically” and “how to think rather than what to think,” a Senate GOP press release said. History lessons, especially those in high school, already rely heavily on a mix of primary materials and an inquiry-based learning model.
The press release says the documents include those recognized by the Ashbrook Centeran Ohio-based group focused on “constitutional autonomy” associated with the Conservative Party State Policy Network.
Wise has also worked with 1776 Unitsan initiative launched by the nonpartisan Woodson Center in response to the 1619 Project to “celebrate black excellence” and “reject the culture of victimhood,” according to its website.
SB 138 would also prohibit school districts from requiring staff training that “compels the employee to stereotype any group,” clarifying language in the original bill that prohibited training that “presents any form of racial stereotyping. or sexual”.
In another change from the original bill, teachers could give students credit for advocating “in civic space” as long as the student was not required to take a position that they or their parents are with. at variance.
Education Commissioner Jason Glass previously called SB 138 “an improvement over previously introduced bills”, but noted he still had “serious concerns”.
“Having the state legislature specify curriculum resources would be a significant departure from Kentucky’s tradition of local control over such decisions,” Glass wrote. in a note to superintendents earlier this month.
Glass, a former social studies professor, criticized the bill’s route allowing teachers not to teach current affairs or controversial topics.
“Creating an expectation that classrooms should avoid difficult problems doesn’t prepare our future citizens well,” Glass said.
The Filson Historical Society of Louisville announced its opposition to SB 138 earlier this month, saying “the idea of creating a program by statute is irresponsible in the democratic society that these bills are meant to celebrate.
“This ignores the professional judgment and training of educators, who have both in-depth content knowledge and training in age-appropriate teaching and learning techniques,” a company statement continued.
SB 138 is one of four bills facing lawmakers aimed at curbing the way race is discussed in Kentucky schools. Two of these measures were among the first laws pre-tabled in June before the 2022 legislative session.
Representatives Matt Lockett and Jennifer Decker filed the fourth measure, House Bill 487, Last week. In addition to banning the topics of “bigotry, revisionist history, or critical social justice,” the bill outlines who chooses the program, how it may be perceived, and what the consequences are for those who appear to be teaching something prohibited in classroom.
critical race theory is an academic framework that examines how systems, rather than individuals, perpetuate racial inequality. Over the past year, the Conservatives have co-opted the phrase to cover a range of diversity and equity initiatives undertaken by schools, including adding more Black history classes and training on implicit biases.
This story will be updated.