NC House passes bill to limit how racism is taught. Democrats call it ‘book burning.’

·4 min read

North Carolina Republican lawmakers are attempting to put new rules on public school lessons about race and history, part of a growing distrust about what students are being taught.

The North Carolina House voted 65-48 on Wednesday to pass a bill that prohibits schools from promoting concepts such as that the U.S. was created to oppress people or that people are inherently racist or sexist. Supporters say the bill, which calls for keeping people from being made to feel guilty due to their race or the past actions of people of their race, will protect the dignity of all people in schools.

“This bill does not change what history can and cannot be taught,” said Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican. “It simply prevents schools from endorsing discriminatory concepts.

“At the end of the day, we should all be able to agree that no student, no teacher, no parent, no school employee should ever be made to feel inferior solely because of the color of their skin or their gender.”

Wednesday’s vote was largely along partisan lines with Republicans in support and Democrats in opposition. Several Democrats argued the bill would keep teachers from talking about systemic racism and other difficult parts of the nation’s history.

Rep. Kandie Smith, a Pitt County Democrat, equated the bill to “book burning.”

“A small group of enraged individuals are looking to ban an entire concept of thought because it makes them uncomfortable,” she said.

House Bill 324 now goes to the Senate.

Republican lawmakers say the legislation is needed to counteract the use of “Critical Race Theory,” a view that holds that systemic racism has been and remains part of the nation’s history. North Carolina joins several other states that have introduced legislation to limit the use of Critical Race Theory in schools, according to the Associated Press.

Concern about what’s taught in class

The legislation is the latest effort by the state’s Republican leaders to increase scrutiny of what’s taught in public schools. The House passed a bill last week that would require public schools to list online all the instructional material they’re using, such as teacher lesson plans.

Rep. Hugh Blackwell, a Burke County Republican, said requiring the listing of the materials used by schools “ensures that tax dollars are spent to educate our students and not on distracting political projects.”

Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson created a task force to collect complaints from parents, students and teachers in public schools across the state about “indoctrination” in the classroom, the News & Observer previously reported.

Conservative concerns have escalated since the State Board of Education’s Democratic majority in February adopted new social studies standards that include language such as having teachers discuss racism, discrimination and the perspectives of marginalized groups.

For instance, civics students would learn about “inequities, injustice, and discrimination within the American system of government over time.” Critics have charged that the new standards are anti-American and incorporate elements of critical race theory.

Under the bill, teachers can discuss or use materials about Critical Race Theory “if it is made clear the public school unit does not sponsor, approve, or endorse the concepts or works.”

Certain concepts prohibited

Under the bill, public schools would be prohibited from promoting certain concepts, including:

The belief that the U.S. “is a meritocracy is an inherently racist or sexist belief, or that the United States was created by members of a particular race or sex for the purpose of oppressing members of another race or sex.”

An individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.

An individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.

Any individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress.

Classrooms should be an environment where all points of view are honored,” said GOP state school Superintendent Catherine Truitt, who tweeted Tuesday her support of the bill “There is no room for divisive rhetoric that condones preferential treatment of any one group over another.”

The bill prohibits schools from using those concepts in curricula, reading lists, seminars, workshops, training or other educational or professional settings that could reasonably give rise to the appearance of official sponsorship, approval or endorsement.

The legislation also says schools can’t contract with, hire or otherwise engage speakers, consultants, diversity trainers and others for the purpose of advocating those concepts.

Supporters say the bill will ensure dignity and non-discrimination in schools. But the Public School Forum of North Carolina says the opposite would happen under the bill.

“(The bill) incites a fear-based approach to limit teachers’ ability to discuss the reality of racism in the United States and would limit students’ engagement with history, current events, and personal health, as well as their social and emotional well-being, ” the Public School Forum said in a statement Tuesday.