Texas board of education strikes down proposal to call slavery ‘involuntary relocation’

A proposal by Texas state educators to call slavery “involuntary relocation” in second grade classes has been rejected by the State Board of Education.

The proposal, first reported by the Texas Tribune, was introduced at the board’s June 15 meeting. Throughout the summer, the board will consider several curriculum updates to comply with lawmakers’ requirements to keep subjects that make students uncomfortable out of schools.

Nine educators, including a professor from University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, were behind the suggested language change.

The Tribune reported the proposal was struck down by the board unanimously.

While involuntary relocation isn’t an entirely unknown term in social studies, it often “has relationships to refugees and forced displacement due to violence or ethnic cleansing,” said Neil Shanks, clinical assistant professor of middle and secondary education at Baylor University.

In this case, Shanks added, the term appeared to be “intended to water down the issue of slavery.”

In a statement posted to Twitter, the Texas Education Agency said the board “provided feedback in the meeting indicating that the working group needed to change the language related to ‘involuntary relocation.’”

“Any assertion that the SBOE is considering downplaying the role of slavery in American history is completely inaccurate,” the statement concluded, referring to the Texas State Board of Education .

The suggested language change comes a year after Gov. Gregg Abbott (R) signed House Bill 3979 into law. That law, which went into effect last September, prohibits schools from teaching critical race theory curriculums.

Critical race theory examines how the history of race and racism in the U.S. continues to impact systems and institutions today.

“From a social studies perspective,” said Shanks, “talking about slavery as involuntary relocation obfuscates the way that slavery as a system is embedded in so many aspects of our lives.”

That includes the way slavery is embedded in the criminal justice system, the economic system and even the Electoral College, he said.

But in December, yet another Texas law forbade instructors from teaching slavery as the “true founding” of the United States. It also advised slavery, as well as racism, is a “deviation” from the “authentic founding principles” of liberty and equality.

But while many may question if slavery is an appropriate topic to discuss in elementary schools, Shanks believes, “If a child is young enough to be affected by, in this case, the history of slavery or the institution of slavery or the way it’s embedded in our society, then they’re young enough to learn about it.”

He added students are adept at seeing the world around them, and asking questions based on their observations. If their school curriculum is painting a picture of a world that’s free of injustice, Shanks argued, students will do one of two things.

“They either think badly about people who are struggling and suffering because of injustice,” he said, “or they reject school and the curriculum that’s being taught to them as something that’s not real or relevant because they can see with their eyes the ramifications of this.”

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