Committee proposes ban on teaching ‘divisive concepts’

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An Alabama legislative committee on Tuesday introduced a bill that would ban the teaching of ‘dividing concepts’ about race and gender in public schools, including the notion that people should feel guilty because of their race.

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee voted 6-1 for the bill, which now passes the full Alabama Senate. The legislation comes as Republicans in several states seek to either ban critical race theory or place limits on how educators discuss race in the classroom.

Republican Sen. Will Barfoot of Pike Road’s bill would ban the teaching of a list of nine “dividing concepts” in K-12 schools. Although they can be discussed in colleges, this would prohibit an institution from forcing a student to “approve the concept”.

The bill’s list of prohibited “divisive concepts” includes the notion that the United States of America is “inherently racist or sexist” and the idea that “everyone should be asked to accept, acknowledge, affirm or consent to a sense of guilt, complicity, or a need to work harder solely on the basis of one’s race or gender.

The proposal would also prevent “fault, blame or bias” from being “attributed to any race, sex or religion, or to members of any race, sex or religion”.

Barfoot said he didn’t think it would limit the teaching of history. “We should talk about the good, the bad and the ugly, to quote one of the Spaghetti Westerns. We should address the mistakes that have happened, as well as the mistakes and bad decisions that have happened in the past.

The Senate bill’s list is similar to a 2020 executive order that President Donald Trump issued banning “divisive concepts” in federal employee training that has since been repealed. Similar language has since appeared in the bills of dozens of states.

Senator Linda Coleman-Madison, a Birmingham Democrat, unsuccessfully urged the committee to delay a vote to give senators time to consider the bill. Coleman-Madison said the bill initially seems innocuous, but there is widespread misunderstanding of what critical race theory is.

Barfoot said the bill didn’t mention critical race theory, but Coleman-Madison said that seemed to be the genesis.

“I get what you’re saying – but a rose by any other name. Even though critical race theory isn’t mentioned, we understand that the whole concept was centered around that,” Coleman-Madison said.

Critical Race Theory is an academic framework that examines how racism has shaped the country and institutions such as the legal system, and how this has maintained white dominance in society. It is not taught in K-12 schools, Alabama Superintendent Eric Mackey said.

The Senate committee did not hold a public hearing before voting. Reverend Kenneth Dukes of the Alabama State Chapter NAACP told committee members there should have been an opportunity for public comment on the bill.

Opponents of the bill dominated a public hearing before a House committee on a similar bill last month. Opponents said they fear it will have a chilling effect on lessons and class discussions.

The Senate version does not include a provision in the original House bill that addressed how slavery should be taught. The House committee is due to vote on Wednesday.

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