Monday, March 21, 2022

EVICTING EXTREMISM: Alabama House Approves Bill Banning 'Divisive Concepts' in K-12 History Education

Source: Montgomery Advertiser

Published: March 17, 2022

By: Brian Lyman

The Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill that would ban the teaching of "divisive concepts" in K-12 history after a debate in which Democrats accused Republicans of trying to erase history.

The bill, HB 312, passed 65 to 32, on a mostly party-line vote. Four Republicans joined the chamber's Democrats in voting against the bill. 

The bill, one of many being pushed by Republicans around the country to restrict the teaching of race and history, would forbid teachers from teaching students to "adopt or believe" a list of "divisive concepts," including:

  • "That this state or the United States is inherently racist or sexist;" 
  • “That an individual, solely by virtue of his or her race, sex, or religion, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, sex, or religion.”
  • "That any individual should be asked to accept, acknowledge, affirm, or assent to a sense of guilt, complicity, or a need to work harder solely on the basis of his or her race or sex."


Teachers found to violate the legislation could be disciplined or fired by a school board.

The bill does not specifically mention critical race theory, an academic framework for understanding the persistence of racism and a target for Republicans around the country. But Oliver said during the debate that "divisive concepts" could include critical race theory, and he said that the bill's aim was "to keep people from hating America."

"It’s done with the intent of making the classroom equal, making the workplace equal and it provides protection for every student and employee," Oliver said.

House Republicans had made a ban on critical race theory one of their priority bills earlier this year. Rep. Danny Crawford, R-Athens, who sponsored a similar bill, said it would not inhibit history instruction. 

"What you're really saying is that you don't want anyone to take their beliefs and teach it as knowledge," he said. 

Alabama education officials have said critical race theory is not taught in public schools, and teachers and officials at a public hearing last month said the bill could make teachers wary of teaching controversial topics and inhibit the development of critical thinking. 

An earlier version of the bill would have banned the teaching of slavery and racism as anything other than deviations from ideals, but that was dropped. The bill would allow discussion of the concepts in higher education so long as they presented the ideas "in an objective manner and without endorsement."

"Everyone has had the opportunity to provide their language," Oliver said during the debate. "Whether people like it or not I can’t answer, but everyone has had an opportunity."

Republicans in the House accepted an amendment from Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, that said the law shall not be construed "to prohibit the teaching of topics of historical events in a historically accurate context." 

Oliver said after the vote that he did not think his bill would inhibit history teaching. But he could not give examples of schools in Alabama that were teaching schoolchildren to hate 

Democrats called the bill offensive and said it would inhibit the teaching of history. Many invoked experiences with segregation or with prejudice in their own lives. House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, called it "a racist piece of legislation."

"My daughter, who's in the chamber today, how do I explain to her the leaders of this state decided to take on an issue that's really about erasing history, and controlling what's taught and what's not being taught because a certain group of people feel bad?" he asked

Under questioning from Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, Oliver could not identify the Middle Passage, the transatlantic portion of the international slave trade.

"You don't know this history or care about it," Givan said. "That says a lot." (Oliver said after the vote that he did understand that enslaved people were forcibly taken across the Atlantic.) 

Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said the bill amounted to prior restraint, unconstitutional under the First Amendment, and aimed at preventing discussions of the nation's past. 

"What’s driving these conversations isn’t accepting blame or responsibility," he said. "It’s stopping conversations, so we can’t determine for the purposes of these conversation who’s responsible for what."

Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison, one of the only Republicans to vote against the bill, read a letter from a professor of Russian and Eastern European history, who said Soviet dictates on promoting communism "created a country paralyzed by its own propaganda," and cited similar moves by Putin's regime to emphasize Russian patriotism that the professor tied to the invasion of Ukraine. 

"Whether it's propaganda from the left or propaganda from the right, it is propaganda," Ball said. "And the only remedy for propaganda is open and honest dialogue."

Ball and Rep. Allen Farley of McCalla were the only Republicans voting against the bill. House Speaker Mac McCutcheon of Monrovia and Joe Faust of Fairhope voted against the bill, but later marked in the journal that they intended to vote for the bill. Faust is the only one of the four seeking re-election. Rep. Tracy Estes, R-Winfield, abstained. 

The vote left bad feelings among Democrats, who suggested the bill could inhibit any bipartisan cooperation for the remainder of the session. 

"You're not going to pat me on the back and tell me how much you like me or you love me, but you do thing to impact whole entire generations to come," Daniels said. "That's not acceptable."

Other Democrats, like Rep. TaShina Morris, D-Montgomery, said they felt they were ignored. 

"No matter how many times we come down, and we try to express how it feels or what it looks like to us, they give us this word play, and everything's just supposed to be fine, and it's not," said Morris.

In the Montgomery County delegation, Reps. Reed Ingram, R-Pike Road and Chris Sells, R-Greenville voted for the bill. Morris and Reps. Kenyatte Hassell, D-Montgomery; Kelvin Lawrence, D-Hayneville and Penni McClammy, D-Montgomery voted against it. Rep. Charlotte Meadows, R-Montgomery, was listed as not voting.

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