Redacting History: HB 3979 and Its Impact on Texas Public Schools

Written by Veronica Alcantar

Edited by Sophia Niño, Manasi Chande, and Juliette Draper

It is an undeniable fact that racism and the oppression of people of color have played an essential role in the birth and growth of the United States of America. From the genocide of Indigenous peoples to the murder of Black men by police, it is clear that our nation would not exist the way it does today if it were not for the blood, sweat, and tears of people of color over the last 200 years. However, not everyone agrees with this idea. Many Americans do not wish to share the details of our dark and sordid history with the youngest members of our country out of fear that such an education would be more “divisive rather than inclusive.” They are against the school of thought named Critical Race Theory (CRT), an educational framework that not only states that race is a social construct, but that racism has been deeply intertwined in our governmental, legal, and even educational institutions since the beginning of American history. It describes the ways institutional racism affects our society on every level...and people hate it. Viscerally and repulsively. This is because many cannot accept the idea that, at its core, the United States is flawed,that it is unequal and ripe with injustice.

Over the past few years, many conservatives, led mostly by Donald Trump, have made it their mission to spread misinformation on what Critical Race Theory actually is. In June, Trump claimed that CRT was the “left’s vile new theory,” teaching children that “judging people by the color of their skin is actually a good idea.” [1] This distortion of CRT has caused outrage among many conservative parents around the country, causing them to show up to school board meetings in crowds and demand that their children not be taught anything even remotely similar to Critical Race Theory. Blanca Martinez attended a Fort Worth school board meeting in June for this very reason, shouting that “CRT is a poison. It's a poison to the mind. It corrupts!” [2]

In 2021, state legislatures around the country have been working their hardest to either protect or ban Critical Race Theory in public schools, with Texas being one of the front runners in a campaign against it. State Representative Steve Toth, author of House Bill 3979, a bill that was meant to effectively ban CRT from Texas public schools, claims that “at a time when racial tensions are at a boiling point, we don’t need to burden our kids with guilt for racial crimes they had nothing to do with. Our students are stressed enough already and don’t need one more reason to feel inadequate.” [3] He argues that to teach Critical Race Theory in schools is to “indoctrinate” white children into believing that the blame of racist atrocities committed in the past lies on their shoulders when this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Critical Race Theory does not teach children that they are either the oppressors or the oppressed, but rather helps children examine the ways racism has shaped American history.

Other Texas Lawmakers, like Senator Royce West, argue otherwise. Royce argues that “there were instances in this country, where even in the articles of secession in 1861, it was said that the Caucasian race is superior to the African American race. That's history. I think that it would be totally unfair if you said you can't teach what history has shown us to be the position in the past.” [4] This goes directly against Representative Toth’s statement that “HB 3979 is about teaching racial harmony by telling the truth that we are all equal, both in God's eyes and our founding documents.” [5]

Democrats proposed many amendments during the special session that attempted to weaken the bill, and much to the dismay of Republicans, a considerable amount passed. Representative James Talarico proposed an amendment that would require “the teaching of ‘the history of white supremacy.’” [6] Representative Carl Sherman proposed the education of students on “the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights as well as the life and work of Cesar Chavez,” [7] and Representative Abel Herrero proposed the teaching of “ the history of LULAC, the League of Latin American Citizens.” [8]

The reactions to HB 3979 from teachers, students, and parents across Texas have varied widely. In response to the bill, Gina Peddy, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Carroll ISD, planned a training session for teachers that was set to cover what “opposing perspective” materials they should present when educating students about the Holocaust. [9] This has caused many to go into a spur, terrified that Holocaust deniers, along with other individuals who hold beliefs based on inaccurate information, will be entitled to equal representation in the classroom.

Many teachers in Texas, like Lakeisha Patterson, stand firmly against the bill in fear of the harm that it will wreck upon their student’s education and outlook on history. Ms. Patterson argues that “even the fact that I'm an elementary teacher and I get it that my kids are younger, these are still sensitive subjects that I think they should be made aware of, and we should have the ability to have open and honest conversations about historical events that happen." Kimberly Williams of Fort Worth ISD shares Ms. Patterson’s sentiments, saying in a Fort Worth School Board meeting that “as an African American female educator, [she] know[s] that when racial equity is not consciously addressed, racial inequality is often unconsciously replicated.” [10] Both Ms. Patterson and Ms. Williams, and many Texas teachers in their situation, fear that HB 3979 will limit their ability to teach history as it actually happened without fear of breaking the law.

Just weeks after the bill was passed, educators’ jobs began to be threatened. After the murder of George Floyd, James Whitfield, the first black principal of Colleyville Heritage High, created a “diversity advisory committee with student members to elevate minority voices and give students greater input into school rules.” [11] He wanted to educate his community on race-based issues and posted on his social media “that systemic racism was ‘alive and well’ and asked students and parents to ‘commit to being an anti-racist.’” [12] These posts were later used against him during a school board meeting where parents accused Whitfield of promoting Critical Race Theory, and at the beginning of the 2021 school year, he was placed on paid leave. In his support, students at Colleyville Heritage organized walk-outs in protest of the treatment Whitfield had received, but it was to no avail. On September 20th, the Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District “voted 7-0 to formally propose Whitfield’s termination” due to what they claim to have been “disrespectful, unreasonable and insubordinate” behavior.

HB 3979 and the way it has impacted how Texans view teachings of racial injustice in academic settings is powerful. It has changed and limited educators’ ability to teach their students about the truth of American history, both the good and bad parts. It will forever impact the knowledge that enters the minds of the state’s coming generations. HB 3979 is a muzzle on the mouth of justice, forever attempting to silence the narrative that has rung true since 1776: America is not the land of the free; it is the home of the tormented.


 

[1] Jack Brewster, Trump Says Critical Race Theory Borders On ‘Psychological Abuse,’ ғᴏʀʙᴇs (Jun. 18, 2021, 10:19 AM), https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackbrewster/2021/06/18/trump-says-critical-race-theory-borders-on-psychological-abuse/?sh=1c5539ed450e.

[2] Kera Bill Zeeble, The Texas Legislature Has Targeted Critical Race Theory, But Is It Being Taught In Public Schools?, Hᴏᴜsᴛᴏɴ Pᴜʙʟɪᴄ Mᴇᴅɪᴀ ʜᴘᴍ (Jul. 9, 2021, 7:27 AM), https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/education/2021/07/09/402708/the-texas-legislature-has-targeted-critical-race-theory-but-is-it-being-taught-in-public-schools/.

[3] Press Release, Texas Rep. Steve Toth, Rep. Toth Passes Bill To Protect Students From Critical Race Theory ((May 13, 2021) (on file with the Texas House of Representatives).

[4] Zeeble, supra note 2.

[5] Nate Shute & María Méndez, Did Texas lawmakers remove classroom requirement to teach KKK as 'morally wrong'? Here's what we know., Aᴜsᴛɪɴ Aᴍᴇʀɪᴄᴀɴ sᴛᴀᴛᴇsᴍᴀɴ.ᴄᴏᴍ (Jul. 20, 2021, 3:34 PM), https://www.statesman.com/story/news/education/2021/07/20/texas-kkk-senate-bill-3-critical-race-theory-texas-schools-racism/8027707002/.

[6] Iris Poole & Brandon Waltens, Critical Race Theory Ban Watered Down in Texas House, ᴛᴇxᴀs sᴄᴏʀᴇᴄᴀʀᴅ (May 11, 2021), https://texasscorecard.com/state/critical-race-theory-ban-watered-down-in-texas-house/.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Brian Lopez, The law that prompted a school administrator to call for an “opposing” perspective on the Holocaust is causing confusion across Texas, ᴛᴇxᴀs ᴛʀɪʙᴜɴᴇ.ᴏʀɢ (Oct. 15, 2021, 7:00 PM), https://www.texastribune.org/2021/10/15/Texas-critical-race-theory-law-confuses-educators/.

[10] Zeeble, supra note 2.

[11] Hannah Natanson, These Texas teens stayed silent about racism. Then their Black principal was suspended., ᴡᴀsʜɪɴɢᴛᴏɴ ᴘᴏsᴛ (Oct. 8, 2021, 8:00 AM), https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/interactive/2021/texas-teens-whitfield-critical-race-theory/.

[12] Id.



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