The debate over Critical Race Theory (CRT) has dominated the national conversation about education since the wave of social unrest brought about by the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers in May 2020.
In the following months America was forced to acknowledge its racist past in a new way.
While many people and institutions began the process of accepting this history, just as many have been at work in municipal buildings and state legislatures across the country.
By the start of the current legislative period there were three senate bills that sought to prevent schools from teaching the darker aspects of American history.
On March 4, the Georgia State House voted in favor of HB 1084 and HB 1178. Bill 1084 is aimed at preventing schools from teaching ‘certain concepts’ while HB 1178 gives parents the right to ‘direct the upbringing and education of their minor children.’
A motion to reconsider HB 1084 was made March 4 and on March 8 the bill was voted down 71-92. This means the bill will have to be up for discussion once again and amendments can be added.
HB 1178 however was transmitted to the Senate where it was read on the floor and then passed to the Senate committee on Education and Youth. There are three state senators who represent Atlanta on the committee, Donzella James (D-35), Sonya Halpern (D-39) and Elena Parent (D-42).
Although CRT is not mentioned by name, each of these bills is sponsored by a legislator who has condemned a ‘divisive ideology,’ one representative calling it ‘Anti-American.’
Faith in Public Life, a nonprofit, organized an event to bring together Black and Jewish clergy from the Atlanta area. The religious leaders that spoke included Bishop Jackson is the Presiding Prelate of the Sixth Episcopal District of the Georgia AME Church and Rabbi Lydia Medwin of the Temple Atlanta.
“The genuine teaching of history must include all history. The good, the bad, the proud and the shameful; above all the truth,” Jackson said.
While Jackson and many critics of the bills currently in the legislature highlight the fact that CRT is a graduate level theory not being taught in K-12 schools, it does little to assuage those who want to ban it.
“History cannot be taught without including racism, the civil war, discrimination, segregation, jim crow… all of our history,” he continued.
Medwin echoed Jackson’s sentiment about teaching all history, even the bad parts, in Georgia’s schools.
“We need all these stories and their complex truths,” Medwin said. “My children must learn about racism just as they must learn about the holocaust.”
Rabbi Medwin continued to say that the motivation behind trying to suppress the story of Black America is the same motivation that seeks to suppress the Jewish story.
Gov. Brian Kemp has been an outspoken critic of CRT as well as both Republican candidates running for state superintendent.
In June of 2021 the State Board of Education, who is appointed by the governor, passed a resolution against lessons that would make students feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.”
In early February, Kemp’s floor leaders Sen. Clint Dixon (R-Gwinnett) and Rep. Josh Bonner (R-Fayetteville) both introduced legislation that would provide parents with more control over what their children are being taught in school.
In a statement, Sen. Dixon said the legislation would ensure that students’ and parents’ rights were being protected by the state.
Critics of these types of bills like Raymond Pierce, President and CEO of the Southern Education Foundation say they are an unnecessary distraction.
“This is a solution in search of a problem,” Pierce told The Atlanta Voice.
Pierce added that while slavery, Jim Crow and segregation are not something to be proud of, he believes they should be taught as part of American history.
He continued to say that the debate surrounding CRT is only working to further polarize people while distracting from what he says are more pressing issues affecting Georgia’s students.
“We should be focusing on teacher retention and inequality. We need to be matching public education with the future needs of our society,” which Pierce said includes creating opportunities for STEM and vocational education.
While the Governor and his political allies have made it clear that banning CRT is a political priority, early this year he also announced an additional $47 million in relief funding for K-12 and higher education across the state.
Though these types of legislation gain more bipartisan support they have not been the focus of the state Republican party who have centered the party’s platform on more politicized issues like CRT and mask mandates.
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