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Lawmakers weigh in on bill to stop teaching critical race theory in schools



TX — In this edition of Texas This Week, State Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands) explains his intent in creating a bill that would change the way social studies teachers instruct students. And State Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock), a former educator, explains why he and others oppose the bill.

Three things to know in Texas politics

The Senate version of House Bill 48 was the last bill to initially pass in the lower chamber before a key deadline this week. Now, with about two weeks left in the session, members of the Texas House of Representatives can only vote on uncontested bills, Senate bills and House bills returning from the Senate.

The members had more than 300 bills on the calendar that they were trying to get through before midnight Thursday.

Gov. Greg Abbott is starting to use the power of his pen. He signed several bills this week, including House Bill 1024. It allows restaurants to sell alcoholic drinks in sealed containers with to-go food orders. At the start of the pandemic, Abbott signed an executive order allowing alcohol-to-go that many credit with helping keep restaurants afloat.

The next gubernatorial election is 18 months away, but there’s no time like the present to start campaigning. This week, former Dallas State Sen. Don Huffines announced plans to challenge Abbott in the primary.

And former President Donald Trump is weighing in on Texas politics. This week, he endorsed Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who will be up for a third term in 2022.

State Rep. Steve Toth discusses HB 3979

This week, the Texas House passed a bill, House Bill 3979, that many teachers say will change the way they teach history – and not for the better.

We’re diving into both sides, hearing from the bill’s author, Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands), about his intent, and former teacher and current Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock) about the implications of the bill.

Ashley Goudeau: Tell us exactly what, in your words, does the bill do? 

Rep. Steve Toth: The bill states very clearly that we want to make sure the teaching [of] hateful rhetoric, like one race is better than the other, it’s to demean one sex over the other, to demean one gender, one racial background over, over another, is hateful and we don’t want that communicated in our Texas schools.

Now, if you want to talk about critical race theory, if you want to talk about the 1619 Project, this is the bill right here, and it says a teacher who chooses to discuss the topics described in Subsection 1 shall, to the best of the teacher’s ability, try to explore the topics from a diverse and contending perspective without giving deference to any one perspective. And so, we want to make sure that while current events are discussed, we want to do it from a diverse and contenting perspective without teachers proselytizing about the values of their children.”

Goudeau: There are some people who take issue with the bill – educators who say, “How am I supposed to teach about the Holocaust? How am I supposed to teach about slavery? How am I supposed to teach about these subjects where racism was clearly a driving force in these, even the women’s rights movement, without talking about race or gender?”

Toth: “Do we want to talk about the Holocaust? Yes. Do we want to talk about slavery? Yes. We have to talk about all the evils of our past without blaming, without blaming white children simply because of the color of their skin … Critical race theory says, ‘I’m a white supremacist, anyone that is not a person of color is a white supremacist.’ So, basically, if everyone’s a white supremacist, then no one’s a white supremacist. That’s ridiculous. We should marginalize, we should call out, we should denounce, we should decry, we should condemn people that walk in hate no matter what color their skin is.”

Goudeau: Representative, I have to ask you, this definition then that you’re using of critical race theory, what leads to this? Because you have a representative, Mary González (D-Clint), on the floor – Dr. Mary González, now, who’s actually studied this – and she explained during debate that that’s not, you know, that’s not actually critical race theory. That’s not what people are being taught. That’s not what we’re trying to teach children when you talk about racism. So, where are we – where are you getting these ideas of what critical race theory is? 

Toth: “If you listen to the thought leaders of critical race theory, they’ll tell you exactly what it is. And if, if Dr. Gonzalez is concerned about it, this is the bill right here. It’s 3979 and it doesn’t mention critical race theory anywhere in the bill. It does not mention the three words ‘critical race theory’ anywhere in the bill. It simply speaks about making sure that when teachers teach, they don’t call out, nor do they speak against, people based on, based on the color of their skin nor based on their gender.”

Goudeau: But people were discriminated in our history based on the color of their skin and based on their gender. And that’s just a fact. 

Toth: “That what?”

Goudeau: That people in our history have been discriminated against based on the color of their skin, based on their gender. That’s – that’s just factual. 

Toth: “It is factual. And we should absolutely teach about it. And that’s why it says very clearly, a teacher who chooses to teach about it shall do, to the best of the teacher’s abilities, strive to explore the topic from a diverse and contending perspective without giving deference to any one point. It’s worth simply saying teachers should teach about history, the cruelty and the abuse and the hatefulness. But we should not try and put that onto the shoulders of current, of current generations and blame children for the sins of a prior generation.”

Goudeau: But you just used the words ‘cruelty’ and ‘abuse’ and ‘hateful.’ And there are some educators who say this bill will enable them from being able to maybe describe these acts using your same words. That if you have to try to present this with deference, if you’re trying to teach about the Holocaust, the KKK, that you have to try to show their points as well.

Toth: “No. No, you don’t. You can do it from a contending and diverse perspective. A teacher can say what the, what the Klu Klux Klan did, what the Nazis, did was evil. They can do that. What they can’t do is they can’t say to my children, they can’t say, ‘You’re evil.’ They can’t say that you’re, ‘You’re a white supremacist.'”

State Rep. James Talarico discusses HB 3979

Ashley Goudeau: First, I want you to tell me what you make out this bill to be.

Rep. James Talarico: “You know, this is a bad civics bill. Rep. Toth brought this bill to the House Public Education Committee, where I sit, and I voiced my concerns then and then when it came to the floor, I went to the back microphone and asked a series of questions that I don’t think Rep. Toth was able to answer about his own bill.

This bill does a few really bad things. One, it prevents teachers from discussing and teaching current events in the classroom, which directly conflicts with our educational standards in Texas, where teachers are required to teach current events to students in elementary school, middle school and high school. The bill also bans service-learning programs where students volunteer for class credit with organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, the Rotary Club, the Humane Society. And then, last, the bill prevents teachers from having discussions about race and the history of racism in the United States in our social studies classrooms. This bill is not designed to help kids or students or teachers. This bill is designed to push a culture war in order to score political points with far-right Republican primary voters.”

Goudeau: We spoke with Rep. Toth, as our viewers saw, and he feels as though his bill is being mischaracterized. He says teachers can still teach current events and he says they can still talk about, you know, the racist history of our country, but that they just have to present both sides. Talk to us about the challenge that that presents for educators as a former educator.

Talarico: “Well, I think if you go back and watch my questions for Rep. Toth on the floor of the House, when this bill was presented to the body, he couldn’t answer basic questions about what the bill does. I was just quoting to him what the bill says on the page. And what it says is that teachers may not be compelled to teach current events in the State of Texas, but current events are a part of our educational standards. Teachers are required by the TEKS to teach current events in elementary, middle and high school. And that’s important for our students to be able to identify and analyze and interpret current events if we’re going to have a healthy democracy moving forward.

You know, my, my only issue with Rep. Toth asking teachers to teach both sides is white supremacy and racism doesn’t have two sides. There’s only one side, and that is that it’s morally reprehensible and that it should be condemned at every turn. And so, by asking educators to teach both sides of racism, I think you are opening social studies classrooms up to the promotion of white supremacy.”

The Senate also passed a version of the bill. Each chamber now has the other’s version to start the process of trying to get the bill to the governor’s desk.