“Critical Race Theory” appears to be high on the list of Republican lawmakers this session, although there is currently no evidence that it’s offered in state schools. Both Governor Tate Reeves and House Speaker Phillip Gunn have targeted CRT, with Reeves vowing to use some of the state’s 2023 budget to fight it.
Last week, a Mississippi Senate committee passed a bill that would ban schools from teaching CRT. The bill was authored by Sen. Michael McClendon of Hernando. Senate Bill 2113 is now headed to the full Senate for a vote. Every Black senator in attendance – 14 to be exact – walked off the floor in protest before a vote was taken. The bill states that no public school or public college or university “shall make a distinction or classification of students based on account of race” and cites specifically that critical race theory is something the legislation would “prohibit.”
Critical race theory is described as an academic framework that examines how racism has shaped public policy and institutions, especially the legal system, and how these systems have perpetuated the dominance of white people in society. But state education officials have previously stated that critical race theory is not taught at the K-12 level.
Senator John Horhn, who is one of the senators who walked off the floor last week, said this is nothing more than a move by Republicans to incite their base.
“They seem to be intent on putting out lies and untruths about our history. Even if you go back to January 6th, the way they are characterizing that is full of lies,” he said. “This bill is just to keep their base excited about divisions that exist in our society.”
The Mississippi Department of Education is scheduled to hold a public hearing on Friday at the Mississippi Agricultural Museum to discuss proposed changes to social studies curriculums. Chauncey Spears of the Mississippi Center For Justice says this is the first time in Mississippi’s history that there is a hearing concerning state standards, and unfortunately, the new bill could negatively shake things up.
“For us, it’s important to understand that any progress we make socially, politically, or culturally as a state starts with how we teach our young people about our state’s history,” he said. “It gives them the tools to understand our contemporary challenges as they become adults. It helps them become civically engaged.”
Nsombi Lambright, Executive Director of One Voice, says advocates have been asking for years for there to be more civil rights curriculum implemented. She says this whitewashing of history is basically a bullying tactic by lawmakers.
“We asked for more civil rights education at the K-12 level and what we got was more testing. We’re not getting the enriching opportunities for our children anymore,” she said.
Lambright says if this bill actually becomes law, there won’t be much that parents can do to change it inside the classroom. That education, she says, is going to have to come at home, in civic organizations, and in fraternities and sororities. It will also come with advocates helping those teachers who want to go the extra mile.
“We only talk about Black history during Black History Month and even then it’s only about Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks,” she said. “We’re going to have to take up that mantle.”
Spears said the protests of summer 2020 were a tipping point. He says the blowback is popping up in the legislation that we are seeing. Those terms and concepts were being challenged by young white students, he says, and it’s now being played out in suburban districts where teachers are being fired and books are being banned.
“You saw a lot of white people who were raising the question about structural racism. They were raising the question about white privilege. They were raising the question about intersectionality,” he said. “You begin to see that their concern isn’t what’s happening at HBCUs. They’re concerned about what white kids are learning at Mississippi State or the University of Mississippi.”
Social studies standards were last updated in 2018. More than 40 Mississippi educators participated in the revision process for the 2021 standards which clarified the learning goals and identified content examples to be moved to an instructional planning guide scheduled for release in May.
Spears says there is a very delicate line that they walk as advocates because education has now become so politically charged. His takeaway is that he hopes more voices are heard during the formative process which would aid in avoiding the usual groundswell of dissent after the fact. As of now, he says there hasn’t been much information given out about the format of the hearing.
“We’ve asked the state department and we’ve basically been told that we will know more about the hearing at the hearing,” he said. “That’s concerning to us, because we want to know what to expect. I just hope as many people as possible can come. The showing would be indicative of how important this is to the community.”