Warren County School Board members passed a new policy on teaching, or more accurately a ban on teaching Critical Race Theory and other concepts of race and racism in public schools at their meeting Monday.
CRT is a popular discussion nationally and it is important to know what it actually is and what the new Tennessee law means. Director of Schools Grant Swallows said Thursday the School Board’s decision to pass the new policy on Critical Race Theory keeps the school system in line with state directives.
The new law Gov. Bill Lee signed in May bans teachers from teaching certain concepts of race and racism in public schools, and the schools could lose state funding if they violate this law.
Some key components of CRT are the recognition that race is not necessarily biologically real, but socially constructed.
The definition of a social construct is an idea that has been created and accepted by people in society.
An example of a social construct is the idea that pink is for girls and blue is for boys because someone decided it and now it has meaning in our society. In this case, CRT would teach that people determine certain races are “good” or “bad” because that idea has been accepted by members in society.
Other aspects of CRT is acknowledging racism is a normal function of society and imbedded in systems and institutions and teaches about embracing the lived experiences of people of color to better understand their experiences.
“We’ve lived through this before where we are told to teach around a sensitive issue that people find offensive,” said Swallows, citing the teaching of Islam in schools as one such issue several years ago.
Swallows said state lawmakers have broadly defined what cannot be taught in school with a public chapter. He said the state Department of Education is expected to issue more specific information about what can and cannot be taught next week.
According to the new law, one of the many things Tennessee teachers cannot teach is, “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously.”
Warren County School Board members discussed the new law Monday, noting they did not exactly have a choice in the matter due to it being a state law and funding could be withheld if they did not comply.
School Board member Bill Zechman was one member who voiced his concerns about the restricting new law.
“What happens when there is a classroom discussion and students bring up CRT, BLM or other issues? Is the legislature going to say students can’t express their thoughts? This is what this is moving toward,” said Zechman.
Zechman also objected to state lawmakers determining what is taught in local schools. He said the General Assembly must believe it knows better what Warren County teachers should be teaching than the local School Board and local educators.
Swallows said he believes in the teachers abilities to handle these topics.
“We encourage students to learn and have reasoned discussions about anything, and we’ll never ever stop that. At the end of the day we also have very wise educators. And I 100% believe that they can lead the discussion in a way that follows the law and also encourages our students,” said Swallows.
Zechman stated he was voting with his conscience when he voted against adopting the policy, but hoped the other School Board members would vote yes in order for school funding not to be jeopardized. The other members voted in favor of it with Zechman being the only opposing vote based on his thoughts on the new law.
“What this says to me is our teachers don’t have the intelligence or the common sense to teach in a factual objective manor,” said Zechman. “This is basically taking that decision out of their hands. I think it is an insult to teachers and an insult to the teaching profession.”
With this new law, Gov. Lee stated the goal was to teach things that unite people, not things that could divide the nation and apparently that means omitting teaching events that have actually happened throughout history.
When he passed the law in May, Gov. Lee said, “We should teach the exceptionalism of our nation and how people can live together and work together to make a greater nation, and not to teach things that inherently divide or pit either Americans against Americans or people groups against people groups.”
The legislation took effect July 1, making this new law a part of the 2021-22 school year.