RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina House Republicans approved a plan on Wednesday to prohibit public schools from embracing certain ideas that critically examine how race and racism influence American politics, culture and law.
The measure passed by a vote of 65 to 48 and now heads to the Senate. If approved, it would go to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk.
“This bill does not change what history can or cannot be taught,” said Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican. “It simply prevents schools from teaching discriminatory concepts.”
The bill aims to provide “dignity and nondiscrimination in schools” by prohibiting teachers from expressing support for a series of seven ideas, including the belief that the United States was founded by members of a particular race or sex to oppress people of another race or sex.
If approved, House Bill 324 would prevent schools from endorsing the view that any individual should feel guilty simply because of their race or sex or that the person’s race or sex makes them inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, even if unconsciously.
The proposal does not prohibit teachers from introducing these ideas so long as they make it clear that the school isn’t endorsing such concepts.
Democrats and racial justice advocates accuse Republicans of trying to rewrite history and deprive pupils of a fulfilling curriculum.
Rep. James Gailliard, D-Nash, called the proposal “anti-American history,” noting that the United States was founded on the backs of millions of slaves being exported into the country.
“This bill is a ‘give me the microphone back’ bill because we want to talk but we don’t want to listen to everybody else,” Gailliard said.
Rep. Kandie Smith, D-Pitt, likened the proposal to “book burning,” while Rep. Ashton Clemmons, a Guilford County Democrat who previously worked as a local elementary school principal, said students need to feel uncomfortable in order to progress further in their learning.
“Fundamental to education is discomfort,” Clemmons said. “If you stay in your comfort zone, you are not growing. You are not learning. You fundamentally have to feel discomfort to learn something new.”
The North Carolina Justice Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina opposed the measure.
North Carolina is not alone in advancing proposals to try to curb ideas central to critical race theory, which highlights how historical inequities and racism continue to shape public policy and social conditions today.
Arkansas, Idaho and Oklahoma have implemented various versions of a ban already this year. Other attempts have been floated in New Hampshire, Missouri and Louisiana over the past few months, though those measures are unlikely to pass.
Torbett said he hopes the bill brings people together, rather than dividing them.
“This bill does not change in any way what history can and cannot be taught,” Torbett said. “What it does, it tells our children what we honestly owe them, and grandchildren, and what we owe them is that education system that unites and not divides.”
The proposal brought forward by Republicans came as a last-minute substitute during a Tuesday education committee hearing that entirely scrapped an older version of the bill that sought to clarify charter school reopening guidance.
Republican leaders who control both chambers are considering a host of measures ahead of Thursday’s “crossover deadline.” Policy bills that don’t pass at least one chamber by the deadline otherwise face long odds to be considered again before 2023.
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Anderson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.