PHOENIX (CN) — The Arizona state House education committee voted Tuesday in favor of passing a bill that would ban the state's public schools from promoting “specified concepts relating to race and ethnicity” and create a complaint process for students and parents that could result in a $5,000 fine for teaching something that Republican lawmakers consider to be “Critical Race Theory.”
House Bill 2458 would make it illegal for schools to teach students to judge the character, morality, or intellect of another based on race or ethnicity, or to teach that individuals bear responsibility for the past actions of their race, or to teach that qualities like hard work are racist.
Proponents of the bill sau that those are teachings of Critical Race Theory.
“We are not the exemplars of the race we were born into,” Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said in the Tuesday afternoon committee meeting. “Critical Race Theory teaches the opposite.”
But Critical Race Theory, which has been used as a catch-all to rebuke diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in schools across the nation, doesn’t suggest that one race is better than another, nor does it advocate for treating people differently based on their race.
Taking inspiration from the writings of social reform and civil rights leaders like Kimberle Crenshaw, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B Du Bois and more, Critical Race Theory is an academic and legal framework that explores institutional racism within U.S. laws. The Legal Defense Fund writes that Critical Race Theory recognizes the effects of racism in education, housing, employment, health care, law enforcement and more aren’t just a result of individual bias and prejudice, but also stem from laws, policies and institutions that uphold racial inequalities.
“These concepts are not typically taught in Arizona public schools,” state Representative Judy Schwiebert, a Democrat from Phoenix, said in the Tuesday afternoon committee meeting. “If a teacher did promote the judgment of somebody based on their racial or ethnic background, there are already disciplinary procedures in place.”
While typically taught in graduate-level law classes at places such as Harvard Law School, proponents of the bill insist that Critical Race Theory is in Arizona K–12 schools.
“I think we can all agree that racism and discrimination are wrong, and have no place in our classrooms,” said community member Christina Rodgers during the committee hearing. “Neither does racially motivated propaganda.”
Rodgers said she has a biracial niece and wondered where she fits into Critical Race Theory teachings.
“If we continue to teach CRT, how will we explain to my niece that her white side is an oppressor, and her Black side is oppressed? This does not need to be taught to our children,” Rodgers said.
Another community member, Adam Metsendorf, who said he is Jewish, asked how passing this bill will affect teaching history.
“Thought the Civil Rights movement is technically covered under section G, does that cover the Jewish freedom riders who were murdered by the white supremacists in Mississippi?” he asked. “Would I need to check to make sure no one in my class is from Mississippi before I teach it? Or just that that aspect doesn’t offend one student?
“If the phrase white supremacist, used in the context of teaching Civil Rights, is interpreted as unfair, should this curriculum be completely scrapped?" he added.
State Representative Beverly Pingerelli, a Republican from Peoria and the bill’s sponsor, insisted that the bill doesn’t stop the teaching of history, but Democrats say the bill will do that anyway.
“The subjective interpretation of the language and enforcement of this type of law makes it very dangerous,” said state Representative Nancy Gutierrez, a Democrat from Tucson. “It puts non-educators in control of policing teachers, and the lack of clarity inevitably causing a chilling effect.
“Teachers, wishing to steer clear of any discipline, will avoid issues that bring social and historical value," she said. "This deprives our students of a rich and engaging educational experience that they are entitled to.”
Gutierrez said not seeing color doesn’t help students, but rather “negates a person’s individual identity and cultural identity.”
State Representative Liz Harris, a Republican from Chandler, disagreed, saying no acknowledgement of race should be made in schools at all.
“I grew up in Newark, New Jersey,” she said. “I was the minority, and I didn’t even know I was the minority. English was not the first language spoken. I grew up with my mom and three siblings in a single bedroom. I don’t know what white privilege is, but because the color of my skin is white, I am a white-privileged person.”
Aside from ethical issues, Democrats questioned the need for the bill when other laws already establish what Republicans want to accomplish.
The bill proposes a chain of command for students or parents to first report an offense to an administer, with the final saying going to the superintendent and the school board overseeing appeals.
“That’s already taken care of in the rules around our schools,” Schwiebert said. “We also have state standards that outline what is to be taught and what is not to be taught in schools. How do those things that are already in place not already address these issues?”
Pingerelli didn’t answer, instead telling Schwiebert she can read the bill to see how it’s laid out.
State Representative Laura Terech, a Democrat from Scottsdale, asked whether this bill does anything that Arizona code 15-112, which bans the teaching of resentment against particular races and the teaching of ethnic solidarity rather than individualism, doesn’t already do.
Pingerelli said she could only comment on her own bill, not any other existing laws.
Schwiebert added that this bill could give students and parents recourse to retaliate against teachers for doing anything that hurts their feelings, regardless of whether it violates the bill’s provisions.
Pingerelli didn’t acknowledge that fear.
“I’m having a hard time understanding the blowback on this,” she said. “I’ve always taught my kids that you don’t see people as groups. You see people as individuals.”
The bill passed on a 6–4 vote, along party lines, with Republicans in full support.
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