Masked students walk to class at Forsyth Central High School in this 2020 file photo. A state House Committee approved a bill Wednesday that aims to prevent lessons that could make students feel guilty because of their race. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder
A Georgia House committee passed a bill designed to eliminate “divisive concepts” in public schools Wednesday despite concerns from Democrats it could chill classroom discussions on race.
“There is a fear, and I acknowledge the fear, that teachers feel and some people in those communities, think they are targeted, but this isn’t targeting them,” said Dawsonville Republican Rep. Will Wade, the sponsor of the bill. “This is to protect children, and to ensure that adults take their posture as it relates to difficult issues, even their own personal experiences that they may have experienced, and try to look at it from a child’s eyes.”
The divisive concepts that would be banned by the bill include the idea that the United States is fundamentally racist, that a person bears guilt for the actions of other members of their race or that a person should feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress because of their race.”
It is a reaction to a conservative push against so-called critical race theory, a previously obscure academic framework defining racism as a product of social structures that has been morphed into a catch-all for lessons some parents say make their children feel guilty.
Wade said the bill would not prevent teachers from teaching about disturbing topics like Jim Crow and slavery if it becomes law.
“Just because there happened to be white people who did atrocities of the past does not make a white child in a classroom automatically racist,” he said. “It does not make a person that is in Africa right now, that they may have a descendant from Uganda, or from another place that is currently practicing slavery, in this day and age, right now, that just because they happen to be of that race, that because of their race, that they are automatically racist.”
Democrats say they are worried teachers will get the wrong message and err on the side of hiding the truth rather than risk upsetting a parent and potentially getting in trouble.
“There’s not a way for us to put in a bill how an educator can teach about slavery, can teach about incarceration of Japanese Americans, can teach about history in a whole and truthful way without the fear of doing something wrong in this bill,” said Atlanta Democratic Rep. Bee Nguyen, who is also running for secretary of state.
The committee also passed a so-called Parents’ Bill of Rights, the House’s version of a bill that passed the Senate Tuesday.
Like the Senate version, it lists out rights for Georgia parents, including the right to see course materials, opt out of sex education and decline to have their child’s photo taken. These rights already exist in Georgia law, which caused Atlanta Democratic Rep. Becky Evans to express puzzlement.
“I’m not yet convinced of the true necessity of this bill, chairman, because I feel like so much of this already is in Section 20 of our law,” she said. “I guess I would like to ask you, have you heard evidence where there has been, this right to direct the upbringing and moral or religious training of a minor child, has there ever been a school system that’s tried to take that right away? And then the right to homeschool, of course they have these rights. I feel like it’s unnecessary to put this together.”
The bill’s sponsor, Fayetteville Republican Rep. Josh Bonner, said listing the rights in one law is more efficient and makes parents more aware of their rights.
“I can’t speak for your district, but I can certainly speak for my community, and there have been instances, the feedback that I’ve gotten, where parents, whether it’s real or perceived, just don’t feel like they have some of these rights that we have enumerated in the bill,” he said.
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