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Lawmakers advance legislation limiting the way racism could be taught in Tenn. schools

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Mike Osborne)  --  State lawmakers have advanced a bill that would prohibit Tennessee schools from teaching the concept of systemic or institutional racism.

A GOP dominated House committee on Monday passed an amendment to an education bill that threatens a loss of funding for any school system that teaches the concept, which is sometimes also referred to as Critical Race Theory or CRT.

The House Education Administration Committee had previously closed its deliberations for the current legislative session, but the committee was reconvened to consider the amendment put forward by Oak Ridge Republican Rep. John Ragan.

CRT suggests that the United States is inherently racist and that whites maintain their social, economic and political dominance through unequal treatment of minority citizens. You can learn more about the theory by reviewing this article from Perdue University.

Representative Ragan introduced his amendment to the Committee Monday morning by warning of the dangers of teaching CRT in apocalyptic terms. He began his comments saying “Today, subversive factions are seeking to undermine our unique form of government, of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Ragan went on to use terms such as “seditious charlatans,” “conniving hucksters,” and “useful idiots” to describe those who champion CRT.

Rep. Ragan also shared what he described as direct, email quotes from a Williamson County parent. The email claimed that after being taught CRT concepts in class, the parent’s seven-year-old child had come home “depressed,” “scared,” and afraid to return to school.

The child reportedly told her parent “I’m ashamed to be white.” She went on to ask “Is there something wrong with me?” and “Why am I hated so much?” As of this writing, Rep. Ragan has not provided the full text of the email or any identifying information about the family involved.

The amended education proposal advanced out of the House Education Committee Monday contains more than a dozen concepts that Tennessee schools would not be able to teach should the measure become law.

Among the prohibited concepts would be the idea that “An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously.” Another provision would prevent the teaching of the concept that “This state [Tennessee] or the United States is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist.”

During the thirty-minute hearing on the bill, none of the committee’s Republican members chose to ask a question of the sponsor. However, all three of the committee’s African-American members voiced concerns about the bill as amended.

Memphis Democrat Antonio Parkinson became visibly angry when Republican Committee Chair Mark White interrupted his questions to the bill sponsor. Referring to what is being taught concerning racism in Tennessee schools, Rep. Parkinson declared “What we have been teaching to our children is a lie for all of the years that I've been in education and today.”

Immediately after Rep. Parkinson’s comment, the committee voted to end discussion and then advanced the bill out of committee with a strict party-line vote.

Expect the education bill as amended to be debated by the full House before the General Assembly’s 2021 session ends this week. 

The Senate passed its version of House Education Bill 580 in early April. Should the measure pass the House, the state Senate would have to consider and pass the bill a second time as amended before it could be sent to Gov. Bill Lee for his consideration.

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