(To read entire post, click on three dots to the left.). There are two issues at hand when it comes to topics such as CRT. The first relates to our inability to discern truth in an increasingly complex world. The second relates to what action, if any, the government should take with topics such as CRT. By far, our society’s inability to navigate toward truth is of greater concern than issues such as CRT. This point may seem irrelevant to the topic of CRT, but it has a direct connection to our education system if we further regulate, either through state law or overbearing administrators/teachers, what can or can’t be discussed in classrooms.
In this opinion, I will attempt to describe how I seek truth. I will then dissect HB 3979 to the best of my ability, knowing that my understanding is limited to the degree of my experience and expertise in various areas such as state law and historical precedent.
Be open or be humbled:
I am not a philosopher, nor do I pretend to be an expert statistician. I am a son, brother, husband, father, and educator who has been repeatedly humbled and will continue to be humbled throughout the entirety of my life. It is through this often-painful process that I have developed an openness to the world, and it is this openness that I believe is a pre-requisite for seeking out truth.
Not everyone needs to be humbled to be open. Some people have been blessed with this quality or developed it through other means. Whatever the case, we need people who are open to the idea of being wrong. Ideally, our society should be composed of citizens who are passionate in seeking out arguments which may prove their own understandings wrong, thereby bringing them that much closer to truth. Educational institutions have great potential to instill or destroy this drive for truth in our children based on the types of decisions that are made at the federal, state, and local levels.
In general, I am cautious to provide the government with any more regulatory power than they already have when it comes to what can or cannot be taught or discussed in the classroom. But I am also wary of and opposed to any administrator or teacher who seeks to make statements such as “the science is settled”, “experts say”, or engages in the use of Kafka traps and other linguistic tricks to shut down conversation.
Open minds must be a priority for our liberal society to flourish else we move toward authoritarianism.
Did you know people are biased to think they are less biased than others? Look up “bias blind spot” for reference and keep this point in mind while reading this section.
Negative emotions grab our attention much more readily than positive ones do. This is probably due to the fact that negative emotions correlate with things that can kill us, so evolution has selected this quality to supersede positive emotions. Unfortunately, our press, which should act as a check on government, all too often uses our susceptibility to negativity as a way to drive ratings and make a profit. We are all familiar with the phrase “If it bleeds it ledes” and the more modern notion of “click bait”. (spelled ‘ledes’ not “leads”)
Social media seems to drive this tendency further, possibly because we are more likely to share negative news with others since that’s what grabs our attention the most. There doesn’t have to be malicious intent from social media tycoons either, we are already programmed to act this way even before algorithms enter the conversation.
Regardless of how decisions are made by our media, it is incumbent upon us to know what we are susceptible to and avoid acting that way. It is not the responsibility of Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, Facebook, Twitter, etc. to take ownership for our actions. We must be educated enough to know where our own shortcomings lie. If we cannot use social media, or the news responsibly, we are better off without them.
Knowing that I have a negativity bias embedded in my DNA, I use spikes in my negative emotions as a trigger to pause and reflect. When I read or see sensational news that affects my life personally, instead of letting the negative emotions drive me to action without reflection, I pause and attempt to put myself into the mind of a researcher, statistician, or scientist to make the best decision possible, using as much verified information as I can find.
For example, there was a lot of variance in the reporting of COVID-19 early on. Much of the news was filled with sensationalism on top of an already terrible and threatening situation. For the safety of my family, I didn’t know if I should trust the WHO, CDC, state of Texas, or my local officials. Ultimately, I felt I couldn’t trust any of these sources until things calmed down and systems were established. Instead of choosing a news station to devote my fearful loyalty to, I took a step back and thought about the best way to collect enough evidence to make a decision for my family. Eventually, I came to the realization that the prayer request list for my church not only gave me an update of how prevalent COVID was in our city, but also a demographic snapshot of who was most likely getting it. We were able to pray for those in need while also educating ourselves on the dangers of COVID with data we could trust.
This taught me that evidence is more valid if it is verified firsthand. Furthermore, we can establish a trust factor relative to our spatial/temporal proximity to the data. Spatial/temporal proximity to evidence does not mean it is valid, it just increases the likelihood that the data can be trusted. Something that has happened nearby and recently is much more easily verified/trusted than something that happened in the distant past somewhere else on Earth. Of course, people are fallible otherwise optical illusions wouldn’t be so much fun. Just because we see something doesn’t mean it is true. Search “Ames Window” for a fun example of this.
Applying these lessons to CRT, I stay wary of anyone who promotes the virtues of CRT through sensationalized or coercive means. I am also wary of anyone who attacks CRT with similar tactics. When possible, I read original documents related to various arguments so I can gain the perspective from the original author. However, I am a family man, so my time is precious. I don’t always have the time, nor do I want to spend my free time, reading the next Robin DiAngelo book or other relevant works. To deal with this reality, I use my day-to-day experiences and look for direct impact on my friends and family. Again, spatial/temporal proximity is key.
Infinite Ignorance vs. An Infinite Unknown:
How am I to know what’s right?
How am I to know what’s real?
How can anyone be certain of anything?
And how can we make decisions about the world around us if nobody can be certain of anything?
I can literally go mad and enter a depressed state of mind thinking about reality and truth. Not everyone thinks about these matters but for those of us that do, we know how easy it is to get trapped in paradoxes and contradictions.
So far, I have not found a solution outside of a childlike faith in God to avoid the despair of having to make decisions on my own. And I say, thank God for that. It is through my prayer life that I feel all the elements of my understanding synthesize toward action. This is not a rational undertaking, this is a petition to something beyond the self. Everyone must find their method for contending with the infinite unknowns. As for me, I choose to defer to the great I Am.
The following commentary will reference HB3979. The link to HB3979 is provide so you may verify firsthand the contents being described. Where necessary, I will include quotes from HB3979 and other references which may be pertinent.
Subsection h-2 should dispel any concerns that Republicans are attempting to downplay white supremacy, slavery, or the ugly history of America. Most of the ideas referenced in this section were already available in state standards through the TEKS. Now they are part of law. The most I can really say of this section is that it is redundant and maybe cynical to think Texans wouldn’t cover such topics without them being written into law, it is definitely not an avoidance of the history of slavery or other tough topics.
If media sources are making claims that Republicans are trying to whitewash history without referencing the source documents, I’d email/message them to provide their evidence directly.
Here’s a portion of a subsection h-2 for reference of what should be included in the state standards:
Here are some current standards educators reference for instruction:
8th grade TEKS for reference: https://texreg.sos.state.tx.us/public/readtac$ext.TacPage?sl=R&app=9&p_dir=&p_rloc=&p_tloc=&p_ploc=&pg=1&p_tac=&ti=19&pt=2&ch=113&rl=20
High school U.S. History TEKS for reference: https://texreg.sos.state.tx.us/public/readtac$ext.TacPage?sl=R&app=9&p_dir=&p_rloc=&p_tloc=&p_ploc=&pg=1&p_tac=&ti=19&pt=2&ch=113&rl=41
Subsection h-3 gets into what an educator/administrator can or cannot do. I am going to reference more directly here as I discuss my personal interpretation and critique.
If I was an administrator, I would hope my teachers had the courage to discuss these issues. How are students supposed to learn how to deal with these issues otherwise? Are they supposed to just know how to deal with them upon receiving their diploma? Also, what better way to learn how to contend with our own biases than to use current events that are emotionally difficult? I know most administrators (and politicians) don’t want to deal with angry parents (or constituents), but our educational institutions should hold a standard of open dialogue for these topics.
It is not wrong to compel teachers to talk about current events, even controversial issues. In fact, I think this is a standard component of a well-rounded civics education. Subsection h-2 listed out all the topics educators are compelled to teach so if we have a problem with compelled teaching, we need to take out subsection h-2. Remember, this is a taxpayer paid position, not a private affair.
It is wrong to compel teachers or students to pick a side, especially if the issue is ongoing and currently being debated. Nobody should have an issue denigrating Nazi’s, that’s not a modern issue and we’ve seen the historical tragedies associated with such evil ideas. Issues such as systemic racism or COVID policy are another matter. I wish the law would compel educators (or at least encourage educators) to engage in dialogue with their students about current events while making it illegal to compel educators to pick a side.
I would hope a teacher would practice Socratic dialogues and maintain a position of openness, but I also understand that many current events are emotionally sensitive for teachers as well. Teachers who fall short of an unbiased ideal should be dealt with by administrators, not the state. Our system must have grace built into it otherwise we risk avoiding novel ideas and constructive conversations.
Still, I understand the fear of ideologies going unchallenged if it’s not put into law. It’s hard for administrators or educators to oppose an ideologically driven teacher without leaving themselves open to character attacks. I think the lawmakers here felt the need to insulate against these attacks by writing “openness” into law. It would at least encourage an ideologically driven teacher to think twice before indoctrinating their students.
This part of the law really gave me pause. Last year, my students chose a passion topic and wrote letters petitioning their local, state, or federal representatives for change. It was ultimately up to them whether they mailed the letters or not but as an educator, I shouldn’t have to worry about my students wanting to engage civically for fear of breaking a law. Furthermore, we should all want students to engage with representatives and see how the inner workings of government operate firsthand. Why not make this part of the course? If we have a culture of open mindedness and healthy skepticism this isn’t a problem. If we have a culture of cowardice and fear, then we will keep our students from these opportunities any way we can because we are “fearful” our enemies will turn them against us. I get it, there are people out there with poor intentions and they will manipulate whoever they can to gain an advantage. Keeping our children locked away until they are 18 doesn’t prepare them for these dangers though, it cripples them.
First, we should all celebrate any law that limits the number of trainings educators need to do. We all know compliance trainings are the worst.
Secondly, skin-color privilege and genitalia-based privilege might exist, or they might not. Honestly, it depends on the individual and their circumstances. Not all who are a specific skin-color have or live a privileged life. Not all who have specific genitalia are or live a privileged life. Why have we shifted to treating people as groups instead of individuals? I believe we are being bated into division by those who seek to profit from the tension. The fact that we now need a law, following the civil rights movement of the 60’s to readdress these issues is astonishing.
It’s not complicated folks, don’t discriminate based on race/sex. Treat people as individuals, not groups. I’m glad we are banning such toxic “trainings”.
The lawmakers are just going in for the kill now by making sure everyone understands that collective guilt is reprehensible. Again, judge an individual by their actions, not the group they are a part of.
The only place where the law starts to get dicey is from (ix) to (C). As it relates to history, let’s allow room for deviations from our own understanding to emerge and shed new light on topics. This is not to excuse any poor historical work that may be found in projects such as “The 1619 Project.” To be transparent, I’m not an expert on “The 1619 project” so I don’t know if it is valid or not. Regardless, I do know that what we try to hide from our children, they will seek out and explore on their own.
Do we want our students to explore these topics where they can be guided by proper questioning, or do we want YouTube and Tik-Tok to expose them to these ideas regardless of their accuracy? I caution any lawmaker who prohibits various ideas from classroom dialogue. There are consequences here beyond the immediate.
Also, don’t be surprised if the tables turn when power dynamics change in government. Who knows what could get put into law if we use such tactics to guide our children’s education.
Subsection h-4 is straightforward as it is the financial mechanism associated topics discussed in h-3.
Subsection h-5 is fascinating as I believe this law has a chilling effect on classroom dialogues. Which administrator is going to encourage their teachers to take risks discussing current events with their students? I’d be curious to see what a survey of district lawyers would recommend to administrators.
The rest of HB3979 is non-classroom related and deals with the technical administration of the text.
Most of the harm I see surrounding CRT comes from the mania found only on the internet. I admit I am lucky to teach in a school which has not had to deal directly with this issue though I know many educators, and students have taken clear stances both for and against CRT.
There are plenty of sections in HB3979 that I agree with but there are sections which seemingly restrict dialogue, specifically around current events. This is not good. Our society already does a poor job of having constructive conversations. This law creates a chilling effect which discourages teachers to take risks in the classroom surrounding tough topics. Why take a risk if you might be breaking the law? Why deal with the headache of someone accusing you of breaking the law?
This law should have been written to encourage dialogue around current events. We should be encouraging educators to train our students to seek out the strongest argument possible against their belief systems. We should be providing opportunities for students to step into challenging environments to learn how to contend with the realities of politics and governance.
I don’t know what was on the hearts of the lawmakers when this was written but it feels as if this law was written out of fear and has suffered because of it. Rarely does good leadership manifest out of fear. Lawmakers need to check their negativity bias, go spend some time in the many beautiful Texas state parks, and pray for a better solution.