By David Bass
Carolina Journal News Service
RALEIGH — The House has passed a bill that would prohibit the exclusive teaching of Critical Race Theory in North Carolina public school classrooms. The 66-48 vote on May 12 followed a scorched-earth debate in which Democrats called the measure anti-American and hateful, while Republicans countered that it was focused on ensuring equity in schools.
House Bill 324 would prohibit public schools from promoting the idea that one race or sex is inherently superior to another; an individual is racist, sexist, or oppressive based solely on their own race or sex (consciously or unconsciously); an individual should receive special treatment solely because of his or her race or sex; moral character is determined by race or sex; or based solely on race or sex, an individual bears responsibility for actions taken in the past by members of that same race or sex.
H.B. 324 does not address Critical Race Theory directly, but the vote on the measure comes as school systems across the country have adopted a curriculum that promotes those concepts. Critical Race Theory teaches that racism and sexism are foundational to American history, culture, and government while portraying the white race as inherently oppressive.
“There was a time when public schools were dedicated to affirming the equality and rights of all individuals. It is a concept so foundational that it appears in Article I Section 1 of the North Carolina Constitution. But Critical Race Theory and related dogmas have undermined the teaching of those ideals,” said Dr. Terry Stoops, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. “This legislation is a modest attempt to mitigate the fragmentation of our society and the loss of faith in the American experiment.”
Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, the first black man to hold that position in the state’s history, issued a statement after H.B. 324 was approved praising the bill:
“North Carolina’s school children should be taught how to think—not what to think. Radical leftists complain that this legislation is ‘white-washing history’ and ‘academic apartheid.’ Students should absolutely learn the horrific facts associated with slavery, Jim Crow, and other dark times in our nation’s history. They should not, however, be subjected to pseudo-science social justice initiatives like the ‘1619 Project’ and ‘Critical Race Theory,’ which seek to divide us along racial lines and teach that the systems of our Republic and the history of our great American experiment are shameful.”
“Our children, regardless of their background, should know that it is their shared and diverse experiences that make America great, and learning about those experiences should bring them together—not drive them apart,” Robinson added. “This legislation ensures that our students will be taught that we all have value, regardless of who we are—or who our ancestors were.”
During debate on the House floor, Democrats focused their rhetorical firepower on the claim that H.B. 324 would bar teachers from focusing on America’s past history of slavery and racism.
“This is an anti-American history bill,” said Rep. James Gailliard, D-Nash. “How can school systems teach that this nation was not founded on oppression? That would fly in the face of the 12 million African-Americans that were exported, that were brought here in chains, not on a cruise ship … brought here as people that were oppressed. That would mean there is an oppressor. School systems can’t promote this.”
“The only way to truly work towards unity and non-discrimination is to bravely and honestly reckon with our country’s complicated past and present,” said Rep. Kandie Smith, D-Pitt. “Legislation cannot and will not erase our history.”
Rep. Ashton Wheeler Clemmons, D-Guilford, used her career as a public school teacher to criticize the bill. She said that during the Bush administration a girl in her classroom once asked her why there had never been a U.S. president who was black or a woman. Clemmons claimed that H.B. 324 would have prevented her from honestly answering her student’s question.
The measure’s primary sponsor, Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, underscored that H.B. 324 would not ban teaching on any topic. “This bill does not change what history can and cannot be taught,” Torbett said. “It simply prevents schools from endorsing discriminatory concepts. At the end of the day, no student, no teacher, no parent, no school employee should ever be made to feel inferior solely because of the color of their skin or their gender.”
“Around four out of 10 North Carolina public school children do not perform at grade level in reading or math,” said Stoops. “Our state’s racial and social justice shortcomings pale in comparison to the literacy and numeracy crisis in our public schools. House Bill 324 recognizes that public school teachers have no right to push cockeyed theories on impressionable children. Unfortunately, many educators were trained to do just that.”