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Laws intended to prevent the teaching of critical race theory and other divisive concepts in schools have been proposed or passed in dozens of states across the country, drawing varied feedback from education advocates and experts on both sides of the aisle.
A law passed in Georgia prevents advocating for “divisive concepts,” while not specifically mentioning critical race theory. A North Dakota bill, on the other hand, specifically banned “instruction relating to critical race theory in any portion of the district’s required curriculum.”
Parents Defending Education president and founder Nicole Neily said proposals that simply ban critical race theory “don’t go far enough.”
“We’ve seen that set of words – critical race theory – districts have been hiding from it. They’ve been saying ‘we don’t teach critical race theory in schools,’ but we know the underlying ideology is definitely being taught,” she told Fox News Digital.
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Despite this, Neily warned against outright bans in schools. “We’re seeing how the word ban is being used to liken us to all being fascists, and we want to ban things,” she said. “We want a marketplace of ideas, but sadly, that’s not taking place in public schools whatsoever.”
“Schools are teaching students to identify themselves on the basis of race… and to treat other people differently,” she added.
Heritage Foundation fellow Jonathan Butcher warned against banning “ideas,” rather saying schools should reject “any attempt to discriminate against individuals based on the color of their skin.”
Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of history of education at the University of Pennsylvania, is opposed to any law attempting to ban critical race theory and other divisive teachings, instead encouraging a diversity of opinions in the classroom.
Zimmerman suggested looking at Columbus, the Revolutionary War, Civil War, reconstruction and other historical events through the lens of both a state-approved textbook, and more left-leaning views like the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project.
“This represents an enormous teachable moment, but my fear is we’re not leveraging it,” he told Fox News Digital.
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The 1619 Project advocates that 1619, the year the first enslaved Africans were brought to what would later become the United States, should be considered the true founding year of the country. Critics of the project have cited historical inaccuracies, including its suggesting the Revolutionary War was fought in part to preserve slavery.
Zimmerman harshly criticized the “ambiguity” in many of the laws banning critical race theory and divisive teachings. “Nobody really knows what they mean, and really, that’s one of the worst parts about them,” he said.
An issue brief from the Manhattan Institute warned that any legislation should not “stifle the marketplace of ideas,” “proscribe or discourage classroom discussion of race and racism, past and present,” or “condition curriculum on individual student ‘discomfort’ or ‘distress,’” among other suggestions. Rather, the Manhattan Institute encouraged legislation that increases transparency in schools and prohibits compelled speech.
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All three experts commended parent involvement in schools, with Butcher and Neily calling out school and state efforts to give parents more insight into what their children are being taught.
“When policymakers design proposals, they should be thinking not just in terms of race and preventing discrimination – although be sure to do that – but also what this means in terms of making sure parents stay informed about what is going on with their children in the classroom,” Butcher said.
Neily added there are existing tools in place for parents who are concerned about what their children are being taught. “Title VI of the Civil Right Amendment, or Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits treating students differently on the basis of skin color, yet that is taking place on a regular basis, coast to coast,” she said. “We have the tools in place, but we need to enforce them.”
Zimmerman warned parents against generalizations about what is, or is not, taught in school districts across the country.
“Don’t believe every scare story you hear,” he said. “Try to inform yourself about what actually happened by talking to the students and to the teachers.”
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“There are nearly 14,000 school districts. And I wish that every single newspaper article about the subject would emphasize that,” he said. “We don’t have a national curriculum in the United States. In fact, the federal government is banned from creating curriculum. What that means is that each district does it on their own.”
“It’s a myth, and it is a distortion to say ‘all schools are teaching CRT [critical race theory],’” he added. “That’s ridiculous. But it’s also a distortion to say that CRT has no influence on the schools… I think it’s disingenuous to pretend that the philosophy of CRT has no influence, of course it has.”
Despite this, Zimmerman warned against parents attempting to ban viewpoints they disagree with.
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“If there is a viewpoint, like the 1619 Project, that you don’t like, please, don’t try to eliminate it, try to balance it,” he said. “The 1619 Project is a legitimate challenge to the traditional way that history has been taught… The answer to that challenge is not to censure it or to pass a law saying you can’t have it because it might make a kid feel bad. The answer is to ensure that it’s presented as a theory, as an interpretation… and that it’s coupled with other ones. Don’t censure, balance.”