Bill written in response to critical race theory debates passes North Carolina legislature

Wednesday, September 1, 2021
Critical race theory bill passes NC legislature
The bill is designed to limit how teachers can discuss certain racial concepts in school. Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to veto it.

RALEIGH, N.C. -- North Carolina Republicans have successfully pushed a bill through the legislature designed to limit how teachers can discuss certain racial concepts in the classroom.

House Bill 324, which passed Wednesday with a vote of 60-41, is a response to recent public discourse about critical race theory. The bill now heads to Gov. Roy Cooper's office, where it will likely be vetoed.

Cooper previously blasted the bill saying politicians need to stop "injecting calculated, conspiracy-laden politics into public education." He instead says the government should be making real investments in good teachers and a quality, accurate education.

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Critical race theory is a body of high level academic study that evaluates how racial biases and systemic injustices have shaped the world we live in today.

The theory is not new. It's been around for decades, but it has gained new recognition in the past few years, especially after the publication of The 1619 Project, a body of work from Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones.

The 1619 Project looked back at U.S. history, tracing several racially-motivated policies and their lasting impact on housing, medicine, wealth and even traffic patterns that are still active today.

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The project was widely regarded as a groundbreaking piece of journalism. It won a Pulitzer Prize. It was also widely praised by many historians for pointing out parts of America's past that are often overlooked in classrooms.

However, it was also criticized by a small group of historians who said it gave a slanted view of America's past. They accuse it of being overly critical of the United States and promoting concepts contrary to American exceptionalism.

RELATED: NC Republicans double down on bill that opposes Critical Race Theory teachings in schools

"North Carolina needs to take the lead in protecting our children from anti-American indoctrination," Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson said. "While we should know and understand the history of our country, we need to teach the next generation what lessons we learned from our past, how far we have come as a nation."

HB 324 does not once mention critical race theory. Instead it lays out 13 rules that public schools may not promote.

Such as:

  • One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.
  • An individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive.
  • An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex.
  • An individual's moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex.

Nearly all of those 13 rules by themselves would be supported by proponents of critical race theory. However, critics of the bill say it's an underhand way for the government to insert itself into school curriculum.

"At the end of the day the bill to me constitutes a speech code," Sen. Jay Chaudhuri said. "It's censorship and it's going to insert the state General Assembly into what's going to be taught and not taught."

Republican leaders insist the bill will hold teachers accountable by shedding light on questionable classroom activities.

"This bill does not change what history can or cannot be taught. No spin or innuendo changes that. ... It simply prevents schools from endorsing discriminatory concepts," Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican, said during a floor debate.

Democrats, education groups and racial justice organizations also see the GOP effort as a solution to a problem that does not exist in the state. The months-long GOP effort to unearth cases of improper teachings appears to have yielded no clear examples of circumstances that House Bill 324 would prevent, as Republicans were unable at a committee hearing and news conference last week to point to a single case that would have violated the proposed law.

"Who is doing this? Where are you getting this info? It's a boogeyman," said Rep. Abe Jones, D-Wake. "I'd like to see a film or picture of someone standing before a group of students in North Carolina in classrooms and teaching what's in those 13 parts."

North Carolina's proposal follows a national trend of Republican-controlled legislatures moving to thwart certain ideas they associate with critical race theory.

Eight Republican governors have signed bills or budgets into law banning the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 schools or limiting how teachers can discuss racism and sexism in the classroom. Similar bills have been introduced or other steps have been taken in 19 additional states, according to an Education Week analysis.

Republicans across the country are using "critical race theory" and "indoctrination" as catchall phrases to describe racial concepts they find objectionable, including white privilege, systemic inequality and inherent bias.