Evaluating Texas’ Critical Race Theory Bill

In the 2021 session the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 3979. The bill would make it illegal for students in the state of Texas to be taught Critical Race Theory. However the bill does quite a bit other than that and we'll break that down here. Foregoing the usual bill stages we normally discuss when outlining new bills.

Table of Contents

In many ways, this bill is not how it’s being portrayed though it is nonetheless provocative. The bill actually has quite a bit of “compromise” in it including the requirement that students be taught the history of white supremacy. Additionally the bill requires that students be taught more authors that are people of color and women. However the bill goes on to make it illegal to teach The New York Times’ 1619 project and above all Critical Race Theory. We’ll get to all of that and more.

The Bill encountered quite a bit of procedural issues getting out of the house, then communicating with the Senate about amendments. Representatives in both chambers tried to pass amendments to the bill and amendments to amendments in the bill, and ultimately point of order objections that were sustained and then overturned. Similar to Critical Race Theory itself, the bill created a tremendous amount of confusion throughout the chamber and the state.

What does it say, specifically?

Anyone can read the HRO’s (House Research Organization) full analysis of the bill which details the different aspects of the bill. However, there’s quite a bit of trivial generalities in the bill such as students must have an understanding of “the fundamental moral, political, and intellectual foundations of the American experiment in self-government.” However the bill does set out specific guidelines regarding curriculum (including specific authors and texts) and expectations for students and teachers.

New Required Texas Curriculum

Texas students will be required to read the founding documents of the United States. This includes foundational documents that are staples of all American’s education such as the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Federalist papers. However the bill throws in excerpts from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and a transcript of the first Lincoln-Douglass debate.

Required Readings About The Founding Fathers

The Texas legislature seems very concerned about how the founding fathers are portrayed to the young children of the state. Therefore four individuals are focused on in Section (E) of the enrolled version. The final point would allow for writings on any other founding persons of the United States (thus throwing into question why highlighting these four) but nonetheless those four are:

George Washington: The perhaps original founding father and the countries first president.

Ona Judge: A mixed race slave who was owned by the Washington’s and escaped to New Hampshire. The Washington’s would ultimately “refuse” to pursue her (though likely to avoid public backlash).

Thomas Jefferson: One of the principal author’s of the Constitution and the 3rd president of the United States. In power for the first 24 years of the country, he was a dominant force (perhaps more than any other) in the shaping of the country. A polymath, his perhaps biggest flaw was, though he would ultimately free his own slaves, he oversaw the expansion of Slavery in the United States in the wake of the Louisiana Purchase.

Sally Hemings: A slave for the Jefferson family, it is now widely accepted by historians that she had a long term physical relationship with the president. A tremendous amount of historical revisionism was done to hide this fact from the public but DNA analysis now shows that she likely mothered six of Mr. Jefferson’s offspring.

I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just and surely that justice cannot go on sleeping forever.

Thomas Jefferson on slavery

Other Required Readings

Some other required readings, including our personal favorite, include the writings from Frederick Douglass newspaper and Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists. The latter is interesting addition as it displays Thomas Jefferson’s (and the countries) unwavering commitment to a separation between Church and State. At the time the Baptists of Danbury Connecticut were afraid of persecution from the Congregationalists of Danbury Connecticut. Jefferson wrote back, essentially saying admonishing the Congregationalists and reinsuring the Baptists that there will always be a wall of separation in America between Church and State.

Impacts on Students and Teachers

Students and teachers are impacted differently by the bill which not only sets requirements for readings, but also how classes and course content is to be portrayed. We’ll highlight some of the key changes here. We would love to hear from any teachers that have strong feelings about this so reach out and we’ll include your comments in this article.

How It Impacts Students

Perhaps the biggest impact on students (besides for the required readings) is that students will no longer be allowed to receive course credit for any type of activist work. Many schools allow a type of work program where students are allowed course credit for working for public or private organizations outside of the school. This bill effectively nullifies that option if that organization is engaged in any type of lobbying or political activism (See pages 3 and 4 of the HRO’s bill analysis). Furthermore, students are not allowed extra credit for such activities as well, something dumped into the final line of the analysis but may be the most impactful statewide.

How It Impacts Teachers

There are eight bulleted points of emphasis that public school teachers in Texas now must adhere to (beginning in the 2021-2022 school year). Before we get to that, from the second line of the report, teachers now no longer have to teach current events and if they do, the teacher must “strive to explore those topics from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.” Perhaps the most discussed aspect of the bill (though there has been quite a few) and the primary objection in the HRO’s report (download below), is that the bill makes it so teachers are no longer required to attend any type of diversity training mandated by the school or county.

Moving on to the eight stipulations for teachers, they include details such as teachers cannot teach that one race or sex in inherently superior to another race or sex (good). Or that, moral character is not a product of ones race (also good). However the last bulleted item is the one that most explicitly attacks Critical Race Theory as it forbids teachers from presenting arguments that “meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by members of a particular race to oppress members of another race.”

When Does This Bill Go Become Law?

Similar to other recent bills passed during the 87R session (Spring of 2021), this bill will go into effect September 1st of 2021. Given that this applies to the upcoming school year (and there was uncertainty over whether the fall quarter will have to follow these guidelines) it is important to note that teachers during this quarter (2021-2022) will be expected to meet the guidelines outlines by the bill.

Important Links and Documents

Below is some links and files to help you with your research.

Link: full HRO report.

Link: All official files related to the bill.