On Tuesday, the Tennessee House passed a bill effectively banning critical race theory (CRT) in K-12 schools. The bill doesn’t mention CRT explicitly, but it does prohibits CRT’s main tenets – such as the belief that America is fundamentally and systemically racist, and that an individual can be inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive based on their race or sex.
During the third and final hearing before the House, State Representative John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge) gave a lengthy speech expounding on the fundamental founding principles of our country.
“[I]t is time that we support educating our children in fixing what is wrong with America with what is right with America,” said Ragan. “We must create an educational climate where every student is an individual, not just part of some group. Moreover, that educational climate must teach students that they can realize their own unique dreams through hard work and meritorious achievement.”
The CRT ban was introduced through a last-minute House amendment on Monday. As The Tennessee Star reported on Tuesday, Ragan introduced the amendment after receiving “quite a number” of constituent emails concerning the presence and impact of CRT components in Tennessee schools.
Ragan explained that the bill was originally filed as a “cleanup bill” addressing inconsistent wording between newer and older legislation, petty grammar and spelling mistakes, outdated references, and clarity issues. He asserted that this bill banning CRT would offer further clarity about Tennessee’s educational standards.
“Unfortunately, there are those self-appointed guardians of equity among us who deludedly seek to make our union far less perfect,” said Ragan. “In shameless pursuit of political power, these misguided souls leverage social, cultural, and religious powers to fracture our indivisible nation. To create artificial divisions among us, these self-styled noble champions of the oppressed unashamedly distort and twist the truth.”
Ragan cited Judeo-Christian beliefs, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution to assert that all men are created equal, in the likeness and image of God.
“To fulfill that promise, our children must be educated that they stand as individuals – equal before our laws – as they will one day stand before our Creator,” asserted Ragan. “They must learn their identity as defined by the content of their character, not the color of their skin, their sex, ethnicity, or membership in some social class.”
Ragan’s bill prompted over an hour of discussion. Summarily: Democratic members echoed similar concerns that this would inhibit proper education by modifying standards, and Republican members would respond that CRT principles went against the unifying principles of this country.
State Representative G.A. Hardaway (D-Memphis) asked repeatedly if the bill was prohibiting CRT or the concept of it. Ragan responded that the bill didn’t mention CRT, and that no legislators had defined CRT for him.
Ragan responded to concerns from State Representative Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis) that this bill would work against truth in education.
“History is a collection of facts that are taught. Truth is a philosophical concept. We teach facts, we then talk about the interpretation of those facts which you may opine as what involves truth. This bill does not address that, sir,” said Ragan.
In support of the bill, State Representative Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka) quoted Abraham Lincoln, saying that a “house divided itself cannot stand.” He asserted political divisions are prevalent, and that schools shouldn’t be pushing any further divisions – intimating that CRT is divisive and destructive.
“Tennessee, like America, may never be perfect – but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected,” said Cepicky.
One unique rebuttal against the bill came from State Representative Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville), who claimed that America has been teaching critical race theory “since the beginning of schools.”
“I think it’s time that we make sure we’re teaching the truth and everyone’s truth. And sometimes, the truth and facts are not impartial,” said Johnson.
The House passed the bill 69 to 23, with one member abstaining their vote.
Sources in the Tennessee General Assembly tell by The Star that by Tuesday afternoon members of the House and Senate wanted to strengthen the language of the bill passed by the House.
Since the education committee in the Senate had closed for business late last month, the most effective way to accomplish that, sources say, was for the Senate not to pass the House Bill, but instead refer it to a conference committee of both Houses where the strengthened language could be added, then subsequently passed in both houses.
Sources tell The Star that the Senate referred the bill to the conference committee and the strengthened language will be added by Wednesday afternoon and that strengthened bill will be passed by both houses before the end of the current session of the Tennessee General Assembly, which is expected to be by Friday.
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