On Tuesday, Alabama lawmakers proposed legislation banning the teaching of a list of “dividing concepts” in K-12 classrooms and the training of state workers, including that everyone should feel “a sense of guilt, complicity, or the need to work harder” because of their race or gender.
The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee voted 9 to 2 for the bill passed the House, which now passes the full Alabama Senate. Republican Representative Ed Oliver de Dadeville’s bill would prohibit a list of these concepts from being taught in schools and in diversity training for state entities.
In a public hearing, opponents called the bill unnecessary and expressed concern that it would have a chilling effect on lessons and discussions about painful chapters in America’s Black history. .
Lisa McNair, whose sister Denise McNair was killed in a Birmingham church bombing in 1963, urged the committee to reject the bill.
“It’s true story. It’s the loss of four little girls,” said McNair, who held back tears as she carried a portrait of her sister.
Benard Simelton, president of the Alabama NAACP, said Superintendent Eric Mackey told a legislative committee that during Black History Month in February, some parents falsely accused schools of teaching critical race theory, a way of thinking about American history through the prism of racism.
“Educators worry that important or difficult concepts may lead to guilt or anxiety and may drop those topics altogether,” Simelton said.
Republican Senator Will Barfoot, who is handling the bill in the Senate, said it would not prevent honest history teaching. He told McNair that his sister’s story should be told.
“We have to say the good, the bad and the ugly,” Barfoot said.
Barfoot said he thought everyone could agree that the concepts listed are things that shouldn’t be taught. They include: that Alabama and the United States are “inherently racist or sexist;” that anyone should be attributed bias “solely on the basis of their race, sex, or religion;” and that any no one should be asked to accept “a sense of guilt, complicity, or the need to work harder” because of their race or gender.
The bill is part of a nationwide conservative effort to establish guidelines for how race and gender are taught in classrooms and worker training sessions.
“When (kids) come home from school in tears because of what they’ve been through because maybe they haven’t been through some of the things that other people have been through. And they feel belittled – it’s not fair,” Republican Sen. Clyde Chambliss of Prattville said during the debate.
Senator Linda Coleman-Madison, appearing to respond to Chambliss, said discussions about diversity and history should start at home and continue at school.
“If this discussion had taken place at home a long time ago, the children would not be in tears. They could probably add things to the conversation and say, ‘Yeah, those things happened but it wasn’t right,’” said Coleman-Madison, a Democrat from Birmingham.
Senator Malika Sanders-Fortier, a Democrat from Selma, unsuccessfully urged committee members to delay a vote to work on the bill.
The bill prohibits the concepts from being discussed in K-12 schools, but says they can be discussed in college courses as long as students aren’t required to “agree.”
The list of prohibited concepts is similar to a now-repealed executive order that former President Donald Trump issued regarding training for federal employees. Similar language has since appeared in the bills of more than a dozen states.