Texas governor signs bill prohibiting teaching critical race theory in public schools

Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed HB 3979 into law Wednesday, banning Texas public schools from being able to teach students critical race theory.

Critical race theory is a social theory that asserts that racial issues in society are influenced, created, and maintained by societal structures and cultural assumptions. It focuses on the intersections between gender, race, class, national origin, and how each factor can change a person’s experience within society. In the US, specifically, it posits that white supremacy, white privilege, and institutional racism are perpetuated through the legal system.

GOP-backed HB 3979 makes Texas the twenty-second state to prohibit critical race theory from its curriculum. The bill does not specifically mention critical race theory by name, but it outlines what can and cannot be discussed in Texas public schools. The ban on critical race theory is couched among a number of educational goals like developing “each student’s civic knowledge,” including focusing on the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage, the writings of the founding fathers and mothers, writings from Frederick Douglass’ “North Star,” Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

The bill specifically forbids any teacher in Texas from including in their curricula the ideas that “slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic principles of the United States,” that “the advent of slavery in the territory that is now the United States constituted the true founding of the United States,” or 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.”

HB 3979 also mentions, pointedly, that “a teacher, administrator, or other employee of a state agency, school district, or open enrollment charter school may not … require an understanding of The 1619 Project.” The 1619 Project is a project that reframes the country’s history through an investigation of slavery and race in the US by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States’ national narrative.

The bill does mandate that students be taught the history of white supremacy, slavery, the eugenics movement, and the Klu Klux Klan, along with the ways in which each is morally wrong.

Abbott signed the bill with a terse statement, noting that the issue of critical race theory will be added to a special session agenda and saying, “House Bill No. 3979 is a strong move to abolish critical race theory in Texas, but more must be done.” HB 3979 takes effect on September 1.