Alabama bill aims to ban teaching ‘divisive concepts’

Published 10:03 pm Wednesday, February 23, 2022

An Alabama bill that would ban the teaching of “divisive comments” about race and gender on Wednesday drew criticism from educators and others who said it would have a chilling effect on classroom lessons and discussions about the nation’s history.

The bill by Republican Rep. Ed Oliver of Dadeville would prohibit a list of “divisive concepts” from being taught in K-12 schools. The banned concepts would include that United States of America is “inherently racist or sexist” and that anyone should be required to “acknowledge, affirm, or assent to a sense of guilt, complicity, or a need to work harder solely on the basis of his or her race or sex.”

“We are fighting for a colorblind America,” Oliver told the committee. He said the legislation gives clear guidelines to educators about what can’t be taught. Colleges could not compel students to “assent to any divisive concept,” according to the bill.

Opponents of the bill dominated a public hearing before the House State Government Committee.

“Education is about facts and truth,” Veronica Curtis-Richie, a retired educator in Huntsville, said. “One needs all the facts, positive as well as negative.”

Steve Murray, the director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, told the committee that that he was concerned that the bill would inject fear into the classroom, making teachers afraid to delve into certain subjects.

Murray raised concern about a provision that said slavery and racism can’t be taught as anything other than “deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to the founding principles of the United States.”

“The American experiment is a two-sided coin, featuring on one side the promise of liberty and equality, while engraved on the other side with chattel slavery, broken promises to indigenous peoples, and codified discrimination,” he said.

Camille Bennett, founder of Project Say Something, said she had to fight to get Black history taught at her high school. She said the bill purports to ban so-called divisive concepts while many institutions perpetuate lingering myths about the Confederacy, such as the Civil War was about states’ rights or that people loved the humans they enslaved.

“If you feel that Black history, and the nuances of Black history, will hurt the white children — which in my opinion is a false narrative— please be sure to consider how Black children feel when you overlook their history to attempt to preserve the old South narrative,” she said.

Rep. Chris Pringle, the chairman of the committee, said the committee will not meet next week so it will be two or three weeks before the committee votes on the bill.