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Tennessee lawmakers seek to ban critical race theory in schools

Updated: May. 3, 2021 at 6:32 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tennessee lawmakers advanced a measure Monday that would ban public schools from teaching lessons on systemic racism in the United States, a concept commonly known as critical race theory.

Lawmakers say they’re acting now, during the final days of session, after hearing from concerned parents.

But some say they are trying to sugarcoat the truth and tell outright lies about America’s history.

The proposal by State Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, would ban public schools from teaching students about systemic racism, including suggestions that some people are inherently privileged.

“We as legislators and citizens must take a stand against hucksters, charlatans and useful idiots peddling identity politics,” Ragan said.

Ragan’s proposal was added as an amendment to a larger education bill.

It passed the House education administration committee, which reconvened Monday, by a vote of 12-3.

The three votes against the amendment came from the committee’s only Democratic lawmakers, all of whom are Black.

Memphis State Rep. Mark White, a Republican who chairs the committee, supports the Ragan amendment.

“It doesn’t do any good to teach our children that any one race is responsible for the historical actions of another,” White said. “It just takes us down a dark hole that we don’t need to go.”

White says history shouldn’t be sanitized.

But he says students should not be made to feel responsible for what others did in the past.

White recalled hearing a story about a seven-year-old girl who came home after a discussion in her classroom and asked her parents if she was racist because she was white.

“You don’t continue by saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to teach your kids that they are inherently racist because of their color of their skin,’” said White. “Martin Luther King lost his life preaching that and we need to honor his memory for one thing.”

Memphis State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, a Democrat, says the Ragan amendment is an effort by Republicans to sugarcoat the truth about racism and its impact on minorities.

“Based on this amendment, now, they are basically telling the teachers to whitewash the proof when it comes to history and other things that are being taught in our schools to our children,” said Parkinson. “It’s going to mean they’re being taught a lie and by law the teachers have to teach the lie.”

If the amendment becomes law, Tennessee public schools that teach lessons on systemic racism would have their funding withheld.

The amendment could be voted on by the full House as soon as Tuesday.

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