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Tenn. law bans teaching critical race theory in schools, not Black history
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A Tennessee law adopted in May bans the teaching in public schools of critical race theory, which is a collection of ideas about systemic bias and privilege.
It does not prohibit the teaching of Black history.
The law imposes some restrictions, including prohibiting teaching certain concepts, including that “an individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously”; and that “an individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.”
With controversy around the country over critical race theory, a viral Facebook post made a stark claim about schools in Tennessee.
"Tennessee new law passed 48 hours ago now makes it illegal to teach Black history in the grades K-12."
The Oct. 13 Facebook post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
A law Tennessee adopted in May puts restrictions on certain concepts related to Black history
By effectively banning the teaching of critical race theory, and allowing the state to withhold funding from public schools as punishment for violating the law.
But schools are not prohibited from teaching the history of an ethnic group.
Critical race theory is a collection of ideas about systemic bias and privilege.
It holds that racism is part of a broader pattern in America: It is woven into laws, and it shows up in who gets a job interview, the sort of home loans people are offered, how they are treated by police, and other facets of daily life.
Conservative elected officials in about two dozen states have moved to prohibit critical race theory from being taught in public schools or state agencies. Critics say it presents solely a negative picture of the United States and is designed to make students feel bad about their country.
The "48 hours ago" part of the claim is wrong. The GOP-controlled General Assembly adjourned its 2021 session more than five months before the post, on May 5. That day, it approved the critical race theory bill. The bill was signed later that month by Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican.
The term critical race theory does not appear in the law; rather the law says schools "shall not include or promote" 14 concepts "as part of a course of instruction or in a curriculum or instructional program," or allow teachers or other employees "to use supplemental instructional materials that include or promote" the concepts, which include:
"An individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously."
"An individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex."
"An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual's race or sex."
"A meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist, or designed by a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex."
"This state or the United States is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist."
"The rule of law does not exist, but instead is a series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other groups."
The law says schools are not prohibited from teaching the history of an ethnic group; "the impartial discussion of controversial aspects of history; the impartial instruction on the historical oppression of a particular group of people based on race, ethnicity, class, nationality, religion, or geographic region."
David Barber, a history professor at the University of Tennessee at Martin, wrote that the Tennessee law’s "real intent is not to prevent our public schools from ‘teaching’ the superiority of one race over another, since no one is doing that. No, the real object here is to prevent educators from discussing nearly four centuries of white domination over Black people."
"You cannot teach Black History — the history of this country from the perspective of Black people — without calling into question everything we know about ourselves and about our nation," Barber wrote.
The law has caused some teachers to seek state approval of their lesson plans.
Beth Brown, president of the state teachers union, invited teachers to submit lesson plans to her, which she is sending without their names attached to the state education department to get pre-approval for anything potentially contentious, Reuters reported. She had received about 20 submissions, according to the Sept. 21 article.
"We are professionals with integrity, we are committed to doing our jobs well, to providing a well-rounded and high-quality education to our students. Sometimes that includes conversations about difficult topics that have occurred in history," Brown has said. "This law is a slap in the face of Tennessee’s educators, it is a disservice to our students."
A Facebook post claimed that a Tennessee law "passed 48 hours ago now makes it illegal to teach Black history in the grades K-12."
A Tennessee law adopted in May does not prohibit the teaching of Black history in public schools.
The law does impose restrictions on teaching by banning critical race theory, which is a collection of ideas about systemic bias and privilege. The law prohibits the teaching of certain concepts, including that "an individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously"; and that "an individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex."
The statement contains an element of truth but gives a misleading impression of the scope of the law. We rate it Mostly False.
Facebook, post, Oct. 13, 2021
Capitol.TN.gov, "Conference Committee Report on House Bill No. 580 / Senate Bill No. 623," accessed Oct. 15, 2021
Tennessee General Assembly, "Schedules and Calendars Monday, October 11, 2021 - Sunday, October 17, 2021," accessed Oct. 17, 2021
Tennessee General Assembly, SB623 votes, accessed Oct. 17, 2021
Tennessean, "How critical race theory law makes it illegal to teach Black history in Tennessee | Opinion," Oct. 5, 2021
Reuters, "'Critical race theory' roils a Tennessee school district," Sept. 21, 2021
Brookings Institution, "Why are states banning critical race theory?", August 2021
Tennessean, "Tennessee governor signs bill restricting how race and bias can be taught in schools," May 25, 2021
Tennessean, "Tennessee bans public schools from teaching critical race theory amid national debate," May 6, 2021
Associated Press, "Tennessee bans teaching critical race theory in schools," May 25, 2021
PolitiFact, "What is critical race theory, and why are conservatives blocking it?", May 24, 2021
WKRN.com, "‘This law is a slap in the face of Tennessee’s educators’: New guidance up for public comment on teaching race in schools," Aug. 10, 2021
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Tenn. law bans teaching critical race theory in schools, not Black history
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