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Committee advances ban on teaching of ‘divisive concepts’

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama legislative committee on Tuesday advanced a bill that would ban the teaching of “divisive concepts” about race and gender in public schools, including the notion that people should feel guilt because of their race.

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee voted 6-1 for the bill that now moves to the full Alabama Senate.

The legislation comes as Republicans in several states seek to ban either ban critical race theory or put limits on how educators discuss race in the classroom.

The bill by Republican Sen. Will Barfoot of Pike Road would ban a list nine of “divisive concepts” from being taught in K-12 schools. While they could be discussed in colleges, it would prohibit an institution from forcing a student to “assent to the concept.”

The bill’s list of banned “divisive concepts” include the notion that the United States of America is “inherently racist or sexist” and the idea that “any individual should be asked to accept, 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.”

The proposal also would prevent “fault, blame, or bias” from being “assigned to a race, sex, or religion, or to members of a race, sex, or religion.”

Barfoot said he did not think it would limit the teaching of history. “We should talk about the good, the bad and the ugly, to quote one of the spaghetti westerns,. We should address the fallacies that have happened, and the mistake and the bad decisions that have happened in the past.”

The list in the Senate bill is similar to a 2020 executive order President Donald Trump issued banning “divisive concepts” in training federal employees that has since been repealed. Similar language has since popped up in bills in dozens of states.

Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, a Democrat from Birmingham, unsuccessfully urged the committee to delay a vote to give senators time to look at the bill. Coleman-Madison said the bill initially seems harmless but there is a broad misunderstanding of what critical race theory is.

Barfoot said the bill doesn’t mention critical race theory, but Coleman-Madison said that’s appears to be the genesis.

“I understand what you are saying — but a rose by any other name. Even though critical race theory is not mentioned, we understand the whole concept was centered around that,” Coleman-Madison.

Critical race theory is an academic framework that examines how racism has shaped the country and institutions such as the legal system, and how that has maintained the dominance of white people in society. It is not taught in K-12 schools, Alabama Superintendent Eric Mackey has said.

The Senate committee did not hold a public hearing before voting. The Rev. Kenneth Dukes of the Alabama State Chapter NAACP told committee members that there should have been an opportunity for public comment on the bill.

Opponents of the bill dominated a public hearing before a House committee on a similar bill last month.

Opponents said they are concerned it will have a chilling effect on classroom lessons and discussions.

The Senate version does not include a provision in the original House bill that dealt with how slavery should be taught. The House committee is scheduled to vote Wednesday.

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