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‘Divisive concepts’ ban advances

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers on Wednesday advanced GOP-backed legislation to ban the teaching of so-called “divisive concepts” in classroom lessons and training sessions for state workers.

The bill would prohibit schools, state agencies and universities from directing students and employees to learn a list of “divisive concepts,” including that “fault, blame, or bias should be assigned to a race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin” or that a student or worker should “assent to a sense of guilt, complicity, or a need to apologize” because of their race, gender or national origin.

The Senate State Governmental Affairs Committee approved the bill on a 7-3 vote that fell along racial and party lines. The bill now moves to the full Alabama Senate for debate. Similar legislation is pending in the Alabama House of Representatives.

“It does not stop teaching about slavery, bad history or that racism exists. It does not stop the teaching of black history, or for that matter, any other type of history. What this bill does is it stops a new woke ideology that divides people, adults and children alike,” Republican Rep. Ed Oliver, the sponsor of the House version of the bill, told the committee.

The three Black senators on the committee voted against the bill, questioning the need for the legislation and the potential chilling impact on classroom discussions.

Sen. Merika Coleman, chairwoman of the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus, challenged supporters of the bill to provide examples of where a student is being told something is their fault because of their race.

“What is happening,” Coleman said, “is that school systems are fearful to discuss some topics because of the state’s political climate, and the bill would exacerbate that.”

“The language in this bill is intentionally vague and confusing. Bills like this have already caused a chilling effect on teaching with educators fearful, anxious and unable to get clear answers on what they can or cannot teach,” Stevie Rae Hicks, a Montgomery teacher, said during a public hearing.

Opponents noted that white Republicans are voting to ban ”divisive concepts” while previously approving a state law protecting Confederate monuments.

“She said why is it the same group of people who think we ought to preserve Confederate monuments — remember the Confederates were traitors to this country — but the same group of people who want to preserve that history, think that it’s not important to learn about ours,” said Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove.

Republicans in several states have proposed restricting how race and gender are taught in classrooms and diversity training sessions for state workers.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey last month removed her cabinet member who oversaw the state’s award-winning pre-kindergarten program because of a teacher training book that included language about inclusion and the importance of combatting bias.

“It’s a lot of mistrust around this bill because of the things that have gone on. The governor’s response to the lady on the book did not help,” said Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, a Democrat from Birmingham.

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