By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A second bill targeting how theories on race and bias are taught has been pre-filed in the Alabama House, this one applying to education institutions and the training state employees and contractors receive.
House Bill 9, filed in advance of the 2022 legislative session that starts in January, says “the State of Alabama shall not teach, instruct, or train any employee, contractor, staff member, student, or any other individual group to adopt or believe divisive concepts.”
“Divisive concepts” defined in the bill include:
- That this state or the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist;
- “That an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously;”
- And that an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.
Sponsor Rep. Ed Oliver, R-Dadeville, said he knows concepts prohibited in his bill are being taught in the state. He said one of his children had “inclusion and diversity training” at a public university. He said it included the principles of Critical Race Theory.
“It was absolutely racist,” he said. He also said he complained to the school, but received no response. An explainer by the Associated Press described Critical Race Theory as a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism. Scholars developed it during the 1970s and 1980s in response to what they viewed as a lack of racial progress following the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. It centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society.
“I wanted to make it very, very difficult for any state or state agency or contractor to promote one race or sex over another,” Oliver said. “Simple as that.”
Oliver’s bill says no state employee, contractor, staff member, or college student “shall face any penalty or discrimination on account of his or her refusal to support, believe, endorse, embrace, confess, act upon, or otherwise assent to divisive concepts.”
Asked how to teach state history in the context of his bill, Oliver said teaching shouldn’t be divisive.“We can sit here and worry about hurt feelings, but history is history,” Oliver said. “I believe it should be taught. …I don’t think we should run away from our history, I believe we should embrace it, learn from it and move forward.”
House Minority Leader Rep. Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, said this is an era of double speak and double standards in America and Alabama.
“We can memorialize the Confederacy, but we can’t speak about the cause they fought for,” Daniels said. “We can protect statues of the Lost Cause, but we can’t mention Jim Crow. We can complain about cancel culture, and then try to cancel entire sections of our past and pretend it’s not relevant to current events. Do we want to raise our next generation with half the facts?
“I don’t want to remove the story of the Confederacy from our history books because I want our students to see all sides of the debate. I want critical thinkers who can stand up and say that we value our past… We all gain a better understanding of who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going.”
Training of state employees is managed by the Alabama State Personnel Department. Director Jackie Graham in an email to ADN said after a cursory review that the bill wouldn’t seem to impact any of the training programs the department provides.
Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said legislation like this is simply a way for Republicans to pander to their base using the most recent culture war topic.
“It’s kind of hard to suggest that you want to have a conversation about reaching towards racial reconciliation by starting that conversation with saying we’re not going to talk about this or we can’t approach it this way,” England said. “It’s not really a genuine attempt to reach towards racial conciliation. It’s basic pandering and it’s a solution searching for a problem and trying to manipulate circumstances to get votes and money.”
Inside Higher Ed last month reported lawmakers in 16 states have introduced or passed legislation this year seeking to limit the teaching of critical race theory within public institutions.
Last month, the Alabama State Board of Education discussed resolutions to keep critical race theory out of Alabama K-12 classrooms and Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, filed a similar bill.
Recently, al.com reported that University of Alabama education professors wrote a letter saying proposals targeting critical race theory could hurt their ability to train future teachers.
The college’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee called critical race theory a useful lens that helps educators understand the importance of diversity and systems that leave behind minority students and families.
Teachers and professors “have a moral obligation” to talk about slavery, racism, segregation and other painful parts of the country’s history without fear of repercussions, and also need to be able to participate in training that helps them treat all students fairly and equally, the committee wrote.
Reps. Mike Holmes, R-Wetumpka, and Proncey Robertson, R-Mt. Hope, are co-sponsors on Oliver’s bill.
Robertson said the bill is a preemptive move as conversations about critical race theory increase.
He said he understands the purpose of diversity and race training for state employees.
“They’re absolutely necessary at times,” he said. “… At the same time, we don’t want the type of information out there that would try to promote one race over another.”
Alabama Daily News reporter Caroline Beck contributed to this report.