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Fighting the Racist War on Truth at School

In South Carolina, as in many states across the nation there are right-wing sponsored efforts to stop public school teachers from discussing the racist history of our country with their students, and also ban discussion of other social issues, such as sexual orientation and gender identify.

At least six bills are under consideration in South Carolina that would ban teaching an accurate account of racism’s role in our history by distorting the history students learn in the state’s public schools while banning curriculum regarding how racism has shaped U.S. society since its inception.

If you think this is wrong, there are steps you can take at the end of this article.

Meanwhile, Josh Malkin, a Public Interest and Government Fellow with the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina, and a former public school teacher, is helping to lead opposition to those Republican-sponsored anti-truth and censorship bills — all prompted by the red-flag issue of critical race theory.

Malkin recently addressed the Carolina Forest Democratic Club to discuss these issues and was a recent guest on the Lean to the Left podcast.

The ACLU is partnering with the E3 Foundation, Lowcountry Black Parents Association, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Charleston Jewish Federation, and South Carolina Appleseed in the Pro Truth South Carolina coalition, to fight these bills. The coalition provided the following descriptions for the bills:

House Bill 4325 prevents public school districts, public schools, and public institutions of higher learning in South Carolina from offering instruction that directs or compels students to affirm, adopt, or adhere to the tenets of “critical race theory.” The bill also inaccurately identifies the tenets of “critical race theory.” HB 4325 Fact Sheet

House Bill 4343 prohibits public schools from, among other things, teaching or promoting any of the “claims, views, or opinions” presented in the 1619 Project. The 1619 Project is a Pulitzer Prize-winning compilation of essays in the New York Times, organized by award-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, that examines how the legacy of slavery has entrenched racism in different systems throughout our country’s history. HB 4343 also prohibits public schools from making mandatory gender and sexuality diversity trainings or counseling or requiring certain professional development, training or courses related to race and gender. In addition, HB 4343 requires public school websites to provide a detailed list of all instructional materials and curricula used in the school, as well as an electronic form to collect any parental complaints about the curriculum, among other things. The public schools are then required to report the number of curriculum complaints received to the Department of Education. If found to be in violation of these requirements, school districts risk losing millions of dollars in state funding. HB 4343 Fact Sheet

Senate Bill 534 dictates how the history of America’s founding is taught in South Carolina public schools and minimizes the history and perspectives of Black Americans and Native Americans. The bill mandates that school districts for grades 6 through 12 teach, among other material, “the Native American legend of [George Washington’s] divine protection and requires that students annually read the original account of the first Thanksgiving from the perspective of pilgrim Edward Winslow. The bill does not require any education about the history or culture of Native Americans independent of their encounters with colonizers. The bill also mandates that school districts teach that the “ideals of the American Revolution have shaped American life,” including the abolition of slavery and the campaign for women’s rights, among other civil rights movements. However, the bill does not require that students receive any education about Jim Crow, the Black Codes, or any other historical laws that resulted in inequality for Black Americans or Native Americans. SB 534 Fact Sheet

House Bill 4392 states that teachers of history, civics, U.S. government and politics, or social studies and any other related subjects, “may not be compelled by a policy of a state agency, school district, or school administration to discuss current events or widely debated and currently controversial issues of public policy or social affairs” and prohibits schools from providing courses or awarding credit for student work or learning experiences associated with lobbying for legislation, or social or public policy advocacy, including work with organizations engaged in lobbying or advocacy.

The bill also prohibits a state agency, school district, or school administration from making teachers “affirm a belief in” systemic racism, and prohibits instruction of certain concepts, including that racism or slavery were anything other than “betrayals of” the country’s founding principles, among others.

HB 4392 Fact Sheet

House Bill 4799 states, in part, that “public school districts, public schools, and public institutions of higher learning may not “utilize or require adherence to certain tenants inaccurately characterized as “critical race theory.” Those mischaracterized tenets include, among others, the concepts that “equity . . . is superior to or supplants the concept of equality” and “slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States.”

House Bill 4799 imposes new mandates on schools and districts for the collection and reporting of complaints, and requirements for posting all instructional materials and curricula. It also carries stiff penalties that could be devastating for public schools in South Carolina. For example, H.B. 4799 states that “an .. . entity receiving funds appropriated by the General Assembly . . . found to be engaging in” the prohibited activities “must return funding to the Office of the State Treasurer” and “will be precluded from receiving additional funds for that fiscal year and the following ten fiscal years.”

The bill also requires that, whenever any public school is found to be in violation of its requirements, all students across the entire school district become entitled to transfer to a private school, which will receive the public funding for that student.

House Bill 4605 is expansive and will place restrictions on entities that receive state funding or tax exemption status, including, among other things, public and private schools, institutions of higher learning, nonprofit organizations, and businesses. The bill bans certain state-funded entities from promoting, including as part of discussions or trainings, or compelling individuals to adopt the following concepts, among others:

  • A group or individual, by virtue of his or her race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, heritage, culture, religion, or political belief is inherently racist, sexist, bigoted, ignorant, biased, fragile, oppressive, or contributive to any oppression, whether consciously or unconsciously.
  • Meritocracy or traits and behaviors such as hard work ethic, punctuality, use of standard English language are racist or sexist, or were created by a particular race or group to oppress another race or group
  • An individual must be compelled to affirm, accept, adopt, or adhere to particular language usage or definitions not universally accepted, or to controversial and theoretical concepts, such as:
  • The existence of genders other than male and female and gender fluidity
  • Nonbinary pronouns, honorifics, or related speech;
  • Unconscious or implicit bias; or
  • That race and sex are social constructs

HB 4605 Fact Sheet

What can you do?

Contact your representatives and inform them you stand against House Bills 4325, 4343, 4392, 4605, and 4799.

To testify in Columbia, email gingerlee@schouse.gov and let her know you would like to testify at the next possible meeting on these bills. The Chairwoman has said that everyone who wants to testify will be heard, so folks who receive a rejection should let Malkin know at jmalkin@aclusc.org.

If you wish to testify via Zoom, a sign-on letter requesting Zoom testimony available by clicking here.

For businesses/non-profit organizations, a sign-on letter to oppose bills H. 4605 and H. 4799, which involve impositions on creation of corporate culture, is available here.

More information about the “anti-truth” bills and the coalition, Truth in Ed SC, please visit https://www.protruthsc.org or contact Joshua Malkin, ACLU of South Carolina, at jmalkin@aclusc.org

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