Arizona House votes to ban critical race theory in schools

Arizona’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted Thursday to put limits on teaching race and gender in schools, part of the GOP’s nationwide push to block diversity instruction they’ve termed "critical race theory."

The measure is the latest front in the ever-evolving debate over how to teach U.S. history and reckon with racism in the nation’s past and present.

The measure would ban instruction that "promotes or advocates for any form of blame or judgment on the basis of race, ethnicity or sex." It seeks to outlaw a list of concepts, including that a person should feel "discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress" because of their race, ethnicity or sex.

House Republicans voted along party lines to send the measure to the Senate. Democrats said the measure would chill discussions about history and contemporary events in the classroom because teachers will fear losing their jobs if they broach the subject of race.

"To love America is to learn all about their history both good and bad," said Rep. Sarah Liguori, a Phoenix Democrat. "And if we sense our history and ignore today’s challenges, we will never live up to the ideals of liberty and justice for all."

Critical race theory was until recently an obscure field of study, largely in law schools, about systemic racism. Republicans have weaponized the term ahead of the midterm elections as a catch-all for teachings about race, diversity, bias and privilege that they say fall outside the charge for public schools.

Lessons related to race and diversity have been on the rise alongside a broader acknowledgment that racial injustice didn’t end in America with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Those efforts have spurred a backlash, particularly among Republican voters.

"Disregarding parent concerns about what our children are learning is not going to work," said Rep. Michelle Udall, a Republican from Mesa who sponsored the bill.

Republicans included a ban on critical race theory in the state budget last year, but it was among many new policies later thrown out by the Arizona Supreme Court. The justices found the Legislature’s practice of stuffing the budget with unrelated provisions was unconstitutional.

When the measure was considered in the House Education Committee on Wednesday, several GOP lawmakers were appalled to hear a parent’s description of a Bingo game encouraging middle school students to consider how their race, family support, income and other factors could give them a leg up against peers who face discrimination, a turbulent home life or trouble getting to school.

"My personal life should not be subject to a bingo game," said Rep. Teresa Martinez, a Republican from Casa Grande. "The school has no right to ask if you have one parent, two parents, a gay parent, a brown parent, and are you white."

Rep. Mitzi Epstein said some aspects of history, such as slavery and the Holocaust, are indeed shameful, and she worries the legislation would restrict teachers from saying so.

"To teach these things without blame or judgment would be wrong," Epstein said.

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