A Texas teacher’s response to Texas House Bill 3979 & Senate Bill 2202
The 87th Texas Legislature just ended and, with the ending, comes a variety of bills that have been proposed, voted on, and passed to help our State navigate into the future; or, at least that’s what they have been telling the media and their constituents. As a public school history teacher, I have been asking myself the purpose of the passage of HB 3979. I am aware of the narrative surrounding the bill; that it is to suppress the teaching of Critical Race Theory, a theory that seems to be the latest Republican talking point without merit. If it is an idea that is supposedly subversive to the foundations of a free, and robust society, then why can’t one Republican representative in our Texas Legislature effectively argue why this particular theory is so dangerous, let alone what it actually is? Republicans say they seek to tell the true story of our country — a story that is colorblind and not built upon racism. If this is what they believe, then fine, so be it; but their “best solution” is to suppress any alternative speech which challenges this narrative? This is not the way. In history, this tactic has a simple name: censorship. The party that hates cancel culture has canceled the most fundamental tools to teach our society: open dialogue and free speech.
Now, what can be effectively argued is that the passage of this bill is a threat to the foundational ideals of not only our country but what every free country has been founded upon — freedom of speech, protest, assembly, etc. We have countless stories of individuals throughout our history who have sought to educate our youth about the world around them, helping them look past the glazed veneer being built up, developed, and entertained around them; from Socrates, Jesus, and countless others, these figures all have spoken truth to power about their society. They told the truth to the state, often paying the highest cost. The price they paid was to satisfy the supposed need of their leaders, a price intended to suppress their voice, in order to hold onto their power and influence. These men were killed, but in their deaths held even greater power and swayed the future direction of free societies around the world!
Unconventional narratives of history are how we improve upon democracy.
From the foundation of our Republic, slavery played a critical part of who and what we were to become. The initial state constitution was designed to protect slavery, empowering slave owners within our nation; it went far beyond what the U.S. Constitution called for regarding the issue of slavery. Texas Monthly reported the discrepancies and gaps in understanding slavery that is already present in our state history books — ones that conveniently sanitize and whitewashes our history as a State, leaving many to ignorance.
“The 1836 Texas constitution was modeled after the U.S. Constitution, but it was also, according to the University of North Texas historian Andrew Torget, very much a precursor for what the Confederate states would try to do when they seceded from the Union in 1861. Ninety-five percent of the entire Republic of Texas economy was cotton, so what they’re building is a cotton nation,” Torget says. To do that, they “believed they needed slavery to be legal and protected, because that’s what makes it profitable.” As the Confederacy would do later, the Republic drafted a constitution that “protected slavery in no uncertain terms, much beyond what the U.S. Constitution did,” says Torget. The Texas constitution of 1836 stripped the Republic’s Congress of the ability to pass any legislation affecting the slave trade, let alone emancipating anybody. No slave owner in the Republic of Texas could free his slaves without the consent of the Republic’s congress. Any free Black person living in Texas could continue living there only with the approval of congress. The prospect of any free Black people in Texas was considered a threat to the institution of slavery because it could embolden slaves to run away.”
The above, in no uncertain terms, shows how our state fought to protect the ‘right’ to keep our brothers and sisters as property and deny them equality and shared humanity. To those who would seek to halt the corrections necessary to the future they claim to want, this is an inconvenient narrative. It showcases, from the absolute beginning, how systemic and deeply rooted slavery and racism have been in our history.
Why continue to harp on this messy history of our racist past?
My conservative friends deeply want to believe that we are moving towards a nation that is beyond these ‘black and white issues’ and, from someone on the other side of the aisle, there is not one person arguing in good faith who would disagree with those sentiments. However, the question is: are we there yet in our history? The answer is a concrete no.
Why is this? Well, the answer is simple and rather straightforward. There has been one narrative that was told, especially in the South, that doesn’t accurately reflect the multidimensional nature of our nation’s history. Our history books tell a specific story, with a specific purpose, and then omit large segments that are “inconvenient” towards that storyline. We have failed generationally to tell an accurate account of our own story; having adults believing in a propagandized version that suppresses the truth of how difficult our history has been. If we want to move forward, together, towards a country that truly lives up to the values it espouses, we have to be honest with ourselves.
Our history is littered with how those in power suppressed Black people in overt and subtle ways, such as:
- Limiting housing opportunities for Black people through the practice of redlining.
- Suppressing Black lives through out history with slavery, lynchings, and Jim Crow.
- The experimentation on Black veterans and citizens through the Tuskegee studies.
- The oppressing Black lives by over policing Black communities, brutalizing citizens, and the breaking up of families by disproportionate sentencing of minorities.
- The omission of their experiences from our history — the Tulsa, Oklahoma Massacre (that is only now recognized by a sitting American president 100 years after the fact) and how white people destroyed a vibrant Black community out of sheer jealousy
- Suppressing Civil Rights through the attack on minority voting rights — which the Texas Republicans attempted to do with a current voter suppression bill this year which would outlaw ‘Souls to the Polls’, a practice common in the Black community that buses members of their community to vote after Church services.
- A lack of educational equity, such as when the Dallas ISD budget from 2010 funneled disproportionate amounts of money to richer, ‘whiter’ schools, oftentimes within a mile or two or each other; which promotes a lack of generational educational investment.
…and the list goes on about how white society has not effectively made the Black community fully equal citizens in our society.
This is our history.
As a white man who wants to raise good God-fearing children, and teaches history to our children for a living, how could I live with this harmful information and do nothing about it? We cannot and must not sweep it under the rug any longer. If we want to live in a post-racial society, this bill is a step in the wrong direction. We must grow up, reconcile these events of our past and take ownership of the systemic abuses that have been hurled against our Black brothers and sisters for over 400 years.
Racism is a cancer, one that must be diagnosed and excised from our national body in order to thrive. A nuanced, honest look at history, coupled with dialogue and a robust education are the ways of revealing the diagnosis. A good, fully informed policy is the medicine to move towards the goal of a true, multi-racial democracy. What happened this year in Austin in our Legislature was the opposite of a diagnosis. Like lying to our doctor, it was the suppression of truthful diagnosis, and with the passage of HB 3979 and SB 2202, it showcases how some of our elected officials refuse to listen to facts about our shared past to maintain the old stories.
As a teacher, when my students ask, why do we have to study history? I quickly respond by saying that we learn history in order not to repeat the past; these representatives, who taught the hole-filled lessons of our past, are refusing to use the lessons of our history, warts and all, dooming us to continue to repeat our mistakes. During these perilous times, we need leaders who can honestly reflect upon our State history in order to accurately live up to their job title: representative. They need to be able to represent everyone in their district fairly and justly. If they cannot do this, then they cannot do their job any longer with any amount of fidelity.
I want to end with the fact that I was raised in Carthage, TX, by a conservative family. Their ideals and values shaped me into the man I am today. My father especially taught me about conservatism in its deeper meaning; it is about character, wisdom, and deep faith in something more than yourself. This, to me, is traditional conservatism, and it is not found in the current iteration of today’s GOP. The assault on our democratic values, free speech, open dialogue, and even voting rights, meaning they are now a lost party. So. I pray that fellow conservatives living in those districts represented by those who voted on this legislation see the light and power of their vote and stop rewarding those representatives with more power.
Here are the links to the final version of both bills:
If you are concerned about the actions of your Representatives during the last session of the Texas Legislature, especially with HB 3979 and SB 2202. Call your local representative and senator to voice your disagreement.
Here is the name of those who wrote sponsored the Bill:
Rep. Steve Toth (R)
Rep. Tan Parker (R)
Rep. Briscoe Cain (R)
Rep. Jake Ellzey (R)
Rep. Phil King (R)
Rep. J.M. Lozano (R)
Rep. Matthew Shaheen (R)
Rep. Ed Thompson (R)
Rep. Charles Anderson (R)
Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R)
Rep. Cody Harris (R)
Rep. Matt Krause (R)
Rep. Mayes Middleton (R)
Rep. David Spiller (R)
Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R)
Rep. William Metcalf (R)
Rep. Keith Bell (R)
Rep. Jeff Cason (R)
Rep. Cole Hefner (R)
Rep. Brooks Landgraf (R)
Rep. Candy Noble (R)
Rep. Phil Stephenson (R)
Rep. Cody Vasut (R)
Rep. Greg Bonnen (R)
Rep. Kyle Biedermann (R)
Rep. David Cook (R)
Rep. Jacy Jetton (R)
Rep. Ben Leman (R)
Rep. Dennis Paul (R)
Rep. Valoree Swanson (R)
Rep. Terry Wilson (R)
Senator Charles Creighton (R)
Senator Paul Bettencourt (R)
Senator Donna Campbel (R)
Senator Bob Hall (R)
Senator Angela Paxton (R)
Senator Charles Schwertner (R)
Senator Drew Springer (R)