Most participants in a public hearing about an “Anti-Stereotyping Act” being considered by delegates spoke against the bill, saying it would produce a chilling effect in West Virginia classrooms.
“This is a flawed bill based on a flawed philosophy,” said Mickey Blackwell, executive director of the West Virginia Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals, addressing delegates.
“Look at the numbers here today and you will find there is great opposition and very little support except for those of you in the seats.”
The bill would require schools or school systems to publicly post any personnel training materials related to issues such as nondiscrimination, race or sex. Instructional materials about those topics would also have to be posted publicly. A revised version of the bill removed a requirement to post lesson plans.
Another section of the bill would forbid schools from embracing stereotypes based on race, sex, ethnicity, religion or national origin. The bill specifies that individuals should not be blamed “for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, sex, ethnicity, religion, or national origin.”
The bill states that it does not prohibit discussion or assignments that incorporate the concepts of race and sex for educational purposes.
But critics suggest that would be the practical result for teachers concerned about misunderstandings or backlash.
“How can teachers effectively, actively or even correctly teach U.S. history, civic engagement, let alone West Virginia history without discussing issues of race and gender?” asked Kathy Ferguson, a Dunbar resident.
“Does anybody here recall why we are mountaineers who are always free?”
The “Anti-Stereotyping Act” has already passed out of the House Education Committee and next will be considered by House Judiciary.
Supporters say the bill would help parents and communities be aware of training and lessons surrounding societal issues in schools.
Two speakers expressed support for the bill during today’s public hearing in the House chamber.
Barry Holstein, a Kanawha County resident, said a straightforward reading of the bill shows that it would not directly suppress discussion — but would give parents and community members a tool to gauge what’s being taught in classrooms.
“This bill does not prevent the teaching of history, of slavery, of the Holocaust,” Holstein said.
But Holstein did object to some possible sources of classroom instruction, including programs like “Learning for Justice by the Southern Poverty Law Center.”
“How did we get to the point where our public schools are OK with teaching that some students have privilege and some students are oppressed?” Holstein asked.
Another speaker, Mila Knoll, told delegates “I applaud your efforts to revamp our educational system.” She described herself as an immigrant who was taught in school that “because I look white I am racist.”
She broadly described a view that people who consider themselves to be disadvantaged may actually leverage that to gain advantages in institutions like schools. “Critical race theory is telling our children that if they look white, they’re racist,” she said.
“I think we are forgetting to teach our children how to think, how to use their brain, provide them with facts and not tell them what to think.”
Legislatures in at least a dozen states have introduced similar bills. For example, Republicans in Michigan’s Legislature introduced a curriculum transparency bill. In Iowa, lawmakers began consideration of a bill that was part of the governor’s priorities.
The policies have spun out of the national discussion of critical race theory, which is an academic concept that racism may lie not only with individuals but also exists through lingering effects in legal systems and policies.
“I’m here, and I’ve heard every story and I am appalled when someone gets up before you to say white privilege does not exist,” said Yvonne Lee, a mother and social worker.
“I am appalled when people sit up here and say we are taught to discriminate and to get by easy. From the beginning of time, my mother taught me I had to be 10 times better just to even be looked at or to even run.”
She said descriptions of indoctrination in the schools are greatly exaggerated.
“I didn’t learn about my history until I went to college,” she said. “And we are here to discuss this? It should not be a factor.”