By Corinne Murdock |
On Thursday, the Arizona House approved two separate bills cracking down on divisive and adult content in K-12 schools: a bill banning critical race theory from curriculum, HB2112, and a bill outlawing sexually-explicit materials from schools, HB2495. Both passed along party lines, 31-28.
Both bills received a similar partisan reception when passed by the House Education Committee: in their opposition of the bills, Democrats doubted their efficacy and necessity, whereas Republicans championed their cause and applauded them.
Introduced by State Representative Michelle Udall (R-Mesa), HB2112 bans teachings rooted in the traditional, original definition racism: that one race, ethnic group, or sex is superior to any other, and that an individual’s race, ethnicity, or sex predetermines their moral character and makes them inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive. The bill also rings of Biblical wisdom: similar to what Ezekiel 18 imparts, teachers also may not assign guilt or lay blame on any student for the actions and events of others who share the student’s race, ethnicity, or sex. Additionally, the bill would reject teachings that academic achievement, meritocracy, or traits such as hard work ethic are racist or sexist. Violations of this legislation could result in teachers facing penalties such as suspension or the loss of their teaching certificate, and school districts receiving up to $5,000 in fines per violation.
The legislature’s previous attempt to ban critical race theory was struck down in court last year because it was integrated in a bill that the judge ruled was a violation of the single subject requirement of the state constitution.
Udall explained that she received “countless” pleas from parents on the divisiveness and harms caused by critical race theory teachings in public K-12 schools at present. She cited several specific examples; for one, a Red Mountain High School teacher required students to study the critical race theory terms “intersectionality,” “anti-racist,” and “restorative justice,” then write a self-reflection paper about their privileges. Another example concerned an Arizona State University (ASU) teacher preparation program assigning a book called “Nurture Shock,” in which one chapter discussed “why white parents don’t talk about race.” Yet another example concerned a social studies teacher in Glendale who sent her colleagues materials to discuss race in class, focusing in part on how white people have a greater burden for being anti-racist, such as understanding their privilege.
“This categorization and scapegoating will not heal racial divides. Instead, it emphasizes ethnicity and gender as insurmountable barriers to peace,” said Udall.
Udall then described the gaslighting parents endured when they contended the presence of critical race theory in classrooms: how parents were told their experiences were a one-off incident and that critical race theory isn’t being taught in schools, despite the National Education Association (NEA) repeatedly advocating for the theory after issuing a resolution last summer that they would make concerted efforts to instill critical race theory teachings in classrooms.
“These concepts should be things we can all agree on: that all men are created equal, that hard work and persistence pay off, that students of all races are capable of being held to a high standard of academic excellence,” said Udall.
Democrats’ arguments against the bill alleged that it would get in the way of teaching history. However, the bill didn’t outlaw teachings of certain history, such as slavery or Jim Crow laws — rather, the bill focused on conclusions and statements of fact imparted by critical race theory teachings.
State Representative Judy Schweibert (D-Phoenix) argued that critical race theory teachings imparted lessons of honesty, integrity, and freedom to pursue dreams.
“When we teach history, it’s not about assigning guilt or blame. It’s about teaching young people to think deeply and critically themselves so we don’t repeat the same mistakes,” said Schweibert.
State Representative Richard Andrade (D-Glendale) insisted that critical race theory teachings were “the truth.” State Representative Mitzi Epstein (D-Ahwatukee) said that she agreed that “the sins of the father shouldn’t be visited on the children” and appreciated the intent of the bill, but feared that the bill’s wording would prevent teachers from placing any blame on anybody.
HB2495 bans the sexual explicitness of materials given to K-12 students. State Representative Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek) introduced the bill. It would prohibit K-12 public schools from exposing or referring students to “sexually explicit material,” which was defined as depictions of sexual conduct such as masturbation, intercourse or physical contact with a person’s clothed or unclothed genitals, public area, buttocks, or a female’s breast; sexual excitement, meaning the sexual stimulation or arousal of human male or female genitals; and ultimate sexual acts, such as any form of or allusion to intercourse, fellatio, cunnilingus, bestiality, or sodomy.
The bill passed with Udall’s amendments to exempt classical literature, early American literature, and books required for a course awarding college credit, but only with written parental consent prior to exposure of each material. If parental consent can’t be obtained, the school must furnish the student with an alternative assignment without sexually explicit material.
“This is simply a practice that I believe a majority of Arizonans don’t want. I don’t believe that they want sexually-explicit material shown to their children,” said Hoffman.
In rebuttal, Democrats argued that there were already laws prohibiting inappropriate materials from being shown to children. They insisted that they were equally opposed to showing children pornography in schools.
Schweibert argued that parents didn’t have a right to determine what other people’s children were to learn — even in this case. She asserted that the legislature was “treading on dangerous territory” tantamount to instigating a book burning movement. Schweibert cited bans on historically revered books like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Of Mice and Men,” and the Bible; however, those were the doing of left-leaning groups, often with blessings from Democratic leaders.
Both bills now head to the Senate for consideration.