How new rules are limiting diversity education in schools

Black History Month has put the spotlight on diversity education – and the impact of the ban on teaching critical race theory in some states. According to an analysis by Education Week, 37 states are considering limits to the teaching of sexism, racism and inequality. Nadra Nittle, education reporter for The 19th, joins.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    With Black History Month underway, there are questions about how new restrictions on diversity education in some states may play out.

    According to an analysis by Education Week; since last year, 37 states have introduced or passed legislation that puts constraints on what can be taught about racism, sexism and inequality

    Nadra Nittle, education reporter for The 19th, an independent, nonprofit newsroom reporting on gender, politics and policy, joined me to discuss the growing controversy.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You know, here we are entering Black History Month and critical race theory is not being taught in classrooms in America, at least not how it was originally designed. Are there consequences to what is being taught in schools today and this month, when lots of textbooks are assigned specifically to talk about what happened to Black Americans?

  • Nadra Nittle:

    Definitely. In Alabama, officials have already gotten complaints from some parents who say that celebrating Black History Month constitutes the teaching of critical race theory. Now, the officials there are not agreeing that it is critical race theory, but just the fact that people now feel comfortable lodging these complaints against a celebration like Black History Month shows the political climate that we're in. Also, there's various children's books about Black History Month or, you know, celebrated African-Americans that parents have complained about. So books about the march on Washington, for example, about Ruby Bridges, the little girl who desegregated her school. Also, even biographies of. Michelle Obama and the athlete, Wilma Rudolph, all of these books have gotten complaints.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So what's the problem with a book about Wilma Rudolph? What is objectionable to parents or whoever doesn't think that it should be in a classroom?

  • Nadra Nittle:

    So that complaint came out of Texas, a suburb of Dallas, and the concern was just that the book mentioned the racism that Rudolph endured in Tennessee during the 1940s. So many of these laws say that, you know, any references that could make students feel uncomfortable, especially white students, feel uncomfortable in some way about racism or about the history they're being taught, that parents can complain about that. And that's what we're seeing, parents saying they're uncomfortable with references to racism.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So is there pressure now on school superintendents and even down to the principal level that there are potentially parents that could say, 'Hey, I don't want my kid learning this book during this month or ever?

  • Nadra Nittle:

    Yes, we do know we know some principals that have already been forced to resign in Texas'. Last fall, a principal was forced to resign and critical race theory was named as one of the reasons why. I've spent the past week talking about principals in light of a new study that came out about the well-being of principals and those administrators expressed to me that they are afraid. One administrator I spoke to was from Virginia, where the governor there has not only banned critical race theory, but also set up hotlines that people can call for teaching divisive subjects in school. So there are principals who are afraid to speak openly, to go on record, to have their names used even discussing these issues because they fear the repercussions of doing so.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Some of the legislation that you're mentioning, it doesn't necessarily say about race or about black history, but sometimes it says we are for more transparency or for more parental rights. And when you look at that, you're like, Well, sure, that sounds fine. So what are the consequences or the ripple effects when some pieces of legislation that are professed to be about this, how did they affect the teaching of race in class?

  • Nadra Nittle:

    Well, some of these laws, for example, a law in Indiana, was introduced saying that parents can have the right to essentially approve the curriculum or see anything that a teacher might teach. And so the effects of that is that it could result in, and I think it's already resulting in some teachers feeling like they have to scale back. They can't be truthful about the history of the United States because it's difficult, for example, to teach about Jackie Robinson integrating Major League Baseball without talking about the fact that he came from the Negro Leagues and why those leagues existed in the first place. It's hard to discuss African-American trailblazers without discussing, you know, the racism or other forms of discrimination that they might have experienced.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Yeah, it's important to remember the Black history is American history. If there is this kind of pressure on different syllabuses and curricula that is happening in classrooms, what's left to be taught?

  • Nadra Nittle:

    It's difficult to say because if children's books that are pretty non-controversial, you know, from most educators point of view, if they're facing pushback, some teachers just might shy away from teaching about black history, from teaching about, you know, the history of Native Americans or any group where racism, discrimination, enslavement, genocide, where those issues might come up. So what we might see from educators who are very fearful in states where these laws have passed is that they just eliminate the teaching of those books and of those subjects altogether.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Nadra Nittle from The 19th News. Thanks so much for joining us.

  • Nadra Nittle:

    Thank you for having me.

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