South St. Louis County News

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South St. Louis County News

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South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Critical race theory once again debated by Missouri Senators

Photo by Erin Achenbach
From left, 1st District Senator Doug Beck and his successor to the 92nd District House seat, Michael Burton, at a rally prior to the November 2020 general election. Beck is a member of the committee reviewing bills related to education and critical race theory in the 2024 legislative session.

A Missouri Senate committee debated a bill that would ban school districts from discussing any topic or curriculum “similar to critical race theory or the 1619 Project” on March 5.

Last year, bills that sought to ban critical race theory spurred a Democratic filibuster in the Senate as opponents predicted “unintended consequences” that would remove parts of history from the classroom.

The bill discucssed Tuesday, sponsored by Warrensburg Republican Sen. Denny Hoskins, would allow Missouri’s attorney general to investigate compliance and would revoke half of a district’s state funding if a violation were found.

Hoskins, who is running in the Republican primary for secretary of state, told committee members his bill is not “trying to erase history.”

“We’re not saying that you can’t talk about history,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is say that, ‘Hey, just because you’re white, or you’re Black, that doesn’t make you automatically a racist. That doesn’t automatically mean that you think one way or another way.’”

Critical race theory, Hoskins argued, would label each of the white committee members and those that testified “a racist” and “an oppressor” because of their skin color.

Critical race theory, according to a Columbia News article, is the study of how racism has affected United States society and law.

Hoskins’s bill bars instruction of “divisive concepts,” which it defines as concepts that teach that “the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist.” or that “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.”

No one testified in support of the legislation at Tuesday’s hearing.

Sharon Geuea Jones, a lobbyist for the Missouri NAACP and the LGBTQ advocacy group PROMO, tied similar efforts in recent years to increased violence toward Black students.

“We have to have these hard discussions. We have to have them in our educational sessions, and they have to be done in a way that is sensitive to everyone involved,” she said. “I don’t want any children, white, Black or otherwise, to feel like they are targeted by their peers.”

South County Sen. Doug Beck, D-Affton, said he doesn’t like “the entire bill,” but noted that he had a particular qualm.

“My biggest issue right now is the last page of it giving the attorney general any type of power because the last two attorneys general have abused their office,” he said.

Beck said he was worried it would fuel attacks against public schools on social media.

Otto Fajen, a lobbyist for the Missouri branch of the National Education Association, said the bill could have consequences for already strained teacher recruitment and retention efforts.

“It is not so much the specifics of the bill itself, but the collateral damage it causes to, first, the desire to be in that space, to be a classroom teacher to devote your life to that while knowing that you’re going to have state laws basically communicating that the legislature has concerns about your professional judgment,” he said.

Fajen said education is important to democracy, and he worries teachers may pull back on more curriculum than the bill requires.

“This causes teachers to look at the topics that are most central to our public schools being a place where these informed discussions can be had,” he said, “and says, for fear of your livelihood, for fear of retaliation, for fear of all sorts of things that might happen: don’t delve deep into these discussions.”

The committee did not take action on the bill that day.

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.