Teaching History in Texas

Texas State Capitol in Austin. (CrackerClips/Getty Images)

Michael Gerson has a scathing column about the recently enacted Texas law on how public schools should teach history. If he is reading the law correctly, then his indictment holds up. But I don’t think he is reading it correctly.

Texas, he writes, “has forbidden the teaching of any ‘concept’ that causes an individual to ‘feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex.’” He adds,

White children — really the White parents of White children — have been given an open invitation to protest any teaching on U.S. racial history that triggers their “discomfort.” Which for some parents will mean any teaching on racism at all. This will inevitably lead to self-censorship by teachers who want to avoid trouble.

Gerson links (under “concept”) to an article that has a very similar gloss on the law but quotes operative language that does not, I think, back it up. Said language: “A teacher may not make part of a course the concept that an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race.”

It seems to me that language leaves open, as it should, the teaching of material that causes discomfort. What it precludes is the teacher’s saying that white students should feel guilt based on their race.

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The trouble with the wording is that it could also be read to preclude saying that there have ever been schools of thought that believe white people should feel such guilt, distress, etc. But that’s a somewhat different problem than the one Gerson raises, and the sort of thing that could be fixed with an amendment that preserved the intent of the law.

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