The gains made by Republicans on the state and local levels were fueled in part with schooling issues that voters believed were an overreach when it comes to race relations.
State Sens. Joe Pennacchio (R-26) and Michael Testa (R-1) are offering a bill addressing those concerns at the same time the national party looks to capitalize to recapture Congress. The GOP lawmakers proposed law would prevent critical race theory (CRT) from being taught in New Jersey public schools as well as prohibit public schools teachers from engaging in political, ideological, or religious advocacy in their classrooms.
“Every student should be empowered through lessons emphasizing the opportunity they have to succeed through their own hard work, individual merit, and the personal character they demonstrate to others,” said Pennacchio (R-26) in a press statement Nov. 16. “That’s wholly incompatible with critical race theory, which would indoctrinate students with the limiting belief that people are inherently privileged, oppressive, racist, sexist, or morally deficient due to little more than the circumstances of their birth.”
At its roots, CRT is an academic examination by civil-rights scholars and activists focusing the intersection of race and law in the United States. CRT examines social, cultural, and legal issues related to race and racism, arguing that racism and disparate racial outcomes are the result of complex, changing, and often subtle social and institutional dynamics, rather than explicit and intentional prejudices of individuals.
As the profile of CRT has risen in the last year, Republican lawmakers have introduced across the nation to ban it from being taught in the classroom. In the legislation being proposed in New Jersey, it would prohibit a school district from teaching CRT as part of a curriculum, course of instruction, or through supplemental instructional materials that promote concepts related to CRT.
For the purposes of the bill, CRT includes, but is not limited to, the following concepts:
- one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex;
- an individual, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously;
- an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of their race or sex;
- an individual’s moral character is determined by their race or sex;
- an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress solely because of their race or sex;
- a meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist, or designed by a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex;
- ascribing character traits, values, moral or ethical codes, privileges, or beliefs to a race or sex, or to an individual because of their race or sex;
“Critical race theory is a thinly-veiled effort to legitimize discrimination under the guise of an intellectual social theory,” said Testa. “Our legislation ensures that New Jersey’s public schools will not teach students that it’s okay to judge others or themselves or to treat people differently based on broad stereotypes that some inappropriately ascribe to an entire race or gender. We believe every person deserves to be treated as an individual.”
The bill’s sponsors noted the legislation does not prohibit the impartial discussion of controversial aspects of history or discussion of the historical oppression of a particular group of people. It also doesn’t prevent teaching about an ethnic group or historical documents.
A school district that knowingly violates the CRT provisions of the legislation could have its State school aid withheld until it is no longer in violation, under the bill.
Testa pushed the notion that critical race theory isn’t the only way classrooms are used to push left-wing ideologies on impressionable young students, making arguments that academic use their authority within to present their own beliefs on controversial issues as fact and to silence or punish students who dare disagree.
Restricting Teacher Viewpoints
“Our legislation prohibits teachers from pushing their political viewpoints in the classroom,” said Testa. “They must be impartial and teach different perspectives when discussing controversial topics, and they should not delve into those topics if they’re not relevant to the subject matter of the course.”
For that purpose, the legislation proposed requires the State Board of Education to adopt rules and regulations prohibiting public school teachers from engaging in political, ideological, or religious advocacy in the classroom.
The state board would be require teachers to provide students with materials supporting both sides of a controversial issue being addressed to present both sides in a fair-minded and nonpartisan manner. Additionally, the board would adopt clear guidelines for enforcement and provide penalties for violations up to and including termination of employment.
“Public school teachers have an obligation to help students learn the fundamental skills and knowledge they’ll need to be successful throughout life,” added Pennacchio. “In many classrooms, however, we’ve heard of teachers engaging in political advocacy and pushing partisan ideologies when they should have been teaching math, science, history, and literacy.”
“Our legislation will prevent unnecessary and inappropriate distractions that steal from instruction time. Ensuring that classroom discussions remain focused on core topics will be good for students.”
The state legislation comes as Republican lawmakers nationally try to capitalize on their success in the November election, including holding an event in Washington to voice their opposition to mask mandates and lessons about racism in public schools. After the social justice protests during the summer of 2020 following the police killing of George Floyd, coupled with the New York Times publication of the “1619 Project,” schools have attempted to incorporate teaching about slavery and race in the classroom.
The ranking Republican on the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee, Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, said the GOP would continue to push for parental rights in the classroom across the U.S., as crucial midterm elections loom in 2022.
Julie Gunlock, a parent from northern Virginia and the director of the conservative Independent Women’s Network, told those gathered it was just the beginning of a mission that members plan to expand across the country to challenge the government’s role in public schools.
“Not all parents have the ability to make these changes and embrace these opportunities, which is why I’m fighting for public schools,” Gunlock said, despite none of her children attending public schools—two attend a Catholic school and another is homeschooled. “I’m here to send a message to the government that I am in charge of my kids, and it’s time that they took a seat and stayed in their lane.”