Juneteenth, Texas Gov. Gregg Abbot and HB 3979. Is it an Attempt to Whitewash History?

Robert Turner

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Governor Gregg AbbottAP

Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 3979 into effect on Tuesday last week. In a subsequent statement, he called the legislation a “strong move to abolish critical race theory in Texas.” The bill, which goes into effect on Sept. 1, deals with how educators teach current events, history, and race. 

Abbott said in a statement that “more must be done” and announced the issue will be part of a special session agenda.

The timing of the bill wasn't coincidental. It aligned with a federal push in Congress for Juneteenth to be a national holiday. President Joe Biden, joined by Opal Lee of Fort Worth, who for decades has advocated for the holiday to be recognized at the federal level, signed a bipartisan bill Thursday making Juneteenth official.

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President Joe Biden speaks with Opal LeeEVAN VUCCI AP

Juneteenth commemorates the announcement of General Order №3, which proclaimed the freedom of slaves in Texas. The announcement came on June 19, 1865, nearly two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Altheria Caldera, a policy fellow at the San Antonio-based Intercultural Development Research Association had this to say on the bipartisan bill.

“The excitement that many of us and the relief and the gratitude that many of us feel now that Juneteenth will become a federal holiday is really overshadowed by this bill (HB 3979),”

Rep. Steve Toth of The Woodlands is the author of House Bill 3979. He says there is nothing in the Bill that would compromise the teaching of history. In a statement, he said;

“Why wouldn’t you be able to talk about Juneteenth? Why wouldn’t you be able to talk about racism in America? Why wouldn’t you be able to talk about Jim Crow? The bill is really clear, there’s nothing in it that says you can’t teach history.”

Critics of the Bill disagree and Texas schools will now await guidance from state education officials on how they should teach students about Juneteenth.

Critical Race Theory involves looking at racism’s impact on society. Those who support the bill say it’s needed to make sure teachers don’t push a political ideology in classrooms, but critics fear students will be limited in their ability to think critically about history and current events, according to a House Research Organization bill analysis.

The bill says that teachers cannot be compelled to discuss “a particular current event or widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs.”

Teachers who discuss such topics with students must do their best to “strive to explore the topic from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective,” according to the legislation.

Texas Democrats recently drew attention to the signing of House Bill 3979 as Juneteenth became a federal holiday. They pointed out that the new law bans the teaching of The New York Times’ 1619 Project. Texas Democratic Party Vice Chair Carla Brailey questioned the bill, saying the following,

“How will Texas students learn about this important new federal holiday if their teachers are barred from discussing it? Having white history overrepresented in public education while simultaneously banning the discussion of the negative impacts of that history is itself an example of institutional racism. Texas history is as diverse as the people who live here. We deserve to not only be included in the teaching of that history, but to have unfettered access to and discussion about the true foundation of our country.”

The concerns center around the special session agenda and what changes or additional restrictions will be put in place during the session. Toth has not ruled out the amendments from the Texas House of Representatives being removed or altered in a special session. One item, he says is of concern and will be addressed during the session. 

“that agencies of the state of Texas do not use critical race theory as a condition of employment.”

It remains to be seen if the concerns raised by Democrats will be realized during the special session. Toth has said that people unwilling to take critical race theory courses or classes or orientation classes should not be fired for not doing so.

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A founder of Medika Life, We are driven to providing actionable and accurate health information for patients and professionals. We pride ourselves on highlighting patient needs and issues that directly impact access to care. I travel frequently and divide my time between Asia, England, and the US. Health fanatic, tech addict, and occasional surfer.

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