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Education advocates rally ahead of potential House action on critical race theory

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Educators and activists on Wednesday said a bill to prohibit teaching critical race theory could erase decades of gains for students of color.

The comments came during a news conference at the Indiana Statehouse ahead of potential House action on the bill. The measure would prohibit educators from teaching certain concepts commonly associated with critical race theory, such as members of one group being inherently responsible for the status of another group. It also would require teachers to post all instructional material online and direct every school corporation to put together a curriculum advisory committee including parents and teachers.

Dr. Gwendolyn Kelley, an education consultant and former educator with Indianapolis Public Schools and Anderson University, said in her work, she often encounters students of color who tell her they often feel isolated because so little course material deals specifically with the experiences of people like them. She said the limits set forth in the bill not only would limit teachers’ ability to incorporate the experiences of previously marginalized communities but also restrict their handling of racial, ethnic or political tensions that arise between students.

The House could take up the bill for debate as early as Thursday morning. Bill sponsor Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, has said the bill is meant to ensure teachers stick to facts and don’t inject their own views into school curricula. A former high school history teacher and principal, Cook has said he never shied away from teaching about the role of racism in U.S. history and always presented his students with the facts necessary to draw their own conclusions.

“That’s where all of this whole bill is going, in saying involve your community, involve your parents so that they have an understanding and they have some vetting of the materials,” he said at a recent hearing.

Neither Cook nor the bill’s co-authors could be made available for this story prior to deadline.

During testimony on the bill over the past few weeks, several parents have said teachers appeared to gear their lessons in a way meant to make white students feel they were directly responsible for injustices perpetrated against minorities. Indiana University education professor Russ Skiba, speaking at Wednesday’s event, said he had no doubt there were instances where teachers didn’t do a good job of approaching social justice issues. He said the solution to those situations is to work to improve the way teachers are trained to approach social justice issues, not to set legislative limits.

“We must have effective training and speech about cultural responsivenenss,” he said. “Let’s all sit down together and figure out the best way to do that. That will take time, mutual effort and listening to each other. You can’t do that in a bill hastily put together that will essentially destroy our opportunities to do that.”