By Cole Lauterbach
(The Center Square) – The Arizona Legislature is looking to curb an effort by President Joe Biden’s administration to incorporate controversial lessons on the history of race in the U.S.
Biden proposed in April to give preference in federal grants to schools that use the 1619 Project in their curriculum. The 1619 Project offers a revisioned look at how slavery shaped the U.S. in its formative years.
In reaction, Republicans in the Arizona House approved an amended Senate Bill 1532 on Wednesday. Should Gov. Ducey sign it into law, the proposal would ban teachers from introducing controversial topics in class or failing to give an alternate perspective to a topic when one exists.
The bill’s language is similar to measures in other states seeking to keep critical race theory and the 1619 Project out of classrooms.
The legislation doesn’t specifically mention critical race theory, but the topic would apply as the bill bans the concept that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race, ethnicity or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed by other members of the same race, ethnic group or sex.”
Judgment on an infraction would be meted out by a county or state’s attorney should someone bring the matter to their attention. Teachers found to have knowingly injected such topics into their classes could face a $5,000 fine.
Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, said the bill would ensure students aren’t told that their race or ethnicity defines them at an age when they’re especially impressionable.
“This amendment does not prevent schools from teaching about racism,” she said. “It simply prevents teaching our students that race determines their character, bias, treatment or worth.”
Democrats spent hours protesting the amendment, saying it amounts to stifling ideas in a setting where critical thinking skills are formed.
“It is not a controversial topic to say slavery was the cause of the Civil War, not state’s rights and yet, those issues are going to have to be addressed,” Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Laveen, said. “It is certainly not controversial to say that President Joe Biden won a safe and secure election, but now we’re going to have to ‘both sides’ this. This is an interference in free speech. Critical thinking is a skill.”
Udall, the chair of the House Education Committee and a teacher, dismissed arguments that teachers would have to present positive sides to documented human rights atrocities such as the Holocaust and Nazism.
“No forms of racism should enter our classrooms,” she said. “Biased teaching needs to be stopped.”
The measure passed along party lines and now awaits consideration in the Senate.