Not Who We Are: The Cracked Mirror Facing Texas Teachers and Students
By: Armando Orduña, Ed.D.
The Texas Legislature has passed HB3979—the so-called Critical Race Theory bill which puts limits on what educators are allowed to teach students and how. It’s a controversial bill that has nothing to do with ensuring a high-quality education and much more to do with attempts by certain legislators to support their own political agenda. Governor Abbott has now signed it into law. For any educator who has strived to provide their students with all available resources to support the development of their students’ critical thinking skills, for any parent who has struggled with answering their children’s questions as to what is playing out on news programs across the country, and to any young, independent thinker who is currently matriculating through the Texas, school system, this is your call to wrestle control of the narrative from the hands of censorship and restore it back into the plain light of truth.
In the Legislature’s haste to pass this bill many myths have been woven into the fabric of its reality. The first is that Texas social studies teachers have been following a statewide-adopted curriculum based on Critical Race Theory already. They have not. The Texas Education Agency has never adopted any curriculum based on Critical Race Theory.
Second, the politicians promoting this bill have claimed that the bill is intended to support teachers in teaching history accurately. But that is not what this bill does. Instead, it encourages teachers to ignore the role of institutional racism in this country and attempts to bar them from helping their students develop a thorough understanding and interest in civic engagement.
As a former classroom teacher, I expect that the entire segment of curriculum covering the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement (among other critical periods in American and Texas history) will be relegated to footnotes intentionally glossed over by anyone who wishes to ignore actual events that took place in our past. This law allows teachers to teach students that Martin Luther King, Jr. marched to change the world without discussing WHY he marched. This law also bans teachers from incorporating student engagement in political campaigns and legislative actions into their lessons. This clause alone attempts to dismantle one of the driving foundational precepts of a modern educational pedagogy, which is to relate content to students through real-world context. On top of all of this, the bill excuses faculty from attending equity-based professional development tacitly encouraging educators to instruct content in ways that meet their learning styles and not that of their diverse student body.
We stand at a telling moment in our own history. Future generations of Texans will look to this bill’s passage and judge us by our complicity or our silence.
Let’s be frank. This law will not stop students from having critical conversations with each other and the adults in their lives. It will merely drive those conversations underground, without the guidance of trained educators who can provide the necessary materials and skills to interpret those materials fully.
It is too late to stop this bill’s passing, but it’s not too late to mitigate its consequences. Our Latino community must join with other Texans of color, women, and anyone else who understands the importance of acknowledging our collective history, even (or especially) those pieces that are difficult to confront, to make sure that our elected officials know that we will not stand for this whitewashing of our history books.
And we must search for opportunities to raise awareness of this collective history in any way we can. Through our conversations, in our artmaking, and in our community gathering. If history can no longer be taught in history classes, then we must breathe life into it in our current lives; or we risk losing the connection to those who courageously fought yesterday for our brighter tomorrow.
Armando Orduña, Ed.D. is Latinos for Education’s Managing Director of Leadership Programs and Partnerships for Greater Houston. He has over 23 years of experience in education, with a particular expertise in the intersectionality of STEAM access for immigrant youth and families, and the role practical STEAM learning plays in foreign language acquisition. Before joining Latinos for Education, Orduña served as the Director of Outreach Programs for Children’s Museum Houston.