This week, Texas lawmakers sent a bill to Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s desk that limits how teachers talk about current events and racism in the classroom.
Many fear the bill pulls teachers into the culture wars and could stifle honest dialogue, but according to Lubbock Cooper High School government teacher David Ring, in practice, it might not actually change much.
As the recently approved legislation, House Bill 3979, is written, teachers don’t have to talk about certain divisive topics, if they don’t want to. However, when they do, they have to present different perspectives without favoring any one side. For all the attention it’s drawn, Ring said, “It’s kind of a solution looking for a problem.”
As a representative for the Texas State Teachers Association, combined with his 15-years as an educator, Ring knows scores of government and social studies teachers locally and across the state.
“I think that a lot of us take seriously the need to be objective and present both sides,” he said.
While Ring says he understands what the legislature is trying to do, he said, “Most social studies teachers already take this approach.”
He compared it to other subjects in school, like math, “There’s not really conservative math or liberal math, and so with social studies, most of the teachers I know present a balanced view point especially on current events.”
Before the bill passed it sparked heated debates between Texas Democrats and Republicans. Democratic State Senator Jose Menendez was the first to question Republican Bryan Hughes last month on the senate floor.
“Do you not believe that’s going to have a chilling effect on teacher discussions?,” Menendez asked.
“Senator I don’t believe it will,” Hughes said. He continued, “Unfortunately we know that in Texas public schools, these issues are coming up. I can show you some tangible examples if you’d like… like this book here.”
Hughes held up a children’s book titled, Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness. The book, Hughes said, was being taught in a Highland Park Independent School District’s classroom.
“Parents are complaining about this. They’re concerned about this and that’s why we’re here,” Hughes said.
Senator Borris Miles, a democrat from Houston, posed a question, “Do you know the purpose of the book and why she wrote it?”
Miles followed with an explanation from the author. “A white woman was writing a book to teach white children how to break down and rid ourselves of white supremacy.”
There are a lot of people who think that’s a good thing for students to learn. Supporters of the legislation argue, though, material like that book teach white children to feel guilty about the past.
Texas Democrats had tried to temper the bill by adding curriculum material written from diverse sources — like Black and female authors. After heavy debate during the eleventh hour, the bill passed. It’s now up to Gov. Abbott to sign it into law.
Back in Lubbock, David Ring sits in his empty classroom. Another school year is in the books. Looking ahead to the fall, he considers the bill that just passed.
“Obviously, there are certain things that have gone on in United States that are just objectively not good,” he said. “But we need to see it in light of how that should affect our behavior today, or what conclusions we come to.”
Teaching that nuance and context is something Ring says he knows his colleagues do, and will continue to do well.
“It’s not going to change a single thing I do,” Ring said.
Every year, as the school year comes to a close, Ring surveys his students.
“I asked kids what they think I am politically,” he said.
Most take a stab at guessing his political affiliation, but they typically agree, “You teach both sides.”
Ultimately, his main goal is to make sure his students, above all, are critical thinkers.