Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee Signs Bill to Ban Teaching of Critical Race Theory

Rear view of college students raising hands to answer teacher's question during a lecture.
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Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed a bill into law on Monday which bans critical race theory from being taught in schools across the state.

The legislation, which will take effect on July 1, prevents educators from teaching that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously.”

In signing the bill, Lee insisted that students should learn about “the exceptionalism of our nation” instead of things that “inherently divide” people.

This year, Tennessee lawmakers passed HB 0580/SB 0623, which would withhold funding from schools when students are taught about topics like systemic racism and white privilege, as reported by Nashville’s Fox 17.

“The Governor signed the bill and believes Tennessee students should be taught history and civics with facts, not divisive political commentary,” a spokesperson for the governor said.

Lee’s signing of the legislation has been met with backlash by several groups in the state including the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, which released a statement on the matter:

We are very troubled by Governor Lee’s censorship of discussions of race in the classroom. With the stroke of a pen, the governor has silenced constructive dialogue that would educate individuals on the discrimination and systemic barriers that people of color still face in this country – including long-term inequalities in educational outcomes, incarceration rates, economic advancement and health outcomes – as well as ways we can move forward together. The governor appears to have amnesia about his own words: “history without understanding is quickly forgotten.” While the governor may seek to whitewash history by signing this bill, we will not only remember the painful legacy our state is built on, but his lack of leadership today.

Tennessee joins several other states — including Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, North Carolina, and Arkansas — in combatting the teaching of critical race theory in schools by proposing or passing some type of legislation.

In neighboring state Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) insisted this month that critical race theory is “divisive and anti-American curriculum,” saying it has “no place in Georgia classrooms.”

“Furthermore, it is ridiculous that the Biden administration is considering using taxpayer funds to push a blatantly partisan agenda in Georgia classrooms,” Kemp said in a letter to the state board of education. “Parents, educators, and local communities here in the Peach State know how best to educate their students – not the federal government.”

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