When Texas students campaigned for a more diverse history course, they got a lesson in politics

What is critical race theory?

Critical race theory is an academic discipline that began emerging in the 1970s. Theorists say that racism isn’t just an individual act or prejudice, but it’s inherent in our societal systems that perpetuate racial inequity broadly. Theorists reject the idea that race is a fixed category that has always meant the same thing. Instead, critical race theory traces the way that race has been differently constructed throughout history and upheld in our institutions. Racism must be addressed not just by punishing individuals, but by shifting structures and policies.

How do Texas’ new laws discuss critical race theory?

Lawmakers claim House Bill 3979, passed this spring, combats the theory. However, the phrase “critical race theory” never appears in the bill. Instead, the bill creates a network of restrictions on social studies teachers. It bans discussion of current events unless a teacher holds discussions from diverse perspectives, without prioritizing any one perspective. It also prohibits making political activism part of a class, and says teachers cannot teach that slavery is anything other than a “betrayal” of America’s founding values.

What do Texas teachers think about the theory?

Teachers and experts have put it plainly: Nobody in K-12 schools is teaching critical race theory. Experts have said that the phrase is being used as a catch-all for mentions of race and racism in the classroom, which are an essential part of teaching history truthfully. Texas teachers have also told the Tribune that they feel scared about possible litigation related to the law, especially its ban on making students feel guilt or distress about their race.

What are lawmakers doing on critical race theory during the special session?

Senate Bill 3 would remove most requirements to teach about people of color and women that are in the original law. It would also remove a requirement to teach that white supremacy is “morally wrong.” With the special session stalled as House Democrats remain out of state to block the passage of a GOP elections bill, the future of these measures is unclear.

I want to tell you more about this topic. Where can I do that?

If you are a Texas student or teacher, The Texas Tribune wants to hear your thoughts on learning and teaching about race. You can find the form here.

More critical race theory info

The political fight

The push for inclusion

Interim Executive Director of Asian Texans for Justice Lily Trieu in her home in Austin on Sept. 14, 2022. “The effort to get Asian American history in classrooms is also a response to the rise in anti-Asian hate and violence all across the country,” Trieu said.

Azul Sordo/The Texas Tribune


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