Opinion

Lawmakers in Texas and North Carolina address CRT differently

President Pro Tempore, Phil Berger, general assembly
President Pro Tempore, Phil Berger, general assembly

Texans and North Carolinians highlight differences in worldview, but this time it has nothing to do with barbecue. The two states aim at addressing race-based education in K-12 schools. However, they do so in different ways.

In Texas and North Carolina, the legislatures are controlled by Republicans. Even so, Texas Republicans and North Carolina Republicans appear to have different philosophies regarding the role of government and the promotion of beliefs in public education.

Senate Bill 3 (Texas) removes several curriculum requirements, including the study of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the framing of the Ku Klux Klan as being “morally wrong.” The bill no longer mandates the teaching of this material in education, but it does not restrict it from being taught.

The Texas bill is clearly rooted in current events. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said parents “want their students to learn how to think critically, not be indoctrinated by the ridiculous leftist narrative that America and our Constitution are rooted in racism.” It should be noted, however, that a moral framework is not excluded from the curriculum entirely. Sections of the bill still advocate for teaching “an individual’s moral character” and “the fundamental moral, political, and intellectual foundations of the American experiment in self-government.”

In contrast, Senate Bill 729 (North Carolina) would lead to a constitutional amendment that prohibits discrimination against “any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”

While the North Carolina bill responds to current events regarding the explicitly and implicitly teaching of critical race theory in K-12 public schools, it is also a response to discriminatory practices within UNC System schools’ admissions process. The News and Observer reported “seven [UNC System schools] consider race or ethnicity during the admissions process…Those include North Carolina State University, UNC-Wilmington, and UNC-Chapel Hill.” North Carolina currently does not prohibit skin color as a consideration in university admissions.

While the predicate for both bills are similar, the responses are different. North Carolina’s bill would establish more explicit laws around beliefs in the classroom because it is a constitutional amendment. Still, the Texas’ bill takes a more implicit approach by making the teaching of ideas more open-ended. The desired outcome is the same, i.e., to deprioritize skin color in the classroom. But the difference in response highlights something about Texas Republican and North Carolina Republican’s attitudes about the role of government and promoting certain beliefs in public education.

If this is the case, Texas Republicans tend to be more libertarian in their attitude about the role of government in the classroom. In contrast, North Carolina Republicans tend to be more conservative. (Conservative here is specifically around the idea that governments have some role in forming moral attitudes.)

This kind of philosophical divergence shows up occasionally within the political right. The question is ‘What is the role of government in education?’ Some would argue it is merely to provide students with the knowledge needed to be productive and prosperous individuals. However, others argue there are certain values that need to be taught as it gives children a foundational framework to be good citizens (e.g., kindness, teamwork, discipline, etc.)

These two views about education (i.e., knowledge enhancement vs. character development) are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, they are complementary and desirable frameworks for the development of children. However, the question is whether the government should have a say in this conversation. And frankly, this is difficult to answer.

Indirectly, governments do have an interest in education as an educated society is a productive society—and it is production for which governments are concerned with. Insofar as society is productive, the exact nature, timing, and extent of what children are taught is of little consequence. In this sense, one could say government is interested in the utility of education but not education itself.

But education is a necessity for our species. Like the lion cub, the wolf pup, whale calf, and the baby orangutan, creatures that require extraordinary processes for survival need a period in their life in which they are educated on how to live. Thus, it seems only natural to think of education as a right. And if it is a right, and governments are charged with defending the rights of the people, then it follows education falls under its purview. Would this reasoning not provide a basis for saying the government has a direct interest in education? I do not think it does.

If it were the case, then governments would also have a “direct” interest in what you eat, how long you can sleep, how many children parents could have, and other things that are of natural interest to an individual. However, this would constitute an invasion of privacy and infringement of personal liberty. Therefore, I think it makes more sense to leave the argument presently at the notion that government has an indirect interest in education.

Where is the line between having a direct say and indirect interest in the affairs of education by the government? I cannot say at this time, unfortunately. But I do not think the Texas and North Carolina legislatures are crossing the proverbial line with Senate Bill 3 or Senate Bill 729. However, the interest in deregulating materials to be taught and asserting our moral convictions within the education process should be met with vigorous debate and rational discourse and not merely to address the political issue of the day.

In Texas, giving teachers more flexibility to teach our complex history is a good thing. In the case of North Carolina, asserting we are all equal and should not be discriminated against based on the terms of our birth is a good thing. But what we do not want to do as a society is to give bad actors with political power (and they will show up on occasion) the precedence to regulate and assert beliefs into law that are divisive and cause more harm than good to gain political points.

Joshua Peters is a philosopher and social critic from Raleigh, NC. His academic background is in western philosophy, STEM, and financial analysis. Joshua studied at North Carolina State University (BS) and UNC Charlotte (MS). He is a graduate of the E.A. Morris Fellowship for Emerging Leaders.