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Bill telling teachers how to talk about U.S. history clears Senate committee

Senator Max Wise speaks to reporters after a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Education.
Senator Max Wise speaks to reporters after a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Education.

A Kentucky senate committee has moved forward a bill that would require public school teachers to talk about U.S. history in a way that some students, teachers and historians say whitewashes American atrocities, such as slavery. 

State Senate Education Committee chair, Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, said the bill requires instruction in public schools be “consistent” with a number of “concepts” including that  “defining racial disparities solely on the legacy of [slavery and Jim Crow] is destructive to the unification of our nation.”

The measure is similar to legislation Republicans are pushing across the country meant to target discussions on systemic racism, which some conservatives refer to as “critical race theory.”

Wise said some parents are worried such lessons are indoctrinating their children.

“Parents and students want to be taught to, they don’t want to be preached to. And I believe this bill finds a common ground to do so,” Wise told the committee.

The measure the committee approved is a revised version of a bill Wise, who is white, introduced earlier this month. That proposal required teachers be “impartial” when teaching about the oppression of groups of people. Wise struck the word “impartial” from that section, noting he was told it was “confusing.” Many opponents of the legislation found the new version less objectionable than the original, though they still oppose the revised measure. 

“There are multiple sides to every story,” DuPont Manual High School junior Bri Woods told the committee. Woods is Black and Asian. “But an undeniable fact is that there's a correct side to most stories. I believe that if we always take an objective view towards history, we won't discover and uncover the deep wrongs our country must right,” she said.

Her classmate, Brennan Eberwine, who is white, called Wise’s legislation “one of the most destructive bills to education in Kentucky.”

“My education is not a political tool to be messed with for partisan gain,” he said.  “The history I want to be taught is the truth. The purpose of history should be to educate students about the past, and to learn from the mistakes of the past. Providing an insufficient history that washes away anything unsavory or attempts to explain it away as having no bearing on the present to make students comfortable is a substandard education."

Meanwhile, one student spoke in support of the legislation. 

15-year-old Timothy King, who is Black, said he switched to Christian Academy from his public school because he felt “public schools are creating a victimhood mentality among students.”

King came with Beanie Geoghegan, the leader of the Kentucky chapter of No Left Turn, which opposes anti-racist and LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum.

The measure passed, with one Republican, Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr of Lexington, joining all the Democrats on the committee in opposing the legislation. It heads now to the GOP-led Senate. Similar measures have been introduced in the House.

“A previous version of this story quoted Sen. Max Wise saying “talked” instead of “taught.” The error has been corrected.

News Youth Reporting
Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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