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Bills to ban gender or race stereotyping in Michigan schools moves forward

Legislation to curtail race or gender stereotyping in Michigan classrooms continues to move through the state legislature.

House Bill 5097, co-sponsored by State Rep. Ann Bollin (R-Brighton) would alter the state board of education’s curriculum standards to prohibit statements, beliefs or ideas that individuals “hold a collective quality or belief” or “bear collective guilt for historical wrongs” on the basis of their race or gender.

The bill, which was introduced in June of 2021, was the subject of a hearing Tuesday by the Senate Committee on Education and Career Readiness in which the only two Democratic committee members, Sens. Dayna Polehanki, (D-Livonia), and Erika Geiss, (D-Taylor), walked out of the meeting in protest.

Geiss, the only person of color on the committee, said the legislation “was not serious,” and did not address things teachers actually want or need.

She also compared it to Senate Bill 460, sponsored by Sen. Education Committee Chair Lana Theis, (R-Brighton).

That bill seeks to ban Michigan public school districts from teaching Critical Race Theory, material from the 1619 Project or other “anti-American and racist theories.”

Also referred to as CRT, critical race theory is an academic viewpoint that racism has been at the core of American history, shaping its laws and institutions, starting with hundreds of years of human bondage followed by more than a hundred years of Jim Crow segregation. It has been around for decades but has gained prominence in the era of Black Lives Matter protests. However, conservatives have pushed back against that narrative as being anti-white and similar GOP-backed bills have been introduced nationwide.

In January, the State Board of Education passed a resolution saying that “teachers have the right and responsibility to teach the multifaceted and complex history including the history of race, racism and other biases, which are inextricably connected to the constitutional and statutory history in our country.”

Theis previously said the bills “seek nothing more than the true teaching of our country’s history in our schools, warts and all. It does not allow outright lies, and history taken out of context to brainwash our children against America.”

State School Superintendent Michael Rice, who said he believed Michigan children should be taught what he called “the full breadth of U.S. history,” adding that it is not an effort to “stigmatize, not to oppress, not to make some children feel better than others or worse than others” but instead so kids can fully appreciate what he referred to as a “powerful…complex history.” In order to do that, Rice says students have to learn all of it.

If eventually passed, the bill is unlikely to be signed into law by Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

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