SLU Professors Oppose Anti-Critical Race Theory Bill

Charles Parker, Ph.D., had been vaguely aware of bills circulating in the Missouri legislature that aim to increase parental involvement in curriculum setting in public schools. 

      But in early February, his colleague Stephen Casmier, Ph.D, posed a question to him: “Why are people in the history department not showing a stronger interest in this?” 

      That was when Parker was moved to take a stand. He drafted a letter and sent it  his friend, a former public school teacher and a current adjunct professor at the University of Missouri – St. Louis for edits. 

    He then emailed it to his fellow history department colleagues asking them to sign on. The letter was forwarded to professors from different disciplines including theology, science and philosophy and ended up with nearly 70 signatories. 

    The letter, which was sent to the Missouri Legislature, reads, “We are writing to express our opposition to the bills currently moving through the Missouri House of Representatives (for example, HB 1474, HB 1995), which seek to limit the teaching of history around issues of racial (also gender, class, and sexual) oppression.” 

    House Bill 1474 would allow parents “to know what their minor child is being taught in school” and “to make copies of curriculum documents.” This bill would also prohibit school districts from “Teach[ing], use[ing], or provid[ing] for use by any pupil any curriculum implementing critical race theory,” namely information from the 1619 Project, We Stories or Teaching Tolerance. 

     HB 1995, known as The Parents’ Bill of Rights for Student Well-Being, also outlines other oversight powers for parents and requires schools to develop procedures to disclose teaching material and allow for parental objections. 

    School districts may be fined or legally challenged for violations. Parker explains that the bills are problematic on multiple levels.

   The lack of academic freedom and fear of retaliation would make recruiting teachers significantly more difficult. The bill’s numerous provisions would also create practical implementation issues for districts. 

   Most importantly, as noted in the letter, the restrictions would make “reflective practices” in classrooms impossible.

      “It is problematic to say that just because something in our nation’s history is not positive or glorious it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t examine it. In fact, I think that looking at the horrid things—racial oppression, gender oppression, oppression of religious minorities— is something that can make our society stronger as we educate our children and ourselves,” Parker said. 

    Women’s and Gender Studies professor Amanda Izzo, Ph.D., says that she signed on because “[these bills] incite—and are the product of-—a dangerous ignorance of the lessons that should be imparted by this country’s history of violence and exclusion.” 

      She adds that such rhetoric “make[s] a caricature of the work being done in my fields [as they] suppress the skills that teachers across the disciplines ought to be instilling in their students: critical appraisal of knowledge claims, evaluation of cause-and-effect relationships, the creation of civil communities that can address difference,”

      Cathleen Fleck, Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Fine & Performing Arts, also signed, citing the importance of learning from varying narratives within both a higher education setting and discipline like art, as well as public school classrooms. 

     “I teach about medieval art and Islamic art, and even within my own discipline, there have been great changes where people are saying we need to hear more voices in scholarship. I feel very strongly about it in my own teaching and research,” Fleck said, 

     Outside of her professional role, Fleck has taken a deep interest in advocating against such bills. As a parent of two young adults in a St. Louis county public school, she has been involved in various anti-racist initiatives. 

      When she found out that the two bills were on the docket in January, she and others from her coalition met to strategize. On Jan. 11, approximately 50 people including Fleck attended the Missouri House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee’s first hearing on the bills where they testified in opposition.

      “We definitely made an impact in showing that there were a lot of people from various backgrounds who were against this for very legitimate reasons,” Fleck said.

   The bills have since been combined but remain in committee with no new activity or nearby vote in sight. Regardless, similar efforts are being pushed, or have already been made law, across many other states. As this continues to unfload, Fleck hopes more students will get involved.