Georgia Aims to Criminalize Teaching American History

On March 8th, 2021, Senator Carden Summers of the 13th District introduced Senate Bill 613, also known as the “Common Humanity in Private Education Act.”[1] The bill claims that an increasing number of private and nonpublic schools in Georgia have “embraced curricula and programs based in critical race theory,” which has caused these schools to “segregate students, staff and parents; to compel students to adopt language and attitudes that promote racial discrimination and division; and to promote the concept that there is a hierarchy of oppressor and oppressed.” To remedy this “issue”, the bill states that no private or nonpublic schools can utilize funding on programs, curriculum or activities that promote topics related to critical race theory or the idea that slavery represents the “true founding” of the United States.

Additionally, Senate Bill 613 states that “some teachers and other personnel in private and nonpublic schools have inappropriately discussed gender identity with children who have not yet reached the age of discretion.” In response to this, the bill proposes a prohibition on the discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in private school classrooms. Any Georgia private and/or nonpublic school that receives funding via the Georgia GOAL Scholarship program would be subject to this bill.

The introduction of this bill comes as no coincidence. Georgia’s legislature is far from being the first to introduce these types of policies. In 2022 alone, over 70 bills aimed to restrict teachers from discussing “divisive subjects” like Critical Race Theory and LGBTQ studies were introduced across numerous legislative bodies in the United States.[2] Georgia’s Common Humanity in Private Education Act draws comparisons to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, which has drawn national outrage for its discriminatory provisions.

SB 613 received heavy backlash and garnered social media attention, especially from LGBTQ+ advocacy groups like Georgia Equality. Jeff Graham, the executive director of Georgia Equality, stated, “it’s a concerted effort to roll back the clock and try to eliminate LGBTQ folks from public life.”[3]

Although Senate Bill 613 did not survive this session’s crossover day, the reality that lawmakers promote legislation of this nature in our diverse, growing state is more than unsettling. Republicans frequently veil blatantly homophobic, transphobic, racist and xenophobic policies under the guise of school choice, parental rights, and student safety. However, topics regarding “critical race theory” and gender identity desperately need to be discussed in schools to foster change and equality in our school systems and communities. The Southern Poverty Law Center released a report titled Teaching Tolerance, in which 1,000 American high school seniors and 1,800 American teachers were surveyed.[4] Fewer than 8% of students identified slavery as the cause of the Civil War and only 32% could name the 13th Amendment as the formal end to U.S. slavery.[5]  Despite what Republicans characterize CRT as it actually serves as a tool that educators can utilize to accurately and authentically portray how race and systemic racism has operated in the past and how it continues to implicitly and explicitly impact society and its institutions to our nation’s youth. [6]

Just a few weeks ago, the Athens-Clarke County community was shocked by the Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary School’s discriminatory response to an LGBTQ+ student’s artwork featuring a pride flag.[7] However, this was not an uncommon occurrence in our state. According to GLSEN’s 2019 State Snapshot, only 20% of LGBTQ students in the state of Georgia reported that their school was somewhat or very supportive of LGBTQ students.[8] Additionally, only 10% of students were taught positive representations of LGBTQ people, history, or events. The overall lack of education surrounding these crucial topics in our schools is disappointing. The state fails its youth when it does not provide them with a comprehensive, honest K-12 education, and denying them discourse on certain topics certainly represents that failure. Legislation like Senate Bill 613 exacerbates this issue and uses divisive terminology to keep vital facets of history such as Critical Race Theory and LGBTQ+ studies out of the classroom.

Georgia needs to provide professional development training for school staff on LGBTQ and BIPOC student issues. Additionally, the state needs to implement policies that increase access to accurate history concerning themes of race and LGBTQ-inclusive curricular resources. Despite the bill’s failure to proceed, the effects of its proposal will be seen this upcoming election season as many key Georgia races are coming up this November. Summers himself stated that he introduced the bill as a “conversation starter” and among its 10 co-sponsors are two candidates: Bruce Thompson, who is running for labor commissioner, and Burt Jones, who is running for lieutenant governor. Jones stated, “No teacher should be promoting gender identity discussions with small children in a classroom setting — which is exactly what this bill says and why I support it.” The introduction of this bill not only shows that certain students in Georgia face the risk of losing the ability to have a comprehensive, accurate and inclusive education but also emphasizes our state’s need to elect candidates who will advocate for the protection of Georgia’s youth and the right to comprehensive education this upcoming November.