A seemingly routine update of Louisiana's social studies standards has been delayed for two months amid criticism from former House Education Committee Chairman Ray Garofalo and others that the proposed benchmarks would paint an overly negative picture of America on race and other issues.
The delay follows a sometimes boisterous, five-hour Saturday hearing last month that included charges the standards would advance a bleak view of the nation's past.
"There is no reason to make students feel guilty," Garofalo said. "That is exactly what we are hearing today."
"We should teach the good things about this country," he added amid heavy applause.
Others said the proposed standards would inject critical race theory – the view that racism played a role in the nation's history that in some cases continues today – into public school classrooms.
"People are going to say this is critical race and you will have to deal with it," said Steven Wilson, one of the more two dozen citizens and officials who testified.
The comments surfaced during a June 26 hearing by a 27-member steering committee that is overseeing the update of social studies standards.
The controversy sparked by former House Education Committee Chairman Ray Garofalo keeps bubbling around the Legislature.
Critics did not cite specific passages in the proposed revisions.
Work groups for elementary, middle and high school students are going through multiple drafts of the revisions, which means proposals are constantly changing.
The committee will make recommendations to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which has the final say on the standards.
Officials said the recommendation will also be posted online to get more public feedback before any final action.
State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said, because of the heavy feedback sparked by the review, he is pushing back the next hearing from July 31 to Sept. 25.
"It is sensitive," Brumley said. "This is politically combustible."
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Rep. Kathy Edmonston, R-Gonzales, a former BESE member who has concerns about the revisions, said the issue reminds her of the years-long controversy in Louisiana and elsewhere over Common Core – the push to add rigor to reading, writing and math in public schools.
Louisiana's public school course standards are supposed to be updated every seven years.
The benchmarks for social studies were scheduled to be revised by 2017. Brumley said the current process began in December, and well before critical race theory became a hot topic.
Advocates contend the nation's racial history has been underplayed in textbooks, and that students deserve a hard look at racial sins that continue today.
The centrality of racism and a commitment to social justice are among the key tenets of critical race theory, according to Tina M. Harris, professor of the Endowed Chair of Race, Media and Cultural Studies Program at LSU. Harris said the studies are not meant to make people feel guilty, and she said she has been surprised by the pushback the theory is getting.
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Critics says critical race theory unfairly brands White students as part of an oppressive majority and Black students as victims of that oppression.
"I don't believe critical race theory should be taught in K-12 education," Brumley said. "We have to teach the truth about our history, but we also live in the greatest country on the planet."
"This is America. And we should teach kids that if you respect your elders, if you work hard you can make your way in the world," he said.
Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, who has encouraged GOP activists to get involved on the issue, was at last month's hearing and said citizens are taking notice. "There is a groundswell of people that say we don't want those children to get this victim mentality," Hodges said.
Carol Rooney, who described herself as a mother, grandmother and taxpayer, told the steering committee she has problems with its work.
"I am here to object to any form of critical race theory in Louisiana elementary and secondary schools," Rooney said. "The goal of critical race theory is to create divisions based purely upon school color."
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Rep. Chuck Owen, R-Rosepine, told the group that children should be taught about slavery but also that the United States "corrected great wrongs.'
"We have made many mistakes in this country, but we tried to fix them," Owen said. "We are a moral country."
Garofalo became embroiled in controversy after he offered a bill that he said would prevent college professors from teaching "divisive concepts," including the view that Louisiana and the United States have historically been racist. He said classrooms should be free to discuss controversial topics, including "the good, the bad, the ugly" of slavery.
Garofalo quickly corrected himself that there was any "good" in slavery but was later removed as chairman of the House Education Committee because of the fallout. He told the steering committee last month he had been "vilified" on social media over the episode.
Woody Jenkins, a member of the steering committee, said he is bothered that schools could use an "inquiry based approach" to teaching social studies.
"You have to give kids a fundamental basis to understand some facts and then they have enough information to ask questions," Jenkins said.