COLUMBIA, Mo. — Civil rights leaders on Monday warned Missouri lawmakers that attempts to ban critical race theory in schools could scare educators away from teaching about the Holocaust.
Rabbis, teachers and others testified during an informational Joint Committee on Education hearing about critical race theory, a framework for examining the effects race and racism have on institutions.
Dee Dee Simon, a member of the state's Holocaust Education and Awareness Commission, said the board is worried that limits on how educators teach about race “would obstruct and or hinder Holocaust education in the classroom.”
“Would it make it illegal to tell students the truth, based on facts, that the Nazis were systematically unfair to the Jewish people?' she asked. ”Would it make it illegal to say that the Nazis legislated the persecution of the Jews and that these were race laws?"
Of 425 Missouri school districts, three said they used critical race theory or The New York Times' 1619 Project in curricula, according to a July survey by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Missouri's GOP-Legislature is not in session, and no bills to ban critical race theory are pending. But Republican lawmakers filed longshot proposals this year in a show of opposition to the theory.
The earliest Missouri lawmakers could take action on critical race theory is in January, when they return for their annual legislative session.
Republican Rep. Ed Lewis said lawmakers don't want to write a law that would limit teachings about the Holocaust.
But Lewis, a former high school teacher from Moberly, gave an example of his concerns about how critical race theory hypothetically might be applied in the teaching of an elementary school girl of German heritage.
“You wouldn’t want me to say, ‘Well, you’re inherently a racist or an anti-Semite because you’re a German,’” Lewis said. “That is kind of the implication of what critical race theory would do if we were to apply that to the Holocaust and its history.”
Republican opposition to critical race theory generally centers on concerns that white students are being taught to feel ashamed or guilty in the context of learning about the history of racism and slavery in the U.S.
Republican Sen. Andrew Koenig, of Manchester, said he's spoken to Missouri teachers who received training that included what he called “white shaming.”
Several of the witnesses testifying in favor of diversity education in schools also said shame should not be taught.
Former St. Louis-area teacher and school administrator Ruth Banks said she would have disciplined teachers for making students feel shame or guilt. But Banks and others argued that putting limits on what verbiage or books teachers use goes too far.
“We are about causing students to think using factual information," Banks said. “Teachers shouldn’t be censored with what materials they should use to teach diversity and inclusion.”