LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Protestors gathered at the Arkansas State Capitol Monday to speak out against two bills introduced in the House focused on education. The measures would prohibit certain public school courses that teach what some call “inaccurate history”, or issues that “divide” students based on race, gender, or social class.
Those against the bill worry it will lead to the erasure of some American history dealing with race in Arkansas. HB-1231 and HB-1218, the focus of the protest, were also both filed under the same three sponsors: Representative Lowery, and Senators Stubblefield and Johnson.
Colorful signs like what you would see in a classroom decorate the Capitol steps – the method of choice for protestors to share their message. Among them is Valary Ward Nellum, who saw the event posted on Facebook and knew she had to come. “I wanted to come down here to show support,” Ward Nellum said. She’s one of many upset over 1231 and 18, two education bills first presented last Friday. “I just want the history to be told,” she said.
HB-1231 would ban the teaching of the 1619 Project, a movement highlighting the history of slavery in America. While some see it as a positive addition to schools, sponsor Rep. Mark Lowrey believes much of it is false. “It really is historically inaccurate,” Lowrey said, who represents District 39. But the more controversial bill is its partner, 1218.
That piece of legislation would prohibit certain topics related to race, gender, and social class from being taught in Arkansas public schools and is the main focus behind Monday’s protest. “We think it is abhorrent that anybody is considering not teaching the truth to our young people,” said Dee Sanders, who made the trip from Conway.
Those on the Capitol steps believe it would pave the way for discrimination if passed and would limit students from forming like-minded groups.
Lowrey says the bills are misunderstood, and he’s since updated 1218 to be less vague. “I have gone, and I have amended HB-1218 to specifically reference that, that we are not limiting or banning the teaching of African American history, or student organizations,” he said.
Lowrey added that the study of African American history is vital to our state, and not something that can be cut from schools. “There’s just no way that the Little Rock School District could not teach about the Little Rock 9.”
Instead, he says the bill focuses on specific exercises that call out students based on background, activities he says even some teachers disagree with. “One of the examples of a harmful activity tied to that would be the privilege walk,” he explained, where students are asked to respond based on questions related to how much privilege one has over another.
But to Ward Nellum and the others at the Capitol, prohibiting what’s taught in schools can ignore some of the harder truths, and she says she’ll fight against both bills until the very end. “It’s uncomfortable and the truth hurts,” she said, “but until the truth is told, we can’t heal.”
Both bills will head to the House Education Committee something this week or next. You can find the original text of HB-1218 and HB-1231 below.