House Bill 1218: The potential erasure of history

Arkansas State Senator Mark Lowery sponsors a controversial House Bill limiting the teaching of certain history subjects in school.

Arkansas State Legislature

Arkansas State Senator Mark Lowery sponsors a controversial House Bill limiting the teaching of certain history subjects in school.

All opinions are the interview subject’s own and not a reflection of the constitutions they are associated with.

As of Jan. 25, House Bill 1218 is now in committee. The bill was filed under the sponsors Rep. Mark Lowery, Sen. Gary Stubblefield and Sen. Mark Johnson. The bill prohibits “offering certain courses, events, and activities regarding race, gender, political affiliation, social class, or certain classes of people.”

 

According to the bill of the draft released on Jan. 22, “public schools shall not include in their programs of instruction any courses, classes, events or activities that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government; promote division between, resentment of or social justice for a particular group; are designed primarily for students of a specific ethnic group, or advocate the solidarity of or isolation of students based on a particular characteristic.”

 

There are exceptions within the bill for teaching about topics such as the Holocaust, instances of genocide, and the historical oppression of a particular group of people based on ethnicity, race, or class. It also makes exceptions for Native American studies, which is a requirement by federal law.

 

If a school violates this bill, the state could withhold funding – a maximum of 10% of the state foundation funding’s monthly distribution.

 

As expected, many people, including educators and parents, are outraged. Many channeled their frustration into a protest. On Jan. 25, they gathered at the Arkansas State Capitol to object to House Bill 1231 and House Bill 1218.

 

Both bills were filed under the same three sponsors. While both bills focus on education, bill 1218 is the most controversial. HB-1231 would ban the teaching of the 1619 Project, a movement highlighting the history of slavery in America.

 

Victoria Ellison is an Assistant Professor of Communication at Henderson State. One class she teaches will be directly affected if this bill is passed – Gender Communications.

 

“I think the lawmakers have a misunderstanding of what this type of content looks like as it happens in actual classrooms,” Ellison said. “The subjects aren’t always comfortable. When teaching about race, gender, and social justice, you inevitably have to discuss the unfavorable side of our country’s history. This side of history has often been left out of education or briefly mentioned in the most excellent way possible so that we don’t have to feel uncomfortable. This allows many of the mistakes our ancestors made to continue to affect people today just in different or more subtle ways.”

 

Ellison believes discussing the United States and its past is a valuable and integral part of education, because,” Education, when brutally honest and accurate for all groups of people, is one of our strongest tools to help end discrimination, racism, sexism, misogyny, ethnocentrism, etcetera.”

 

She went on to say, “We haven’t been honest and accurate in our educational systems, though. And that means as educators try to make adjustments to improve this part of education, we all have to face difficult feelings of shame and guilt as we learn about some horrible events that are a part of our nation’s history. I think the lawmakers feel like students can’t or shouldn’t have to face those tough feelings. The truth is, those feelings are a necessary part of what we need to heal and move forward from those mistakes.”

 

Ellison added, “I also think the lawmakers don’t understand how much educators feel passionate about this, which means we aren’t just telling students about these things and leaving them to figure out how to deal with the tough emotions they evoke. Educators are walking with their students through these complex topics and feelings, and teaching students what we can do to avoid similar mistakes in the future.”

 

Stacey McAdoo has been an educator at Little Rock Central High School for over 17 years. In 2019, she was named Arkansas’ Teacher of the Year. McAdoo has been an outspoken opponent of this bill.

 

“I believe in our students and their ability to think critically and creatively about hard topics,” McAdoo said. “The classroom should be a place where they can explore, stretch and develop those skills.”

 

McAdoo believes lawmakers are trying to pass this bill because it’s the most comfortable option. “This country’s past, and present, is full of hateful people and policies,” McAdoo said. “It’s easier to try to whitewash and revise history or to ignore and pretend that privilege and oppression are not things of the present rather than to acknowledge the wrongs, repair the pain, and give up privilege.”

 

During the mid-’90s, while in her late teens, McAdoo was a part of the Sankofa Poets group.

“We named ourselves that because we believed in its meaning of not being able to go forward without knowing the past. There’s nothing more empowering than knowing who and whose you are, where you come, and the resistance and resilience of your people, ” McAdoo said.

 

Marissa Gaspard is an 8th grade U.S. History teacher at Oakdale Middle School in Rogers, Ark. Gaspard believes discussing the United States’ past is crucial to not only heal, but celebrate how far we have come.

 

“I am Black, a female, a Christian, straight, etcetera, but I’m also an American,” Gaspard said. “I do believe that we are the best country on earth, but we have a troubled past. We wouldn’t be where we are today had we not been built on the backs of slaves. Immigrants who arrived here penniless have worked hard and contributed to our country, and we couldn’t be here without them either.”

 

She went on to say that withholding this information from students would be doing them a disservice.

 

“All of that history needs to be told and acknowledged. Plus, kids deserve to know why we have issues like a gender pay gap, why BLM exists, why immigration is a big deal, etc. And, history can repeat itself when we fail to learn from it,” Gaspard said.

 

Gaspard wants all children to partake in activities centered around the very topics lawmakers are seeking to ban – politics surrounding gender and race.

 

“It’s completely ridiculous that students wouldn’t be able to learn about these topics in school where there is access to accurate information and a teacher to correct them if they are wrong or dispel misinformation,” Gaspard said. “Plus, my school is explicitly majority Hispanic and Latino, and my students deserve to have their heritage respectfully discussed and celebrated.

 

On Feb. 1, Rep. Lowery submitted a fiscal impact statement regarding house bill 1218 to the 93rd General Assembly of Arkansas.

 

Lowery notes that the revenue impact could not be determined because, “Each school district receives a different amount of funding and it is not able to be determined which districts would be compliant.”

 

Nothing was listed under affected funds. Under additional comments, lowery listed, “If implemented, this bill could result in a change in adequacy funding for penalized districts.”

 

Megan Hickerson is a History professor, specifically Medieval and Early Modern Europe, European Women’s History, and Master of Liberal Arts. Hickerson remembers when she took her first women’s history class in the ’80s.

 

Hickerson is afraid that women like herself could be going through life with the mindset that, ”because I’m a woman, I should already be conforming to this expectation and tolerating this barrier.”

 

In the women’s history class, she learned, “all of those expectations, potential barriers, and potential roles came from somewhere.”

 

Hickerson said that, “the power to accept or reject [those barriers] because she knew where they came from,” would be lost if the bill is passed.

 

Her thoughts can be applied to all types of history. Hickerson described how history is about poverty and class and not solely about what people refer to as “identity studies.”

 

Hickerson expressed concerns that, “our sociology program would be virtually wiped out,” if house bill 1218 was to pass.

 

“My entire life would be different had I not taken that women’s history class,” Hickerson said. “I can conform and reject; I can make my choices… I want my students to have the power to do so.”

 

Hickerson is concerned that the ability for people to understand systematic racism may be taken away.

 

”If I don’t understand how racism has worked over time, I won’t understand subtle racism that takes the form of that [which] isn’t explicit,” Hickerson said.

 

The disparity regarding race and wealth isn’t always common knowledge compared to topics such as slavery or segregation.

 

“Everyone doesn’t know that history tells us why it’s still an issue,” Hickerson said. “Our role as educators is to help develop our students into educated and productive citizens.”

 

Hickerson said learning factual history can impact people’s outlook on the events happening in their present life.

 

“Learning about discrimination means you’re more likely to know it when you see it, even when you’re not the one experiencing it,” Hickerson said.

 

She believes this bill is an extension of former President Trump’s ideology.

 

“[It’s] about jigging up reactionary emotional resentment about certain things such as BLM, etcetera,” Hickerson said. “ [The bill is an] extension of demagogue politics, using cynical reasons to introduce a bill to spark controversy.”

 

Though she has many concerns, Hickerson is thankful to be at Henderson, a place where the administration has been, “exceptional with academic freedom for the last 13 years.”

 

If you would like to voice your concerns regarding this bill, you can go to ActionNetwork.org. Here, you can use a form to email Rep. Lowery, the members of the House Education Committee, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and ask them to oppose these bills.