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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina House members discussing critical race theory in public schools and what should — or shouldn’t — come up in class promised Wednesday to take their time crafting new rules for teachers.
The chairwoman of the House Education and Public Works Committee said she wasn’t out for a “witch hunt for parents, teachers or students” but instead wanted to make sure children in South Carolina schools get the best education they can.
Chairwoman Rita Allison led a two-hour discussion on five bills that she hopes the committee can distill into one proposal after several public hearings.
Some bills define critical race theory. Some don’t. One bill bans schools from flying any flags other than government banners or those honoring law enforcement or military branches. Some of the bills ban teaching that race or sex is either inherently superior or inherently oppressive.
Several specifically ban using The 1619 Project, a collection of essays that places slavery as one of the most important developments in the early years of America and the treatment of Black people as the push and pull of meeting the promise made at the nation’s founding that “all men are created equal.”
Avoiding the negative role slavery has played in shaping the nation is particularly difficult in South Carolina. Almost half the slaves that came to America first set foot on the continent’s soil in Charleston. An African American history museum that organizers hope will have a national reach in telling the stories of slaves is being built on the site where they disembarked.
The Civil War started in Charleston Harbor, and a portion of the pro-slavery Articles of Secession declared by South Carolina when it was leaving the United States in 1860 is etched on a marble slab at the Statehouse.
“The connection is undeniable to me,” said Democratic Rep. Michael Rivers, a minister from St. Helena Island, a center for African American culture since the Civil War.
Allison repeated several times during the meeting that she wants to keep teaching “the good, the bad and the ugly” in history. A few of her fellow Republicans backed her up.
“We just want out teachers to not be stuck in the middle of political issues,” said Republican Rep. Adam Morgan, an attorney from Taylors.
Other Republicans like Rep. Melissa Oremus said that if they wanted teachers to share personal opinions, they would invite them to dinner.
“I will never apologize for the sins of my ancestors in the past. I can’t attest to what they did and what was the sole purpose of their lives. So for us to go into a classroom and tell our children that this happened because of your terrible white grandfather or great-grandfather, that is just wrong,” the businesswoman from Aiken said.
At the end of the back and forth, Republican Rep. Case Brittain said he thinks Democrats and Republicans agree on at least one thing.
“Our North Star in all of these discussions are our kids,” the lawyer from Myrtle Beach said.
But Democratic Rep. Terry Alexander said each kid comes to school with a different experience based on their upbringing, and unless the whole committee can agree on what critical race theory is and what it isn’t, the discussions won’t be productive.
“It’s almost like putting toothpaste back in the tube. And we put all sorts of other things back in it, thinking it’s toothpaste,” the minister from Florence said.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.
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