ATLANTA — Georgia’s education board on Thursday approved a resolution that says the U.S. and Georgia are not racist and students should not be taught that racism or slavery are anything but deviations from the country’s “authentic founding principles.”
The measure — approved by an 11-2 vote — was introduced amid a national reckoning with race that has prompted legislatures in Republican-controlled states across the country to try to define what race-related ideas can be taught in public schools and colleges. It also came on the heels of a letter that the Georgia governor — who appoints the board members — sent last month encouraging them to take such action.
The resolution is symbolic and does not impose restrictions on school districts or teachers, though it could lead to binding rules in the future.
“This resolution does not prohibit anybody from teaching anything,” board chair Scott Sweeney said during the meeting, which was held over the phone. “This is a belief statement more so than anything else or an affirmation.”
Additional provisions the board endorsed say teachers should not “inculcate” the idea that people’s race makes them inherently oppressive, either consciously or unconsciously, or responsible for past actions by other members of the same race. It also says instructors should not be forced to teach “currently controversial issues of public policy or social affairs.”
Board member Kenneth Mason, who is Black, said the resolution encouraged people to be silent about any racism they’ve experienced.
He said the statement “when I read it made me feel like I didn’t belong,” because it “excused” racism that he and his family have faced.
Helen Rice, another board member, said the goal was not to divide people by race, but encourage teachers to give students facts and not indoctrinate them.
“We’re not excluding anyone,” she said.
In his letter last month, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp urged the board “to take immediate steps to ensure that Critical Race Theory and its dangerous ideology do not take root in our state standards or curriculum.”
Critical race theory seeks to highlight how historical inequities and racism continue to shape public policy and social conditions today. Republicans say that it promotes a distorted view of American history and vilifies white Americans.
There is little evidence that the theory is currently being taught to any of Georgia’s 1.7 million public school students.
The resolution approved on Thursday also contains more anodyne statements condemning teaching that one race is superior to another or that race-based discrimination is OK. But much of the discussion focused on the first line, which states that the board believes “the United States of America is not a racist country, and that the state of Georgia is not a racist state.”
Sweeney said while there is racism in the country, he doesn’t agree the entire country is racist. The resolution is aimed at any type of divisive teaching, including white supremacy, he said.
Board member Tracey Pendley agreed that calling the entire state racist was wrong, but she said it was equally problematic to “categorically state that Georgia is not racist.” She urged board members to learn about systemic racial barriers in the country, including in housing and law enforcement.