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Kentucky lawmakers struggle to find a way forward on the teaching of race in the classroom

Gerald Neal
LRC Public Information
FRANKFORT, February 24, -- Sen. Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, comments on Senate Bill 138, the Teaching American Principles Act, in the Senate.

The Kentucky legislature is again wading into the fraught waters surrounding critical race theory, an academia-term-turned-cultural-catchall. Both proponents and opponents argue their ultimate goal is greater unity, but the topic hasn't ceased to divide.

Dubbed the Teaching American Principles Act, Senate Bill 138 would create standards that require middle and high school history classes to use 24 American historical documents — ranging from Declaration of Independence to contributions by Martin Luther King, Jr. Those would serve as a baseline that teachers could expand upon.

But Democratic Rep. Attica Scott told KET's Kentucky Tonight Monday the lawmakers who crafted the bill may have reached across the aisle, but they failed to include true dissenting voices.

"You have to speak to the people who are not going to affirm your position, and push you to the place that will get us all to a better place in the Commonwealth of Kentucky," the Louisville lawmaker argued.

Yet backers of the bill say it's not about excluding particular points of view. Rather, they see the bill as necessary to guard against ideology seeping into classrooms.

Ian Rowe is with the non-partisan 1776 Unites campaign. He told KET the concerns driving both critical race theory, commonly abbreviated as CRT, and its detractors need not produce one-sided, cookie-cutter legislation.

"Let's get away from this idea that when we're teaching history we have to choose between a fully sanitized version or a cherry-picked negative version."
Ian Rowe, 1776 Unites and senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute

Still, the Kentucky bill goes beyond the syllabus. It also requires discussions of current, controversial topics remain "respectful of the differing opinions of students" and refrain violating students' first amendment rights — provisions sure provoke their own round of thorny debate as the bill proceeds to the House.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.