May 17, 2021
Good morning Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. My name is Maggie Stern and I am the Youth Civic Education & Engagement Coordinator with the Children’s Defense Fund of Texas. We are a nonpartisan youth advocacy organization with the mission to uplift the voices of children and youth around Texas. This bill threatens to silence young Texans and censor their hardworking teachers, and we stand with over 70 educator groups, student coalitions, chambers of commerce, and other organizations in opposition to HB 3979.
Anyone who has ever been around a young person knows that they learn as much from what we do as what we say. So while HB 3979 says phrases like “civic engagement” and “foundations of the American experiment in self-government”, let’s talk about what this bill actually does and what this body will demonstrate to young Texans if you advance this bill.
We say we expect students to “identify the freedoms and rights protected and secured by each amendment in the Bill of Rights” and “analyze the importance of the First Amendment rights of petition, assembly, speech, and press” by the time they graduate high school (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Social Studies Subchapter C Sections §113.44 (12) and (15)(B)). But HB 3979 impinges upon the free speech of teachers with overly broad and vague prohibitions against the language that teachers can use in the classroom.
We say we expect students to understand “the structure, functions, and powers of government at the national, state, and local levels” (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Social Studies Subchapter C Sections §113.44 (1)). Yet HB 3979 overreaches state authority, allowing the legislature to usurp authority from the State Board of Education, which has jurisdiction over writing the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. Education experts have identified over 190 TEKS that would be affected by HB 3979. Notably, many of these provisions are those which require teachers to discuss current events in the classroom and to teach about historical events such as the civil rights movement, in which it is impossible not to discuss race and discrimination. All Texas students deserve an education that fully and accurately reflects the contributions as well as the barriers faced by people of color, particularly in a state where 69% of our children are children of color.
We say we want students to “achieve their potential and fully participate now and in the future in the social, economic, and educational opportunities of our state and nation” and to be “thoughtful, active citizens” (Texas Education Code Title 2 Subtitle A Chapter 4 Section 4.001(b)). Yet HB 3979 takes away opportunities to practice those very skills that not only help students meet those objectives but also help them be more competitive on college and job applications. Imagine telling a math teacher that students shouldn’t be allowed to practice the Pythagorean theorem or a science teacher that students shouldn’t participate in a science fair or an English teacher that students shouldn’t be encouraged to write to an author of a book they read in class. Yet HB 3979 would tell social studies teachers that they cannot promote learning opportunities like writing letters to their lawmakers or volunteering with organizations of their choice. This is the opposite of what teachers are asking for and what students need in order to meet the stated objectives of our public education system.
What are we demonstrating to Texas students if we pass this anti-civics bill? We are demonstrating a disconnect between our values and our actions, a fear of engaging in difficult conversations, and a stifling of the voices and futures of every Texas child. Young Texans demand more. Please join us in standing up for Texas youth and teachers and oppose HB 3979.