GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) – Age-appropriate fact-based education, that’s what the sponsors of South Carolina H. 3728 or The Transparency and Integrity in Education Act says it does. While the bill does not prevent teaching controversial topics, certain things are prohibited. And opponents add the language is too ambiguous and leaves too much for interpretation.
You can call Joey Withinarts a historical artist with intention. And since age nine he’s created many works.
“It’s sad that I have to do this,” Withinarts said. “(Blacks) shouldn’t have to repeat this over, and over again.”
Portraits and mixed media creations in shades of brown, recognizing those taken too soon.
“It’s a lesson, it’s a learning lesson,” he said. “We definitely got a long way to go.”
Right now, it’s Tyre Nichols. And he’s painting just feet away from the jail cell of another Black man he’s done a portrait of, Willie Earle was seized from the Pickens Jail and lynched in February 1947 by a White mob that was ultimately acquitted.
“It’s important for us to remember the facts as they happen,” said Tabitha Johnson, Pickens Co. Museum of Art and History director. “Otherwise, that narrative can change and generations down the road can have an entirely different perspective of history because it went off the rails somewhere along the line. I think it’s important for us to remember what really happened.”
Two people invested in history and fact-based education.
“Instruction should be non-biased and include the broad scope of history, both the inspirational history and the shameful history of our great country,” said Rep. R. Raye Felder, SC Education Oversight Committee, during a Jan. 24 hearing.
Rep. Felder is one of eight sponsors of the Transparency and Integrity in Education Act, which is currently still in committee, it prohibits certain concepts from being taught in school to include teaching that “one race, ethnicity, color, or national origin is inherently superior” or that “an individual is inherently privileged or oppressive” and outlines that “controversial aspects of history” and “historical oppression” be fact-based.
“The hours of testimony spanning weeks, the collaboration of stakeholders, everybody had an opportunity to be heard multiple bills were being considered,” Rep. Felder added at the hearing.
Her comments were made on the same day Rep. Jermaine Johnson, Sr. filed H. 3779 to ban “teachings about persons who owned slaves.”
“If they want to remove the essential parts of American history – which (includes) Black History I said, ‘Let’s ban the talk of slave owners,’” said Rep. Johnson. “Now who were slave owners, Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner, George Washington was a slave owner, (Christopher) Columbus was a slave owner – all these they herald and give holidays (to) were slave owners.”
Rep. Johnson believes the H. 3728 uses too much ambiguous language and leaves too much up for interpretation.
“You’ve got to put context to things, so whose interpretation is it going to be in a lot of this stuff here,” Rep. Johnson said.
He worries curriculum debates are also impacting teacher recruitment and retention.
“We have 1,500 vacant teacher positions right now, and if this passes we’re going to lose so much more,” said Rep. Johnson. “We’re already underpaying our educators, we’ve already got a lot of stress on our educators, we’re already asking them to do extra work, but now you want to put something in here to where they have to second guess what they’re teaching. They have to know, ‘Oh, if I say this then somebody might feel a certain way, or if I say that then somebody might feel another way.’ And there’s just too much that they’re adding onto these teachers when they’re already overstressed, overworked and underpaid.”
FOX Carolina reached out to the sponsors of H. 3728. And hope to continue the conversation. Meanwhile, Cassie Owens Moore is an educator and member of the ACLU of South Carolina who believes more educators should be involved in what’s taught in school.
“Whose defining some of these terms, whose defining what can be taught or what shouldn’t be taught,” said Owens Moore. “Again, it goes back to treating the teachers as professionals. We want the best for our students – and I’m not trying to say that the politicians don’t want the best, but I think we have a common goal and we’re going about it in different ways. And I really do believe that if they were to ask teachers for their input, to ask us and listen to what we’re saying, about what’s going on in our classrooms and in our schools, then that would give some perspective that I don’t think they have.”
In the interim, people like Joey Withinarts remains committed educating youth through a less debatable means.
“If you can’t fix the situation, you’re part of the problem,” Withinarts said.
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