Tennessee To Require Black History Education

Tennessee is looking to change a law that allows Black history education to be optional in K-12 curriculums.

By Erika Hanson | Published

For The First Time, This State Will Require Students To Learn About The Holocaust

black history education

Many experts believe the teaching of black history is under threat in America. Amid a raging war over education fueled by both sides of politics, critical race theory has become a heated topic all around the nation. And since much of critical race theory’s ideologies revolve around black history education, the push to ban it in every shape or form leaves many afraid of what the future will hold. But still, there are efforts to keep moving forward, and many states, like Tennessee, are looking to make Black history education a requirement inside classrooms. 

Tennesee legislators met on Tuesday, April 19th at the state’s capitol building to vote on a slew of measures. One of those was HB 2106. Lobbied for by Democratic Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, the legislation was voted through the Republican-controlled Floor and Committee votes in a nearly unanimous 80-2 vote. The bill seeks to require schools to permeate multiculturalism throughout the state’s public school K-12 curriculum, but more so with an attention to Black history education in grades 5 through 8.

black history education

To claim a need for the legislation, the bill seeks to change two simple words in current education law. Currently, that law reads that schools and districts “should include” Black history education in curriculums. But if the new bill is signed into law, that text will change to “shall include” making it a mandatory requirement for schools in the state.

Yusuf Hakeem has long fought to make Black history education a requirement in Tennessee schools. But unfortunately for him and the bill’s other sponsors, the required curriculum wouldn’t go into effect until at least the 2025-26 school year. The final version of the bill was amended this way to align with the state’s scheduled review of social studies standards

Much of the current social studies standards already invocate Black history education through references to famous figures and events connected to history. However, Hakeem hopes that ramping up and making sure the curriculum is included in every school will give more students a better understanding of how African American history has also shaped America. “I’m of the opinion that Black history intersects every period of American history. Every war that this nation has had, going back to the Revolutionary War, Black people have participated in those wars on behalf of our nation. I think it’s important for people to be able to see themselves in our history, because we’re all in this together,” Hakeem said via Chalkbeat.

black history education

Not everyone was on board with Hakeem’s initiative, however. Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey, who has criticized similar proposals in past years, once again spoke his sentiments against the Black history education bill. “I think this would require the infusion of diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout K through 12, and for that reason, I would be opposed to the legislation,” he said. In the House chambers, only two legislators mirrored the senator’s feelings. Both Republican House Reps. Kelly Keisling and Paul Sherrell voted against making African American history teachings a requirement.

Like Tennessee, other states across the nation have been gaining more traction in passing legislation requiring Black history education to be integrated into school curriculums. At the end of last year, Maine signed sweeping legislation into law requiring the teachings of both African-American History and the history of Genocide. In February, Delaware’s Governor John Carney also signed into law that public schools were required to teach Black history. 

Now that the bill looking to require Black history education in Tennesee has the full approval of both chambers of Congress, it will soon make its way to the desk of Governor Bill Lee. Lee will have the opportunity to either sign the legislation into law or veto the bill. If vetoed, the bill still has a chance if it heads back to the chambers.