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Tennessee public schools could lose funding if they blame systemic racism or sexism for actions in the past

The amendment will be debated in the House on Tuesday.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Tennessee amendment could cost public schools funding if it teaches about systemic racism and sexism.

The amendment, which is a part of a larger education bill, will be debated on the House floor on Tuesday. 

Dr. Noelle Trent, the director of interpretation, collections, and education for the National Civil Rights Museum says American history is complicated, but she fears if this amendment passes, students will not learn the full scope of history. 

"It limits it down to a single perspective that really does continue to marginalize groups that have been traditionally marginalized," Trent said. 

The amendment's sponsor, Rep. Mark White of Memphis, said it does not do any good to teach children that any one race is responsible for the historical actions of another. 

"It does not remove a teacher's ability from teaching a history lesson, that is what we are trying to protect," White said. "What the amendment states is that no race or gender should be accused of being guilty for the actions of past generations solely on the color of skin or sex."

Trent said we need to be honest with our students. 

"You cannot achieve an equitable society without truth-telling and truth-telling means you got to go through the difficult stuff," Trent said. 

For example, Trent worries students might not fully appreciate the positive changes that came from Dr. Martin Luther King and the I Am A Man protesters if they don't also learn about the segregation they endured. 

"You can't understand the joy and celebration unless you understand where the struggles were," Trent said. "You cannot understand the challenges of today unless you understand the challenges of the past." 

White said the amendment won't limit history lessons as Trent fears. 

"We have worked toward this for the past 50 years and the current national movement of accusing a race for past actions is not acceptable and especially not school-age children," White said. 

Trent said White is trying to have it both ways by sugarcoating history in the process. 

"If we provide the information we provide the truth there," Trent said. "There is hope that we can promote empathy, we can promote real dialogue and reconciliation."

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