Defending His Education Bill, Louisiana Rep. Garofalo Urges Schools To Teach “The Good” of Slavery

African American slave photo from Laura Plantation Louisiana.” by denisbin is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Louisiana House Education Committee Chairman Ray Garofalo filed legislation HB 564 which would ban schools from teaching what he has labeled “Divisive Concepts.” These concepts include “that either the United States of America or the state of Louisiana is fundamentally, institutionally, or systemically racist or sexist.”

“I have not seen evidence that we are fundamentally racist,” said Garofalo. “Do we have problems with racism? Absolutely, but is it systematic, is it fundamental, is it institutionalized? I have not seen evidence that that is the case.”

On Tuesday, Representatives in the House Committee on Education got together to debate and vote on the bill. Representative Garofalo argued that teaching critical race theory is racist because somehow, learning about racism and its impact leads to people being racist. 

He also mentioned that he has heard some concerns and complaints from teachers and parents that teaching materials, through the historic facts they contain, assert that “the United States is a racist country.” When pressed, he declined to provide any names or specifics on the concerns and complaints. 

Realizing that many of his arguments weren’t coming across as particularly sharp, and sensing his descent into ignorance, Representative Garofalo mentioned, that he didn’t “want to say anything I shouldn’t say.”

And then he did. 

During the debate, Representative Hilferty questioned Representative Garofalo, “But what is a larger course of academic instruction?” 

Representative Garofalo responded, “If you’re teaching, if you’re having a discussion on whatever the case may be, on slavery, then you can talk about everything dealing with slavery, the good, the bad, the ugly…” 

Representative Hilferty abruptly cut him off, “There’s no good to slavery though.” 

The people in attendance broke out in shocked laughter. 

Trying to save his point, Representative Garofalo finished, “Well, whatever the case may be.” 

After, Representative Garofalo walked back his comment, explaining, “I didn’t mean to imply that. I don’t believe that and I know that’s not the case.” 

The Louisiana Democratic Party shared the video of Garofalo’s comments on Twitter, writing

“The low point of session undoubtedly came today when Rep. Ray Garofalo said Louisiana schools need to teach the good of slavery.”

Following the meeting, the proposal stalled. The committee voted in a 7-7 impasse, which means the bill is technically still alive. Garofalo plans to revise the bill, hoping that by rewriting some of the language he could gain support from his hesitant Republican colleagues. 

However, according to the Associated Press, a bipartisan group of committee members requested that Representative Garofalo not bring the bill back during the current legislative session. “I’m not sure that we can get this bill in the correct posture this session,” commented Republican Representative Barbara Freiberg.

Both Republicans and Democrats oppose the bill, arguing that telling schools what they can’t teach violated the First Amendment. They also criticized the bill’s vague language, which could hinder classroom discussions since it’s not totally clear what can be taught.

Davante Lewis with The Louisiana Budget Project worries the bill will suppress actual history and freedom of speech. “Once again it’s about American exceptionalism. But you can’t talk about the beauty of America, without talking about the dark sins of America, which has been racism and sexism.” 

Teachers are also largely against the bill. “As a history teacher, that presents a problem for me because there are many instances in Louisiana and the United States where there was institutionalized racism,” commented 2020 Louisiana Teacher of the Year Chris Dier. “And that history belongs in the classroom.”

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