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Critical Race Theory and Approaches to Teaching History

Renee Shaw and guests discuss Critical Race Theory and teaching history in Kentucky schools. Guests: Sen. Max Wise (R-Campbellsville), chair of the Senate Education Committee and sponsor of SB 138; Commissioner Jason Glass, Kentucky Department of Education; Rep. Attica Scott (D-Louisville); and Ian Rowe, writer for the 1776 Unites Campaign and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Season 29 Episode 9 Length 56:33 Premiere: 02/28/22

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Kentucky Tonight

KET’s Kentucky Tonight, hosted by Renee Shaw, brings together an expert panel for in-depth analysis of major issues facing the Commonwealth.

This weekly program features comprehensive discussions with lawmakers, stakeholders and policy leaders that are moderated by award-winning journalist Renee Shaw.

For nearly three decades, Kentucky Tonight has been a source for complete and balanced coverage of the most urgent and important public affairs developments in the state of Kentucky.

Often aired live, viewers are encouraged to participate by submitting questions in real-time via email, Twitter or KET’s online form. Viewers with questions and comments may send an email to kytonight@ket.org or use the contact form. All messages should include first and last name and town or county. The phone number for viewer calls during the program is 800-494-7605.

After the broadcast, Kentucky Tonight programs are available on KET.org and via podcast (iTunes or Android). Files are normally accessible within 24 hours after the television broadcast.

Kentucky Tonight was awarded a 1997 regional Emmy by the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. The series was also honored with a 1995 regional Emmy nomination.

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Renee Shaw is the Director of Public Affairs and Moderator at KET, currently serving as host of KET’s weeknight public affairs program Kentucky Edition, the signature public policy discussion series Kentucky Tonight, the weekly interview series Connections, Election coverage and KET Forums.

Since 2001, Renee has been the producing force behind KET’s legislative coverage that has been recognized by the Kentucky Associated Press and the National Educational Telecommunications Association. Under her leadership, KET has expanded its portfolio of public affairs content to include a daily news and information program, Kentucky Supreme Court coverage, townhall-style forums, and multi-platform program initiatives around issues such as opioid addiction and youth mental health.  

Renee has also earned top awards from the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS), with three regional Emmy awards. In 2023, she was inducted into the Silver Circle of the NATAS, one of the industry’s highest honors recognizing television professionals with distinguished service in broadcast journalism for 25 years or more.  

Already an inductee into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame (2017), Renee expands her hall of fame status with induction into Western Kentucky University’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni in November of 2023.  

In February of 2023, Renee graced the front cover of Kentucky Living magazine with a centerfold story on her 25 years of service at KET and even longer commitment to public media journalism. 

In addition to honors from various educational, civic, and community organizations, Renee has earned top honors from the Associated Press and has twice been recognized by Mental Health America for her years-long dedication to examining issues of mental health and opioid addiction.  

In 2022, she was honored with Women Leading Kentucky’s Governor Martha Layne Collins Leadership Award recognizing her trailblazing path and inspiring dedication to elevating important issues across Kentucky.   

In 2018, she co-produced and moderated a 6-part series on youth mental health that was awarded first place in educational content by NETA, the National Educational Telecommunications Association. 

She has been honored by the AKA Beta Gamma Omega Chapter with a Coretta Scott King Spirit of Ivy Award; earned the state media award from the Kentucky Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 2019; named a Charles W. Anderson Laureate by the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet in 2019 honoring her significant contributions in addressing socio-economic issues; and was recognized as a “Kentucky Trailblazer” by the University of Kentucky Martin School of Public Policy and Administration during the Wendell H. Ford Lecture Series in 2019. That same year, Shaw was named by The Kentucky Gazette’s inaugural recognition of the 50 most notable women in Kentucky politics and government.  

Renee was bestowed the 2021 Berea College Service Award and was named “Unapologetic Woman of the Year” in 2021 by the Community Action Council.   

In 2015, she received the Green Dot Award for her coverage of domestic violence, sexual assault & human trafficking. In 2014, Renee was awarded the Anthony Lewis Media Award from the KY Department of Public Advocacy for her work on criminal justice reform. Two Kentucky governors, Republican Ernie Fletcher and Democrat Andy Beshear, have commissioned Renee as a Kentucky Colonel for noteworthy accomplishments and service to community, state, and nation.  

A former adjunct media writing professor at Georgetown College, Renee traveled to Cambodia in 2003 to help train emerging journalists on reporting on critical health issues as part of an exchange program at Western Kentucky University. And, she has enterprised stories for national media outlets, the PBS NewsHour and Public News Service.  

Shaw is a 2007 graduate of Leadership Kentucky, a board member of CASA of Lexington, and a longtime member of the Frankfort/Lexington Chapter of The Links Incorporated, an international, not-for-profit organization of women of color committed to volunteer service. She has served on the boards of the Kentucky Historical Society, Lexington Minority Business Expo, and the Board of Governors for the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. 

Host Renee Shaw smiling in a green dress with a KET set behind her.

Legislators and Educators Debate Legislation That Sets New Standards for Teaching American History

A bill before the Kentucky General Assembly would require social studies teachers in the state’s middle and high schools to include instruction on 24 documents from American history, texts that include the Mayflower Compact, the Dred Scott decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Ronald Reagan’s 1964 “A Time for Choosing” speech.

Sen. Max Wise (R-Campbellsville) says his Senate Bill 138, known as the Teaching American Principles Act, is a response to parents and educators who have asked for academic standards on what students should learn about the nation’s past and present.

“This does not limit what teachers can or cannot teach in the classroom,” says Wise. “We think it’s a good way of looking at core American documents, be able to align those documents with those standards as it relates to our children’s education, [and] make them better citizens and focus on things such as freedom and equality and personal agency that make our country what it is.”

SB 138 is one of several bills before the legislature this session that seek to put guardrails around the teaching of sensitive topics like slavery and racism. More than two dozen states around the country are considering laws to limit instruction on subjects the sponsors contend divide Americans and make students feel uncomfortable or responsible for the actions of their ancestors.

The trend is seen as a backlash to Critical Race Theory, a decades-old academic concept that examines how racism has impacted American history, people, and institutions. CRT is generally the purview of scholars on university campuses, not something taught to elementary, middle, or high school students. But in the wake of the social justice protests of 2020, some politicians have seized on CRT, claiming it indoctrinates youth into thinking that America is a racist nation and that one race or gender is superior to another.

Wise says his bill does not mention critical race theory, and merely addresses the need to align middle and high school social studies standards with the elementary school standards that already exist. He says a committee substitute to SB 138 addressed concerns that critics of the measure had with the original bill. He says the legislation is meant to promote critical thinking about the challenges of America’s past, and unify students, teachers, and parents. The legislation also prohibits teachers from requiring or incentivizing students to advocate for issues that they or their parents might oppose.

“We want to be instrumental in stressing the importance of how to learn, and not actually what to learn,” says Wise.

Encouraging Students to ‘Wrestle with Difficult Issues’

Kentucky Department of Education Commissioner Jason Glass commends Wise for wanting to bridge the gap between people who have different views on how race and history should be taught.

“This is happening because we’re in a politically motivated time that arose in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Breonna Taylor’s killing, reactions to that that happened across the country, and then a counter-reaction to that,” says Glass.

But Glass says SB 138 is unnecessary, especially when student learning has been significantly disrupted by COVID and schools are struggling to find enough teachers. The commissioner also disputes language in the bill that says defining racial disparities solely on the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws “is destructive to the unification of our nation.” He says slavery and racism were present from the beginning of the nation; therefore, it’s important for students to learn about the lasting impacts those have had on America.

“Either we believe in representative democracy and that our students and citizens are capable of taking on tough issues, or we don’t,” says Glass. “If we believe that they are, then we need to let our kids wrestle with difficult issues such as these in the classroom.”

SB 138 doesn’t go as far as other proposed bills that would empower the state attorney general to investigate teachers who stray from proscribed standards and fine schools for ongoing violations. But Glass says it still sets a dangerous precedent by having lawmakers promulgate certain documents to be taught in classrooms.

“Once you go… through a political process specifying specific curricula resources that are to be used, we’re in a different world than Kentucky’s history of allowing these decisions to play out locally,” says Glass.

Wise contends SB 138 doesn’t undermine curricula authority at the school district level.

“We do want to give local control, and we don’t want to get into telling a teacher anything about what can and cannot be taught,” says Wise. “But in terms of setting the standards, absolutely the legislature can have control of doing that.”

Debating the Diversity of Viewpoints

The Senate passed SB 138 on a party line vote of 28 to 8 on Feb. 24, and the legislation now awaits action by the House, where representatives have proposed several of their own bills on the teaching of history.

Rep. Attica Scott, a Louisville Democrat, has a measure that would require public middle and high schools to teach the history of racism in the United States. She calls Wise’s SB 138 a “classroom censorship” bill that would limit instruction on certain topics.

“We have so many other pieces of legislation that we could pass this General Assembly that would uplift people across Kentucky,” says Scott. “This is going to hurt our kids, this is going to hurt teachers who want to teach, this is going to hurt our communities because it’s already creating division.”

A fundamental flaw in the legislation, according to Scott, is that 18 of the 24 core historical documents listed in the bill were written by white men. She says five were by black men, and one by a white woman.

“I want Kentuckians to be critical thinkers about what is missing here,” says Scott. “The fact that there are zero core documents by Black women says something about our humanity not being respected and reflected.”

Wise says the 24 primary sources referenced in his legislation are merely a starting point, and lawmakers might recommend additional documents in the future. He also says he wants teachers to supplement that list with other documents that are appropriate for students of that age to study and that fall within other guidelines in the bill that call for promoting American values of equality, freedom, individual liberty, cooperation, hard work, and good citizenship.

“This is probably not going to be the end, maybe it opens it up for more,” says Wise.

Even proposing such legislation is problematic for some teachers. Christina Frederick-Trosper, a social studies teacher at Knox Central High School in Barbourville says SB 138 creates the impression that there’s widespread problem with history instruction that Frankfort must correct.

“This bill implies that we’re somehow doing something secretive and dark behind our classroom door and nothing could be further from the truth,” says Frederick-Trosper. “It is very hurtful, and it does nothing to lead our commonwealth forward, and it does nothing to help with the education of Kentucky’s public school children.”

Teaching History ‘Warts and All’

Wise says his bill draws from materials created by 1776 Unites, a project of the non-partisan Woodson Center in Washington, D.C., that celebrates Black excellence while rejecting a culture of victimhood. Ian Rowe, an advisor to 1776 Unites and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, testified at an interim committee meeting last summer when Kentucky lawmakers discussed critical race theory and the teaching of history.

Rowe contends that history should be taught, “warts and all.”

“Let’s get away from this idea that when we’re teaching history we have to choose between a fully sanitized version or a cherry-picked negative version,” says Rowe. “There are many inspiring stories where you don’t have to… run away from racism but that reinforce the very ideals… of faith, family, hard work, free enterprise, entrepreneurship. These were the mechanisms by which people moved from poverty and persecution to prosperity.”

1776 Unites has produced a high school history curriculum that Rowe says presents a full and authentic representation of the African American experience. He says curricula like his can improve students’ knowledge of history and foster literacy and other important skills.

“Let’s not lose site of the fact that we are in the midst of a literacy crisis for all students and how we talk about that shouldn’t get overshadowed by these controversies around history,” says Rowe. “If we want our kids to become critical thinkers, we have to give them great content to be critically thinking about.”

Scott says that’s all the more reason that SB 138 should reflect a greater diversity of historical viewpoints and experiences.

“If we want to improve literacy among our students, make sure that students have the opportunity to read about themselves and to learn about their history,” says Scott.

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Season 29 Episodes

Medical Marijuana Legalization in Kentucky

S29 E44 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 01/30/23

Kentucky's Juvenile Justice System

S29 E43 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 01/23/23

Legislation Introduced in the 2023 General Assembly

S29 E42 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 01/09/23

2023 Legislative Session Preview

S29 E41 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 12/19/22

National Politics

S29 E40 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 12/05/22

2022 Election Preview

S29 E39 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 11/07/22

Inflation and the Economy

S29 E38 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/31/22

Constitutional Amendments 1 & 2

S29 E37 Length 56:36 Premiere Date 10/24/22

Candidates for U.S. House of Representatives: Part Two

S29 E36 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 10/17/22

Candidates for U.S. House of Representatives: Part One

S29 E35 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/10/22

U.S. Senate Candidate Charles Booker

S29 E34 Length 26:31 Premiere Date 10/03/22

Discussing Flooding's Impact on Eastern Kentucky Schools

S29 E33 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 09/26/22

COVID-19, Monkeypox and Influenza

S29 E32 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 09/12/22

Eastern Kentucky Flooding and Legislative Relief Package

S29 E31 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 08/29/22

Child Care in Kentucky

S29 E30 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 08/22/22

School Safety: Debating State Policies

S29 E29 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 08/01/22

Work, Wages and Welfare

S29 E28 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 07/25/22

50 Years of Title IX

S29 E26 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 07/18/22

The Impact of U.S. Supreme Court Decisions

S29 E24 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 07/11/22

Kentucky's Ban on Abortion

S29 E23 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 06/27/22

Discussing New Developments in the COVID-19 Pandemic

S29 E22 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 06/20/22

Reducing Opioid Addiction Rates in Kentucky

S29 E21 Length 56:36 Premiere Date 06/13/22

Mass Shootings and Gun Laws

S29 E20 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 06/06/22

Discussing the Rise in Gas Prices and Inflation

S29 E19 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 05/23/22

Previewing Kentucky's 2022 Primary Election

S29 E18 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 05/16/22

Third Congressional District Democratic Primary

S29 E17 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 05/09/22

Candidates in the 2022 Primary Election: Part Two

S29 E16 Length 58:33 Premiere Date 05/02/22

Candidates in the 2022 Primary Election: Part One

S29 E15 Length 58:40 Premiere Date 04/25/22

Lawmakers Review the 2022 General Assembly

S29 E14 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 04/18/22

Recap of the 2022 Legislative Session

S29 E13 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 04/11/22

Public Assistance and Jobless Benefits

S29 E12 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 03/28/22

Abortion Legislation in the 2022 General Assembly

S29 E11 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 03/21/22

State Budget, Taxes, and Other 2022 General Assembly Topics

S29 E10 Length 57:42 Premiere Date 03/14/22

Critical Race Theory and Approaches to Teaching History

S29 E9 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/28/22

2022 Legislative Session at the Midpoint

S29 E8 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/21/22

Name, Image and Likeness Compensation

S29 E7 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/14/22

Child Abuse and Neglect

S29 E6 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/07/22

Debating School Choice in Kentucky

S29 E5 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 02/01/22

Debating Provisions in the Proposed State Budget

S29 E4 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 01/24/22

Redistricting, State Budget, and Other Legislative Issues

S29 E3 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 01/10/22

Discussing Legislative Goals for the 2022 General Assembly

S29 E2 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 01/03/22

Previewing the 2022 Kentucky General Assembly

S29 E1 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 12/06/21

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Early Childhood Education - S30 E42

Renee Shaw and guests discuss early childhood education. Scheduled guests: State Senator Danny Carroll (R-Benton), chair of the Senate Families and Children Committee and sponsor of the Horizons Act, SB 203, that addresses the child-care industry needs in Kentucky; State Senator Cassie Chambers Armstrong (D-Louisville), member of the Senate Families and Children Committee; Sarah Vanover, Ed.D., author of America's Child-Care Crisis: Rethinking an Essential Business, and policy and research director for Kentucky Youth Advocates; Kate Shanks, vice president of public affairs at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce; Brigitte Blom, president & CEO of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence; and Andrew McNeill, president of Kentucky Forum for Rights, Economics & Education (KYFREE). A 2024 KET production.

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Early Childhood Education - S30 E42

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Abortion Legislation - S30 E41

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School Choice & Education Issues - S30 E40

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The State Budget - S30 E39

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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) at Kentucky Colleges & Universities - S30 E38

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