tv Nightline ABC August 10, 2021 12:37am-1:06am PDT
>> announcer: this is "nightline." tonight, taking on critical race theory. >> our histories weren't documented. >> activist lawyers and teachers in texas. one of the largest producers of u.s. textbooks. we're on the front lines of the culture war. >> let us teach without being dominated by the state of texas legislature. >> it's the fight over what and how we teach our children. plus, serving the people. the public servant elected from jail. >> what it feels like is that now i have to deliver. >> how a groundbreaking election in our nation's capital returned hope to those behind bars. >> we're more than inmates and also we're politicians.
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it may influence how the next generation understands america's history of race. here's abc's alex presha. >> this is what we call the ahnenpas. and the swastika of nazi germany, we had documentation in our family that they were not jewish. >> reporter: for former u.s. army captain diane birdwell studying history has always been a personal journey in her own family lineage. >> the first birdwells came with the republic of texas. members of that family served in the confederacy during the civil war. >> reporter: the 60-year-old teacher often invokes her own family's history when she teaches the tenth-graders in her history class. one side of her ancestry were confederate soldiers, the other served in nazi germany's military. >> i don't shy away from it. i deal with the fact that there are relatives in my family history who did things i would not have done. i accept that. i can acknowledge what they did, and hopefully our country can move and improve. >> reporter: though sometimes uncomfortable, the dallas-based
teacher says talking about past injustices is necessary to prevent history from repeating itself. >> i inherited this. but they actually appreciate the fact that i bring these things that makes the history lesson alive to them. >> reporter: but diane may soon have to change her teaching style of candid truth if a new texas bill becomes law. texas state senators have proposed legislation that could remove the current mandate to teach historic moments of slavery and civil rights as well as accomplishments of women and other groups of color. one of the bill's most controversial parts removes a requirement to teach the kkk and white supremacy is morally wrong. >> let us teach without being dominated by the state of texas legislature. >> reporter: at least seven other states have adopted similar laws already. it's a national fight over what children learn and who gets to make that decision. >> enough! enough! >> reporter: in school board meetings they're getting out of control. >> you need to be arrested! >> reporter: parents accusing
schools of pushing an agenda. >> hearing the condolences given to other races and leaving just one race out, it inevitably you start to feel like you've done something wrong. >> reporter: the heart of the debate focuses on critical race theory, or crt. it's a decades-old theory arguing that racism has been built into the institutions of our nation and looks at racism through a systemic lens. >> critical race theory is this theory that orange naipted in law schools. legal scholars turned to the law. they turned to institutions, purnd turned to policies to understand how discrimination was perpetuated by these institutions birx these structures, by these policies, in order to make sense of continuing inoak wault. >> black lives matter! >> reporter: critical race theory gained new momentum following george floyd's murder. former president trump then fanned the flames before the 2020 election. >> this is a marxist doctrine, holding that america is a wicked and racist nation. >> reporter: texas has become
ground zero for the debate over crt, in part because it's one of the largest producers of u.s. textbooks. >> this is the first time i've experienced this where the legislature is directly impacting the work that the state board of education is responsible for doing and dictating what needs to be taught and what needs to be included in schools. and that should never happen. >> reporter: marisa perez diaz has been on the texas state board of education since 2013. she's also the youngest latina board member. >> i am proud to be a texan. i'm not proud of the policy and the laws that come out of texas. >> we can start making our way over here to sit down. >> reporter: today she's facilitating a meeting with students and educators to discuss the recent bills in texas. >> it's not accidental this is happening in a moment where we're seeing the demographics of texas shifting and a majority of students of color now in texas schools. >> as far as engagement goes, this is a real clear reactionary type of legislation that's coming out of a fear, a fear of
our young people, and they are mobilizing and organizing. >> reporter: traditionally, state board of education members have the responsibility of deciding what stays in and out of textbooks. but the bill being proposed challenges that authority. >> this bill is just ignorant in the sense that it's forgetting a lot of the history of where education comes from. >> as a latina, as a mexican-american in texas, i wasn't exposed to my history. all i had to learn was what was passed down in oral history from my family. >> reporter: more than half the state's student population is hispanic. >> our histories weren't documented. >> reporter: perez-daz says crt has become the new catch phrase for all conversation about race and diversity inside and outside the classroom. she believes much of the fear surrounding crt is baseless. >> critical race theory is not being taught in k-12 education. it is a higher education framework that is engaged typically at the graduate level. there are foundational issues in
u.s. history that are very much connected to racial inequities, segregation, red-lining, all of those issues are not critical race theory. that's history. that's our country's history. >> reporter: representative steve toth is the author of hb-3979, a different bill that laid the groundwork for the new senate legislation. both aimed at banning crt from being used in classrooms. >> we have had dozens and dozens of teachers call saying that they do not want to teach critical race theory in the classroom, in texas classrooms. and this is the response to that. >> reporter: it was signed into law by governor greg abbott in june and will take effect in september. one of the highlights of his bill says that teachers cannot have conversations that would lead to anyone feeling discomfort, guilt, anguish or any form of psychological distress on account of the individual's race or sex. >> do you feel that with that language there is some ambiguity with teachers as to what they can actually teach about?
whenever it comes to racism in this country. >> no, i think it's very simple. you teach the past as the past. you know, i was taught in school about the civil war. i was taught about slavery. i was taught about jim crow. but i wasn't blamed for it. >> then with that in mind, i mean, how do you teach about systemic racism or institutional racism? >> if you want to say that the united states is still a systemic racist nation, that's a lie. if you want to say there's racism in our land, that's the truth. absolutely true. and that's the problem that we have today. >> we have education groups, they're not saying it's about critical race theory, they're saying it's a clear effort to suppress the teaching and learning about the role of -- >> where does it say that in the bill? where does it say anything about you can't teach history in the bill? >> you said that it doesn't say critical race theory anywhere in this bill, but even when we started this conversation you brought up how this was meant to
counter efforts about crt in your state already. you brought that up on your own. >> well, my bill does not mention critical race theory. and my bill also does not do any of the things that these individuals have said that it does. it simply states you can't teach that one race is inherently superior. >> similar gop-led laws are now being proposed nationwide. in tennessee the state board of education recently introduced vague legislation that could fine public schools up to $5 million each time a teacher is found guilty of knowingly breaking restrictions on classroom discussions about systemic racism and sexism. but mioshi johnson says this kind of education is crucial. her 14-year-old son chris was sold in a virtual snapchat slave auction by some classmates. the school expelled the students involved but called the incident cyberbullying, not racism. >> the e-mail put out called the
incident cyberbullying and harassment. it made it so that people didn't know what really happened, so there was no conversation about how egregious it was. it was no conversation about the direct racism that it was. >> reporter: the school superintendent later acknowledged mioshi's concerns and called the incident racial harassment. mioshi says that incorporating the ideas of critical race theory gives students a fuller picture. >> me personally, i don't see crt as being something terrible. i don't see it being a blame game, shame you type of theory. i believe that it's telling the whole entire story. parts of the story that people aren't learning anymore, will probably never hear about if, you know, people aren't teaching it. when you know the whole story from the history to the present, it kind of brings it full circle
to you. >> if you think that this has affected you in your job, just imagine how we actually feel. >> reporter: chris even spoke out at his school board meeting. >> if the government, politicians and even the school board would just listen to us, they would understand that we have every right to be a part of the solution. >> these opponents of crt or diversity education, what they're saying is they don't trust their children. i think they really fear that their kids might pick up that their ancestors did some bad things. they might pick up that there is still a legacy in this country of racism and that we need to do something about it. >> reporter: regardless of whether this latest senate bill passes, republicans in texas have already asked the attorney general to review whether anti-racism teaching is unconstitutional. but for diane birdwell history needs to come with a lesson. and she says facts alone aren't enough. >> if you have to confront that racism of the past, then white citizens are going to have to confront that their families
were alive when it happened. that doesn't make themselves bad people. it just means accept that in the past some of our stuff is not pleasant to learn or talk about. >> our thanks to alex. coming up, convicted of murder and now an elected public servant. one man's road to redemption behind bars. like many people with moderate to severe ulcerative colitis or crohn's disease, i was there. be right back. but my symptoms were keeping me from where i needed to be. so i talked to my doctor and learned humira is the #1 prescribed biologic for people with uc or crohn's disease. and humira helps people achieve remission that can last, so you can experience few or no symptoms. humira can lower your ability to fight infections. serious and sometimes fatal infections, including tuberculosis, and cancers, including lymphoma, have happened,
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now using his second chance to fight for opportunities for all. here's abc's devon dwyer. >> reporter: in the nation's seat of power just a few miles from the white house and capitol a milestone for volti ivoting rn america. >> i noticed that wait a minute, not only can we volt, we can also run for office. >> how many in the group this morning want to learn about investing? >> reporter: after 27 years behind bars joel caston is seeking redemption through politics. the 44-year-old felon convicted for murder as a teenager became washington, d.c.'s newest elected public servant this summer, winning a groundbreaking campaign for neighborhood commissioner on the city's southeast side. >> it sounds great to have an official title. i must admit that. however, what it feels like is that now i have to deliver. >> reporter: from an office behind bars caston will serve as an adviser to d.c. government and offer recommendations for improving city services. >> had you ever voted for?
>> i never voted before. >> so you were running for office and you had never even participated in the democratic process before? >> isn't that amazing? isn't it amazing and how you can say i want to be a part of something but because the laws have prevented you, these barriers in place, and now these barriers are removed. so what we're doing here in d.c., we're actually setting the standard for the nation. >> reporter: some of his roughly 2,000 constituents are fellow inka incarcerated residents in d.c. jail. >> how many of you all voted? >> reporter: many casting ballots in a local election that has pushed the boundaries of voting rights and racial justice. d.c. joining maine and vermont as the only places in america that prisoners can vote. x and actually saying that he won and this is the person i voted for it like reaffirmed that i am worthy of being back in society. >> reporter: less than 1% of the
nation's estimated 1.8 million incarcerated residence has the right to cast a ballot from behind bars. setting the u.s. apart from many other democracies. >> in other words, in most places you don't lose your humanity, you don't lose your civil rights, social rights, political rights when you're incarcerated. >> reporter: georgetown professor marc howard, a leading advocate for felon voting rights, says it's also an issue of racial justice. 1 in 16 black american adults is disenfranchised because of a conviction, a rate 3.7 times higher than among non-blacks. >> if you think about the broader context in history of the struggle for the right to vote in this country, incarcerated people was always a group that was left out of that progression. >> reporter: he's now the first incarcerated american elected to office with votes from incarcerated peers. how can you represent a group of people, community, when you're cut off from a big segment of that community? >> a lot of meetings.
a lot of engagement has taken place over zoom. so now as commissioner one of the things i do have access to is a computer. >> reporter: so you're zooming from inside the cell block. >> i'm inside an office. yes, i do. yes. >> reporter: his district includes d.c.'s jail, a nearby women's shelter, and this luxury apartment complex he's never seen. you oversee everything from liquor license approvals to sidewalk repair to public safety. can you credibly advocate for public safety from in here? >> i can. i believe that my story, my campaign is giving a lens to individuals who may not have considered this as being a viable option to obtain public safety. >> reporter: but enfranchisement of felons remains highly controversial. >> it's called punishment. punishment for their crime. >> reporter: many republicans opposed house democrats' sweeping election reform bill hr-1 this spring in part because it would have restored the vote to millions of ex-felons.
while 21 states automatically return voting rights after release, 16 withhold the vote through periods of probation or parole and 11 more suspend the vote indefinitely for some crimes. >> oftentimes we were just cast off individuals who are inside and think he or she does not have a value. i believe that my story demonstrates that yes, we do have value. >> reporter: in 1994 it was here in southeast d.c. that as a teenager swept up in a culture of drugs and guns caston was arrested and later convicted in the shooting death of another young black man. >> as a teenager i was once a drug dealer myself. i was once a gun man myself as a teenager. and i paid a huge penalty for that. that's my incarceration. >> reporter: the family of the victim in caston's case has given its full endorsement. in a statement to abc news saying, "we believe in forgiveness and we hope joel
will do good work in the community." caston expects to be paroled by the end of the year. >> joel caston has probably more than any person in the country that i've heard of, he has the right to redeem himself and to have another chance. >> reporter: commissioner caston already inspiring hope that his constituents can find redemption too. >> serving an 18-month sentence. and the thing i would like for joel to do is continue to make the impossible possible. >> because it helps young men to become better people. >> he's inspired that we're more than inmates, you know, we're fathers, we're sons, we're brothers and also we're politicians. thank you, joel. >> our thanks to devon. up next, the hero's welcome for our olympic champions. yeah, i mean the thing is, people like geico because it's just easy. bundling for example.
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minnesota, olympic gold medalist anisa lee, riding high on a fire engine. >> i missed you. ? a >> and in los angeles allyson felix, the most decorated track & field athlete in olympic history, getting a hug fit for a hero from her daughter. and who can forget the g.o.a.t., simone biles returning from tokyo to this parade in her hometown of spring, texas? >> we love you, simone! whoo! >> welcome home. that's "nightline" for this evening. catch our full episodes on hulu. we'll see you right back here same tim
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